Sunday, September 13, 2009

Old Blog Review: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Old Post Note: This review was published Sept. 14th 2008. One year old tomorrow...damn...

Hey G1's I spent looking at some video game based movies and I hadn't written a review in a while, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on one I saw reciently.

I must confess something to you; the only Final Fantasy game I’ve played all the way through is X. I am not a fan of the incredibly popular Japanese RPG because they’ve made the same game twelve times in its numerals series and countless times in other spin-offs. Every time I try and finish a Final Fantasy game, I lose interest about halfway through the experience and find something else to do.

But take away the grind-filled nature of the series, the overall art and grandeur is unmatched. The series constant excellent visuals remain the standard of imagination in the craft of video games. I’ve said time to time that the game may make a better film than a fourty-something trek on a game system. Well, in 2001 Square Pictures released Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within to test my theory.

Final Fantasy Screen

The film centers around Dr. Aki Ross on a planet earth inhabited by mysterious, ghostlike beings that kill people by touching them and sending their dark-blue spirit away. Ross’ mission is to collect 8 spirits from various parts of the world and bring them together to try and rid earth of the spirits with the help of Dr. Cid (wink wink) and a team of military operatives.

The film acts as a conflict of ideals between Ross and General Hein sporting a black leather jacket which no doubt came from the costume designer of Final Fantasy 8. Basically Ross and Cid believe that the planet has a life-giving soul called Gaia. Gaia powers the earth with one force and the mysterious creatures inhabiting the planet with another force. The Ross and Cit want to combine the forces thus balance earth and the 8 spirits are the key. Hein however wants to use the Zeus cannon and blast the monsters to faster than you can say death star.

General Hein
General Hein voiced by James Woods

The film has an interesting ideology to it, Gaia is believed to be the soul and heaven of the earth and when a human’s spirit is gone, a the spirit goes to Gaia to be part of it. An obvious tie in to Buddha religion and in a way a sort of study of how a new ideal or religion is formed which are some of the most enjoyable parts of the film.

Eastern Religious themes, a futuristic setting, gather 8 things to save the world, a villain in black leather, and a giant space cannon; it sounds like perfect ground for a Final Fantasy story. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about the characters. Helping Ross are a rag-tag team of the four most clich├ęd American military imaginable. First we have Ryan Witiker, the token Black character whose only concern in life seems to be his White captain’s safety. The character predictably sacrifices himself for the captain to preserve everything White, way to be Original Square. Second we have Neil Fleming, the comedy relief who always has a witty comment for any situation. Third we have Officer Jane Padfoot (G.I. Jane, wink wink) whose only real purpose is to roll her eyes at Fleming and add to the team’s political correctness by being the only woman in the team. Lastly we have Gray Edwards, the white hero martyr who’s purpose is to look like Ben Affleck.

Gray Edwards
Gray Edwards played by Ben Affleck, I mean Alec Baldwin

These stock characters are people we’ve seen 1000 times over and they aren’t particularly interesting or special which was the biggest issue of the film. We spend a lot of time with them when there’s plenty of interesting philosophy and intelligent themes going on here but the chase scenes bring the whole experience to a halt. The action chorography comes across as rather lazy and never really becomes an edge of your seat thrill ride that it’s trying to do sometimes.

Although the action isn’t the greatest, I will say that the overall look and art of the film is the most rewarding part of the experience. Considering this flick is about seven years old, the graphics, subtle touches, and a high amount of imagination can excuse a lot of the issues of characters and poor action. The characters give things like lip stumbling, freckles, hair, and more traits that at moments I forgot I was watching a CGI movie. Most of my thoughts of stock characters went away at the landscape, creative creatures, and overall finely polished detail.

Final Fantasy Art
The Art is Nothing Short of Gourgous

The acting has some very solid voice work from Donald Sutherland, James Woods, and Steve Buscemi. Ving Rhames and Alec Baldwin are wasted however, but they couldn’t do much with the material. Ming-Nu, most known for playing Mulan in, well, Mulan, gives a sometimes-inconsistent performance stumbling on one or two lines but does her job.

Overall, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has its share of character issues and lack-luster action, the film is enjoyable with its deep philosophy, spectacular art direction, and mostly solid voice work. Some have panned the flick for not having anything to do with the Final Fantasy franchise. Although the film doesn’t have the usual Japanese caricatures and it’s depth only goes to a point, the philosophy and visuals make the film very much worthy of the name Final Fantasy. The film is also very well know for being a huge Box-Office disaster and ended the life of Square Films. With it’s mature themes, tone, and visuals, it’s a shame that this title will remain only on the shelves of the most die-hard Final Fantasy fans.

Hope you enjoyed reading, if you liked this review, go check out more at CanuckGamer's League of G1 Critics for this and many other reviews from awesome G1's.

And Canuck, I'll be wanting my check for that plug $$$ :)

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