Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Review
First arriving on the Sony Playstation in 1997, Final Fantasy VII was the first in Square’s long line of popular role-playing-games to receive a truly worldwide release. Capturing the hearts and imaginations of millions with its memorable, easily identifiable characters and deep cinematic storyline it remains a popular title amongst the masses all these years and subsequent Final Fantasy adventures on. When Advent Children was first unveiled a few years ago to be a movie follow-up to the events that took place in the Final Fantasy VII videogame, anticipation was high as fans waited patiently through numerous delays in production to see how their favourite characters were doing all these years on.
Despite having played the game through on more than one occasion my memory of the finer details to the storyline of Final Fantasy VII are more than a little sketchy, and this is quite detrimental to Advent Children’s value, relying heavily as it does on not only the back-story from the game, but some of its lesser characters. Fortunately this DVD release features a twenty-minute recap of the game’s storyline, and is advisable to watch prior to taking in the film. Once you do take the plunge however you’ll find yourself on a thrilling fantasy adventure that rewards fans along the way with numerous references to the game’s themes of unity and strength through family, with appearances from the key characters (both the heroes and villains) along the way.
As for the story, the loosest of summaries is best here as the details are largely inconsequential to your enjoyment of the proceedings. Following the events of Final Fantasy VII, some normality has returned to the world but in the two years that have passed a new disease known as geostigma has struck many of the population. The people’s hero, Cloud Strife, has also been affected by the incurable ailment and has since lost his will to fight, abandoning Tifa and the adopted children they care for as he runs, from himself and that which he can never escape, the loss of Aerith and the responsibility he feels for her death.
With the arrival of Kadaj and his followers, Cloud is dragged back into the struggle to purify the now tainted life stream which makes us and everything we hold dear, as Kadaj searches for Jenova in an attempt to resurrect Sephiroth and take revenge on the planet which they believe to be punishing us through the geostigma. Along the way you’ll meet the remnants of the Shinra Corporation who play a major part in Kadaj’s search for Jenova, and of course we’ll catch up with all of the major players from the game and learn how their bond remains strong and links have been maintained, even if they might not be around each other quite as much as they once were.
That main link seems to be the mobile phone, a strange choice of communication within the film, not because it’s out of place with the technologically advanced world the characters inhabit, but because it limits the direct contact between the characters. It does however go some way to expressing the abyss Cloud has put between he and the others, Tifa especially with their unspoken relationship captured here perfectly as she remains both confident in this character’s strengths and weaknesses. Beyond the troubled Cloud and the rock which Tifa’s vibrancy provides, the other central characters are present but largely feature in cameo appearances, looking and indeed playing the part in the action through beyond that they’ll raise a smile and little more. Indeed as previously mentioned some of the game’s lesser characters are featured more heavily, with Reno and Rude of the Turks standing out. Reprising their roles of providing a link between Cloud and Shinra Corp, as well as some light comic relief along the way, they come out very strong here and like everyone else are modelled very well on their original personalities.
Most impressive and what keeps you going through the initially sketchy and overly complex story exposition is the visual splendour on display. One of the most prominent features and something we did not see in Square’s previous CG feature film outing – and is rarely seen in Anime – is how the characters are modelled on Japanese looks and mannerisms. Not so much in terms of skin colour, but amongst the likes of Cloud, Reno, Rude and Kadaj’s gang anyone familiar with Japanese youth culture and how they’re portrayed in Japanese films and television, will notice the stark similarities. Such is the quality of the animation they almost look real at times, and you can almost see some young Japanese actor onscreen with the hairstyles which once looked surreal in the videogame now not that far removed from the culture of today. Fortunately in amongst all the visual delights the story does start falling into place, and although not quite the emotional rollercoaster ride they’re clearly aiming for, anyone’s prior attachment to the characters and in particular the bonds shared between Cloud, Aerith and Tifa, will likely help the events resonate on a greater level to those who are relying on the film alone for an emotional payoff. This is clearly a problem but it seems somewhat moot to criticise the film for not satisfying all audiences, when its target is very clear. You’ll either appreciate the visual references to Aerith watching over her friends, seen via a wolf’s shadowing of Cloud at key points, or you won’t. And likewise the appearance of Sephiroth has the ability to set fond gamers’ hearts racing, but if you’ve not played and identified with these characters before don’t expect them to now.
Something everyone can enjoy however is the frenetically paced and wonderfully staged action set-pieces, which appear with a frequency in the final hour that barely allow you to catch your breath. From the early motorcycle battle between Cloud and Kadaj’s gang to the showdown between Tifa and Loz the initial bouts of action are just a taste of what’s to come, with the latter in particular impressing with a style of hand-to-hand combat which exhibits remarkable speed and athleticism within the characters, captured through exotic camera angles and a deft use of slow-motion to enhance the graceful fluidity of Tifa’s movements. Later in the film the entire cast of characters is reunited in battle against a summon elemental, one that is staggering in size and requires the full range of talents found amongst the heroes as they propel Cloud upwards into the heavens to deal the fatal blow and see it come crashing back down to earth in an eruption of metal and fire. Throughout these moments which take place on a scale which is hard to capture with words, seeing the crowded marketplace below as our heroes traverse the rooftops attempting to lay blows to the in-flight beast or the crumbling landscapes of the ruins where Cloud finally meets Sephiroth for the finale, there is a constant musical accompaniment from regular musical director to the series Nobuo Uematsu. As with the games he manages to integrate the strings and piano compositions so familiar and integral to the key action and storyline moments while also including a few notable themes taken directly from Final Fantasy VII and given a new heavy-rock skew, all of which are key to the audio-visual experience on offer here. They enhance the action with a sense of urgency and pace, whilst underscoring the (admittedly few) key dramatic moments with a poignancy and delicacy that might otherwise not have been present. It’s a beautiful score and one I’ve been listening to ever since it was released well over a year ago, and revisiting the film and seeing how it’s integrated adds a whole new level of appreciation to its quality (similar to the effectiveness of the Silent Hill movie’s use of music).
This two-disc set offers an identical set of extras to the R1 equivalent, with both arriving on DVD in the same week. The choice should have been easy, but the transfer on this R2 release is most likely slightly inferior due to a strange decision on Sony’s part (I say “most likely” as I’ve not been able to compare).
The main feature is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and coming from a digital source, is absolutely spotless with no print damage to speak of. The strange decision on Sony’s part is that of using an NTSC to PAL standards conversion, bringing into the mix the expected ghosting and some minor artefacting introduced to the in-between frames, plus a greater level of softness to the image than was intended (like many recent Anime productions Advent Children has a somewhat hazy coating to the image at times but this is intentional). In all other respects the transfer is really quite good, and this is down to the quality of the source which offers maximum detail and requires no edge enhancement. The standards conversion lessens this quality to a small degree, but as is usually the case if you wonder what the big fuss is with standards conversions then this will most likely satisfy.
The original Japanese dub and a new English dub are provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 and both are quite superb. I won’t comment on the quality of the dubbing in the English track as I only sampled it here and there to spot check any technical differences, but in terms of surround stage usage during the energetic action set pieces and projecting Nobuo Uematsu’s sublime musical score these tracks are top drawer.
Optional English subtitles are presented in a rather large but easy to read white font and offer something half-way between a literal translation and the English dub script. For the most part the story tracks well and the dialogue is represented fairly, but at times the attempts to translate certain characters' less straight-forward dialogue falls way short with Tifa’s mocking of Cloud’s attitude and Cait Sith’s dialogue in particular quite poorly handled (the latter is translated with a Scottish accent into incomprehensible text).
In terms of extras on disc one you will find the aforementioned Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII featurette which condenses the thirty-plus hours playing time of the videogame into about 24-minutes highlighting the key aspects of the storyline and proving very useful to remembering some of the finer points to the back-story.
All other extras are located on disc two, but as this wasn’t included with the review set I cannot pass comment on them. I can however confirm they are identical to those found on the Region 1 set, so you can read about them in more detail by linking through to Kevin Gilvear’s review.
Strictly for the fans or action and animation aficionados, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children offers some welcome continuation to the bonds formed in the videogame and blends them into a technically impressive feature that barely stops for breath in amongst the extravagant action set pieces. Due to the standards conversion this Region 2 DVD release should be avoided if you want the very best out there, but will otherwise suffice if you prefer a PAL disc and can accept the slight dip in quality.