Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Review

Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the cinema release of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

If you were wowed by Toy Story and stunned by Shrek, prepare to gasp even more by the so-called ‘next big thing’ in the computer generated film market – Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Famed as the first film using HyperReal computer graphic, fans of Square’s lengthy computer games saga have been waiting for this release with tremendous anticipation. Reports from various fansites have been initially disappointing, considering the film’s tenuous link to the plot of the games (although they had little to do with each other anyhow). However, if like me, you are a relative newcomer to the Final Fantasy legacy, you obviously won’t find that a major drawback and should find the film refreshing entertainment.

The year is 2065 and Earth is under siege. The survivors of an alien onslaught have retreated to barrier cities designed to protect the populous from the ever-advancing invaders. When planning Earth’s continued survival, two ideologies surface: scientist Dr. Sid, with the aid of the film’s heroine Aki Ross, believes the search for the planet’s hidden mystical spirits is the key, whilst the evil General Hein, whose own family was lost in the war, supports the idea of using heavy violence with the dreaded Zeus Weapon. As a subplot, a love story develops between Aki and Captain Gray Edwards, elite squad leader of the Deep Eyes squadron, who are assigned to keep an eye on Aki and Dr. Sid.

The plot is slightly preposterous, and at times it can be hard to follow, but compared to the superb visual splendor of the film and the pulsating sound effects editing (presented in Sony’s Dynamic Digital Sound system), it’s only a minor detraction. Final Fantasy works best as a piece of escapist science-fiction, and is atmospherically top notch. The action sequences are directed with vitality and are frenetically paced, and the locations are wonderfully realised and possess a very natural yet futuristic setting.

Unfortunately, the film’s most major drawback is the characters. Much has been made of Final Fantasy being the first HyperReal computer generated movie, but unfortunately the characters haven’t been given an equal share of attention during the design stages. Some of them, such as Dr. Sid and Captain Gray, ‘act’ well and have facial expressions that match their dialogue. However, for characters such as Aki or Neil, the voices distinctly do not match the facial expressions and appear to be extremely disjointed. Neil seems like the type of person Luke Perry should have voiced and not Steve Buscemi, and Aki, being the main protagonist of the film, is bland, under-developed and distinctly un-humanlike in her mannerisms. Being that the film is a serious attempt at creating believable computer generated characters, it misfires dramatically when it comes to its heroine.

All this may be, but one has to admit that at times Final Fantasy genuinely feels like a ‘proper’ film with ‘proper’ actors, something that Toy Story or Shrek cannot claim. Some of the voiceovers, such as Donald Sutherland’s and Ving Rhames’ are exceedingly good, and even Alec Baldwin performs admirably. The musical score by Elliot Goldenthal is very reminiscent of late seventies sci-fi blockbusters such as Star Wars and Star Trek – The Motion Picture and works a treat for the film.

It is doubtless that there are other more worthy blockbusters released this summer that supercede Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within on the priority list. However, the film is certainly innovative and hopefully is the start of some tremendous HyperReal films with breaktaking and imaginative plotlines, after they sort out a few tweaks with the character and emotion development. Even so, Final Fantasy is as good example as any of a true representation of a future drawn from the postmodern society our world is gradually becoming.

Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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