Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Review
Two years after the defeat of Sephiroth and the devastating attack from Meteor the planet of something or other (I’m pretty sure it’s never been mentioned) is finally getting back on its feet. Those who survived in Midgar have built a new town called “Edge”, situated near the ruins of the former city that was destroyed. Their new found happiness is soon dealt a blow when a mysterious disease known as Geostigma begins to infect children. Cloud Strife, who now runs a delivery service with Tifa Lockheart and their friends is now a victim to the Geostigma, which forces him to go into hiding in fear that he cannot protect those he loves any longer. But when Cloud is attacked by three “brothers” he learns of a plot to resurrect his old foe Sephiroth, which has something to do with the arrival of the Geostigma. The brothers then begin to kidnap children, including an orphan named Denzel who lives with Tifa and his sister Marlene. Cloud races to protect the children, while Kadaj and his brothers discover from Rufus Shinra (head of Shinra Company) that their “mother” is in fact the remains of Jenova, who is behind the rise in Geostigma cases. Now, Cloud and Tifa must call upon their greatest friends for the ultimate reunion.
For many gamers their love of the Final Fantasy franchise began in 1997, with the release of Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation. This was the first 3D incarnation in the series, which immediately captured the attention of gamers worldwide, shifting more than nine million units globally. It was also the game that developers Square would take to heart. Arguably it’s still the finest entry in the series to date, and it’s easy to see why. Later instalments have continued to be immensely popular, however there’s a sense with Square that they began to tread familiar ground. Certainly Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX go over the same territory, slightly altering the story of their main protagonists, but staying in line with the same themes of love, life and a universe built upon a mysterious Lifestream. Perhaps Final Fantasy VII is so loved because at the time it presented a narrative like no other in videogames. It also had a fun selection of memorable characters and a world vast enough to become fully immersed in.
“To those who loved this world, and knew friendly company therein: this reunion is for you.”
So, as a tribute to its fans, as a thank you for all their support over the years Square Enix closes the doors on its highly respected masterpiece. It was perhaps an all too brave move for the company, due to the colossal 2001 theatrical bomb that was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which subsequently forced a joint venture between Square Pictures - which was on the verge of bankruptcy - and games developer Enix. However Square Enix have bounced back, more determined than ever to take computer animation to new heights in a bid to secure themselves as being amongst the best CG animators currently working today.
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve played Final Fantasy VII, and over the course of nine years or so it’s easy to forget certain things. While many plot elements still stick with me there are others that have simply fizzled into obscurity. That initially brings cause for concern when approaching a movie sequel set two years after the events of that game. The characters and locations instantly cause memories to flood back; there’s no mistaking this world for anything else. But, as Square Enix has already covered, this is a film for fans. So does that pose a threat to those who haven’t sampled the games? In a sense yes. While the storyline is relatively small it’s filled with convoluted elements that only gamers will instantly pick up on; talk about Mako, Materia and other exclusive elements to the series is bound to go over the heads of the uninitiated. Likewise certain characters that fleet in and out, especially Aerith and Zak are bound to have viewers scratching their heads. Frankly that’s not enough for me to automatically put down the film, because here we’re torn between two sides of entertainment – obviously films and games. Final Fantasy VII does have a strong narrative; over the course of forty or so hours of gameplay a storyline does develop, characters are fully fleshed out and a resolution is met, all done in-between randomly generated fights of course. For the film Square Enix doesn’t dwell too much on the specifics of their game, which had already presented all the story it could have.
Instead the team take the story to the next level, whilst ensuring that everyone’s favourite characters get a look in. The film also presents us with some exclusive characters, namely that of Kadaj, Yazoo and Loz – three brothers seeking out their “mother”. The main plotline here tries not to be superficial, and yet clearly the feature’s visuals win out above all else. It’s hard to become wrapped up in such a story that for all intents should be simple to follow but relies so much on specific jargon created by team Enix. No longer do words like Geostigma hold much interest for the viewer, despite its origins being touched upon. Furthermore this is of course all leading up to the inevitable return of fan favourite Sephiroth, who does eventually show his face after many a showdown for a big finish toward the end. To be honest though one should probably have never expected an Enix storyline squeezed into two hours to be anything particularly engaging. Frankly the film becomes far greater immersed within the whole Final Fantasy contingent, wrapping itself up in a philosophy that has survived throughout each subsequent game. Most of what we see develop during its run is exactly plot devices that are just touched upon, but then if you want an entire back-story then I guess you’ll just have to play the game.
Still, there’s no denying what an amazing film this is to look at. When Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was being hyped up due its unprecedented realism within the confines of computer generated motion pictures things were looking very good for the future of entertainment. Newspapers were running articles, printing still shots asking the reader to distinguish between a real eye and a CG one. It was proving that computer technology might one day be able to replace actors full stop. However when the film was released and we saw it up and running it was clear that there was still some way to go. The biggest problem with these characters was that despite moving in a realistic manner they were ultimately soulless beings, and that can never be truly replicated by any machine. Facial expressions, particularly mouth movements just took the viewer out of the film. It was an experiment; an interesting but flawed one. A few years down the line and Square Enix has reached a point where it’s happy to stay for now. The characters of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children do indeed look superb, but for different reasons. They retain humanistic qualities, but they’re designed to fit within a suitably Japanese world, that mainly of anime, a medium that Square Enix has embraced and isn’t too fussed in staying close to. On close inspection eyes, ears, noses, mouths, every limb and vein could well be finely tuned to human characteristics, whereas hair designs – while remarkably fluid and strangely mesmerising – are instantly defined by their anime/manga-like qualities. Likewise is the sheer amount of outlandish costuming, seen only within this or videogame artforms. Ultimately though these characters are for the first time truly alive, they work on a level far greater than those of the aforementioned film did. Square Enix aren’t trying to make a 100% realistic film, they just want to break some rules and have some fun while staying true to the essence of their games.
This brings us to what is obviously the film’s greatest asset – its action. Once again motion capture is used to fully replicate human movement, something that has been used time and again for feature films, including animation, with the most recent comparison being 2004’s Appleseed. And, if you thought the action there was splendid then you should prepare yourself for quite a feast here. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is filled to the brim with the most crazed action sequences that you’ll likely find from any film; there’s a kind of John Woo philosophy being employed here – anything goes, and it doesn’t have to be real. Of course there’s no point in forgetting that this is a continuation of a game, besides it’s impossible to do so. There is no feasible way that anyone could pull off what these characters do, it’s so ridiculous, so improbable and yet so much fun to see them fly, leap across rooms, scale tall buildings with their legs and wield weaponry so heavy that by rights they should be collapsing within seconds. There are several superbly designed set pieces – the team finally coming together as one for Bahamut’s confrontation being the film’s biggest showpiece, and one that ensures huge grins all round. While most of the action is impressively staged there are one or two encounters that suffer from far too much quick-cutting, which makes the hand to hand combat a little less engaging – Tifa vs. Loz for example. At the end of the day though, fans want to see the likes of Vincent and cloud kick serious butt, plenty of loud motorcycles and scanty clad, perfectly formed women, and that’s exactly what they get.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children also has a score that not only reflects that of the game, but uses itself in a highly reflective manner. Nobuo Uematsu’s Classical numbers accompany several fight sequences, which lift them above what any other rock orchestral piece might have done in order to spice up an action scene. Which isn’t to say there isn’t any rock pieces, just that the selective process has been an intuitive one. Come some of the later stages Uematsu whips out the guitars for some exciting bouts, which largely take up the second half of the film as tempers soar. Uematsu has always been able to engage the gamer with his pleasant scores, often providing a fine lyricism and poignancy which takes the weight of any of the Final Fantasy games’ emotional baggage. While there isn’t as huge an emotional drama being played out here he emphasis on action and provides some nice intermittent numbers. As with the games the music becomes integral in drawing the viewer in.
On a final note, fans might not feel the need to question the motives of the film, and as far as they go this is a worthy enough successor to a game that’s still talked about ten years after its conception. Saying that I’m still concerned by certain things that I most definitely didn’t expect to see here, things that just don’t belong within the world of Final Fantasy VII. Many of these are minor, but my biggest gripe is that which sees some amazingly shameless product placement. Is there really a need for it? I suppose that depends on just who is funding the work of Square Enix. It does bother me somewhat, and I find that it can all so easily take me out of a film when it’s so blatantly shoved in my face. I’m referring to the gratuitous use of mobile phones, something that not once made its way into the game. Since when do these characters use mobile phones? I understand that people need to communicate, but there is something very distracting about all of these characters pulling out a phone and flipping up the lid; in addition to a funny little musical piece from the game being used as a character’s ring tone, which might just be Square Enix saying “Yea, you can also grab this tone from all good websites.” After researching I found out that the phones used are in fact the Panasonic FOMA P900iV range, which is only available within Japan, with possible European and US launches in future. It really does bother me in this day and age why even in a animated fantasy world we have to be subjected to this kind of nonsense.
I can’t remember the last time when such an anticipated DVD release had faced so many setbacks (Bladerunner not withstanding). Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children should have seen a simultaneous world-wide release back in Sept 2005, but it seemed like every month the dates were changing. It’s finally made it in the UK and US, though sadly it foregoes a director’s commentary and the short anime Final Fantasy: Last Order. However we still get two discs in an overall nicely presented edition.
Presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children looks as good as can be expected, which means that the usual banding, aliasing and Edge Enhancement brings it down a peg or two. It seems as if there’s just no getting around these issues when it comes to anime or CG animation on DVD; it will be interesting to see if the new HD formats can rectify this. By no means do these niggles prove to be distracting though; it is hard to tell if the aliasing on hair is a by-product of the animation or if the DVD just cannot cope with it, but for the most part the film looks pretty lovely. There are moments of softness throughout, which I’ll put down to various lighting effects, particularly outdoors, but close ups look stunning, with plenty of clarity in the faces; don’t expect the kind of realism that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within went for though, such as blemishes – these are pretty boys and girls, the sickening perfect stars.
As for audio we get a very effective 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track, available in native Japanese and English; the latter of which was reported to have caused some delay in this release. Both tracks make solid use of everything we see onscreen. The soundstage here is very immersive (must be word of the day), with superb directional usage that justly enhance the epic battles. Dialogue is crystal clear and channelled across the board successfully. Although I listened to the Japanese track for my viewing pleasure I took a little time out to sample the English dub. This has been adapted rather well, and the timing for each actor next to the movements of their respective character’s mouth is quite impressive; so it’s evident that the time was taken out to provide as close a translation as possible, while keeping things non-distracting.
English subtitles are also available in a yellow font, which is well timed and easy to read. I didn’t spot any grammatical errors, so good job all round.
All extra features in this collection come with optional English subtitles
Disc 1 :
Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII Story Digest (23.54)
If you are unfamiliar with Final Fantasy VII or, if like me, you need a little recap then I advise you to watch this prior to the film. The reason being is that this takes you through all the major plot points in the Playstation game, subtitling into English the Japanese text boxes that appear throughout. In particular we’re given invaluable insight into characters who merely have cameos in the film, such as Sephiroth, Aerith and Zack. Failure to know these characters prior will have you questioning just who the hell they are, especially Zack toward the end. It’s not particularly fun watching footage of someone playing a game, but it’s a welcome addition and should at least clear up some things for those less in the know; although you still won’t find any great meaning in its ideas and philosophies.
Disc 2 :
There are eleven scenes here which have been excised from the movie, and curiously so. I don’t see anything here which would have furthered the plot nor hinder it as most of these are no longer than thirty seconds, some lasting no more than two seconds. Several include dialogue, while others are just characters getting into cool poses. There is no backing score or sound effects for any of these.
Venice Film Festival Footage (23.43)
A rather pointless feature, this piece is made up of various clips from the movie, which we’ve already seen. There are no other bits from the Venice showing, which probably would have included a couple of interviews and walking around or something.
Distance: The Making of Advent Children (36.19)
This is the main feature, and the only one that’s really worth looking into. It explains a little about the origins of Final Fantasy VII, before taking us into the movie production announcement. We’re quickly introduced to director Tetsuya Nomura who offers some sentimental insights into the original game and its inevitable movie sequel. Producer Yoshinori Kitase, Scenario Designer Kazushige Nojima, Co-Director Takeshi Nozue, Mechanical/Creature Designer Takayuki Takeya, Tattooist Jun Matsui, Art Director Yusuke Naora, Composer Nobuo Uematsu also lend their creative thoughts. We’re taken behind the scenes of the dub recording session, where principal cast members discuss their specific roles and thoughts about their performances.
In-between all of this we get to see film clips, CG test footage and motion capture filming. This is a deep and personal look into Square Enix’s beloved sequel, and should please the fans out there.
Advent Children Trailers
Here you’ll find a selection of trailers from various festivals held in Japan. We get three trailers from the 2003 Tokyo Game Show, 2003 Jump Fiesta, E3 2004, 2004 Tokyo Game Show, 2004 Jump Fiesta and E3 2005. These trailers get lengthier as they go on, with the earlier ones providing teaser footage.
Sneak Peek of Upcoming Final Fantasy VII Games
These come with a play all option, or they can be viewed individually. Included is a Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, Before Crisis, Crisis Core, Dirge of Cerberus and Advent Children (which is just another trailer for the film, as opposed to the FFVII remake I was expecting to see).
Depending on how invested the viewer is in these characters it might bare significant impact on them upon its denouement, otherwise Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children might not be the emotional ride that some viewers hope for. For an action film it’s a stunning piece of work, easily outstripping the wafer thin storyline contained within. I imagine that hardcore fans will be thrilled with Square Enix’s passionate piece of work, while others will easily marvel at its glorious animation. With a run time of 100-minutes the film breezes along and is over before you know it, which pretty much sums up that it sure is entertaining.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 05:38:27