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
Link: www.finalfantasy.com
 
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

Tomb Raider The Movie

Gamestyle Archive intro: video game coverage also meant taking a regular look at the influx of big screen adaptations with mixed success. This one was the first of the Tomb Raider films and dates from June 2001. Writer JJ.

VERSION: Big Screen
DEVELOPER: Core
PUBLISHER: Paramount Pictures 
GENRE: Action/Adventure
ACCESSORIES: Popcorn, Beer, and Girlfriend.
PLAYERS: 0
RELEASE: July 6th
LINK: www.tombraidermovie.com

PRESENTATION: 6
GRAPHICS: 5
SOUND: 8
GAMEPLAY: 0
LASTABILITY: 0
OVERALL: 3

Try to think of a decent film based on a video game.  Still thinking?  So am I.   This is why I approached Lara Croft Tomb Raider with extreme caution whilst sitting down preparing myself for another turkey.   Yet I was pleasantly surprised.  Its not bad just plain awful.

The plot is simpler than a Resident Evil game and as there are no plot twists I won’t be spoiling anything by explaining most of it here.   In fact you could probably predict everything within the first 10 minutes.  No bad thing when you consider most of the stuff that Hollywood shoves down our throats these days, still we can walk out when we have had enough.   However the power of marketing and the thought of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft will get most males into the cinemas.   It worked for me.

If you have the misfortune to play any of the series (except the first game) then you’ll know something about the phenomenon that is Miss Croft.   The film introduces us to her mansion, which is suitably murky and traditional with the more technological rooms hidden away.   The lack of character depth or development is shocking; this film is truly based on a video game character and no more.   Only the baddies and her two sidekicks keep Lara interesting as they can be summed up in one word, nothing.  A shame as it starts off quite atmospherically and 6 minutes in, we have a wonderful but criminally short shower scene.  Truly a PG film all the way.  Lara sleeps in bed with a knife – I’d never thought I be jealous of a metallic object but there’s always a first time for everything.

Right plot time.   A planetary alignment is occurring and this provides the sinister cult/organisation (not sure which as we only see them once) known as the Luminate to complete the ancient legend that they believe in.   An ancient civilisation that they are descended from once had the power of a god thanks to the Triangle of Light.   Yet this power was abused resulting in their civilisation and whole city being destroyed.   The triangle was deemed to powerful for man to possess and was split in two and hidden on either ends of the earth.   Why not just destroy the thing completely?   To make matters worse a special timepiece was created to help locate and open each hidden area where parts of the triangle were hidden.  Now this is really taking the piss.   Pass the popcorn doll.

Lara’s deceased father possessed the timepiece that she soon discovers in a secret room in her mansion.   You’re not much of a Tomb Raider if a relic can be hidden away in your own home for a few years without you knowing!   Upon its discovery and after receiving a letter from lawyers under instruction from her fathers will, Lara becomes involved.   The timepiece soon becomes stolen from the mansion resulting in one of highlights for me.  Lara bouncing up and down on a bungee rope, kicking intruder ass and looking amazingly sexy in her nightdress.   Mark that scene down guys, 28 minutes in – then you have another 20 to kill before it gets interesting again.

Mr West is someone who Lara has a thing for yet he is an archaeologist of amazing stupidity.   She constantly helps him along throughout the film with even offering the glimpse of a sex scene.  The main baddie is Mr Powell who is into everything eastern and can be seen relaxing on his sofa in the middle of the jungle, I kid ye not.   Not much competition for our heroine.

The first temple known as the Temple of Dancing Light is in Cambodia and is where the first piece of the triangle is hidden and easily found thanks to Lara helping out the baddies.  Just why isn’t known – either stop them or join in and rule the world, women huh?   Of course once the triangle is discovered everything comes to life except stone creatures aren’t much help against heavily armed guards.  Even the guys at Core could have come up with better designs.  Lara soon escapes with half of the triangle much to the baddies disgust well not really; they let her get away easily.  Still the action is good and for a brief moment helps you forget how shite the film is.

For some unknown reason Lara teams up with the baddies to help find the final piece of the triangle (even handing over her piece of the relic in the process) located in the dead lands of the temple where the extinct civilisation once ruled.  Pretty clever hiding one half of the most power object known to man in the temple where the pieces must be joined together.  Fooled me.   No need to tell you who wins in the end but stay put for a sidesplitting reunion with Lara’s deceased father.  Thought the ending of Armageddon couldn’t be bettered?  Think again.

Its saying something when you finish watching the film and know the video games offered more depth.   There are some good moments in Tomb Raider mostly involving action scenes but these are too short and few in number.   The tombs themselves offer little challenge, just pull down a statue and enter, no traps en route.   Lara herself seems confused, helping the baddies one moment and them killing them the next.   We should have seen this coming as even the director Simon West apparently tried to remove his name from the credits thanks to some excessive editing.  It’s obvious that the script was frankly awful and a waste of good paper.  At times the dialogue would make even Steven Segal cringe and the film has the depth of an eggcup.

The success of The Mummy has spawned such films as Tomb Raider.  What most of these forget apart from the entertainment value is the humour, characters and special effects that paper over the cracks in the script.   The only good thing about Tomb Raider apart from some excellent locations (that are under-exploited) is Angelina Jolie, oh and it’s not a 3-hour epic like Pearl Harbour.  Lets hope Resident Evil is a little bit better.