Final Fantasy: The Spirits within Review

Gamestyle Archive intro: here is another movie-videogame review which followed on the back of Tomb Raider originally in July 2001, so we might as well repeat it here again. Maybe time has been kind? I haven’t seen this film in many years. Writer JJ.

Version: Pal
Developer: Squaresoft Films
Publisher: Columbia Tristar
Accessories: Popcorn, Beer
Players: 0
Release: August 10th
Presentation: 9  
Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 0
Lastability: 105 minutes

Final Fantasy the movie represents a huge gamble for Squaresoft and one that could have huge implications for the Japanese giant, videogame and film industries as a whole.  This film is a first in several ways as not only does it mark a transition from videogame brand to the big screen but also if successful will no doubt be the first of many.

If anything I did find the visuals to be refreshing, as until recently CGI movies were primarily the domain of children’s films such as Shrek.   Very nice for the family but for us who like the odd bit of violence topped with gigantic explosions and sprinkled with sex, its been a no satisfaction area.   Final Fantasy changes all that; well two out of three isn’t bad!

The story is set in 2065 where earth has been ridden with an alien race known as the Phantoms.   These arrived on earth inside a giant meteor and soon after a war began that resulted in the destruction of all known life forms including human.   The Phantoms come in many different shapes and sizes but their method of killing is the same, by coming into contact with one, your life is literally sucked from you.   Pockets of resistance in the form of cities surrounded by shields exist but they cannot agree on a method to destroy the meteorite.

A team of scientists much to the disgust of the military are pursuing the theory that by collecting eight spirits they can create a spirit wave which will effectively cancel out the Phantoms.   The military believe that by bombarding the meteor from outer space where their Zeus gun is located, they can destroy the alien infestation.   With support from the governing council Dr Ross seeks out the eight life forms needed to create the wave however this means visiting long since abandoned areas now crawling with Phantoms.   The struggle for power continues with the military taking action resulting in disastrous consequences for New York and perhaps the earth.   I won’t divulge anymore as I wouldn’t want to spoil the film.

I found it quiet surreal at first; I was finally being able to view a film that we had been waiting on for so long however the introduction soon brought me to my senses.  For those who have been playing PSO a bit too much recently, the whole film is computer generated.

The biggest compliment that I can pay to the visuals is that soon enough you forget that these are computer images but in the wake of Shrek I found the characters to lack any visual emotion.   In general the characters were all wooden with little depth especially the central character (Dr Aki Ross) and without the stunning effects on show this film would have been straight to rental fodder.   Overall the voiceovers were good with the exception of dumb generic one-liners, which in fairness is down to the script.   With such big names as James Woods, Donald Sutherland and Steve Buscemi contributing their vocal talents it seems odd that the producers chose Ming Na (who?) to play Dr Ross.   Surely a well-known name and therefore recognisable voice might have improved the weakest link so to say.

The director is Hironobu Sakaguchi who has a background in videogames and not films.   This type of film is a director’s dream, they have total control over everything as the elements and impossible angles do not come into the equation.   Sakaguchi tends to keep the camera position fixed and scenes remain static, overstaying their welcome and are predictable.   Perhaps he was under the impression that he was creating a Playstation RPG and not an actual film.   An experienced director with a more dynamic style and faster editing would have been far more suited to such a project, I doubt David Fincher would have take up the offer but someone in a similar vain would have improved the product even as a consultant.

The lack of experience in creating films is easily recognisable in the script, which does not possess the depth needed to capture the audience’s imagination.   The destruction of earth, aliens and lots of carnage should be more than enough to achieve this and the action sequences are the highlight of the film.   The dialogue at times is very weak, the actors in places sound as if they spat it out in disgust and it shows that creators of videogames still have someway to go before they can rival good film makers.   While the introduction is eye catching you cannot help feel that you’ve been dropped into the middle of the story with no explanation.   I would have liked to have seen the initial battle between the human race and the Phantoms, more about the creation of the Giga theory and finding the other spirits, and the suffering that resulted in earth becoming a wasteland.

My final criticism is the use of the Final Fantasy name.  The movie has nothing to do with the long running series except that it comes from the same parent company as the role-play epics.   I do think it was a cynical ploy to attract the fans of the series just in case the film did not find an audience with the mainstream.   The story just isn’t up to the standard set by series, especially VII.   No doubt someone will mistake Final Fantasy for something else!

In conclusion a great visual and audio film with little depth but lacking originality, emotion and believable characters.   As a first attempt Squaresoft can be fairly pleased but some simple measures would have made it so much better.

Still it’s better than Tomb Raider even if Angelia Jolie is in it.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10


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