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IN SHORT: Pretty pictures. Lightweight story. Letdown of an ending. [Rated PG-13. 95 minutes]
We're told (by the always helpful press notes) that the Final Fantasy series of role playing games was an international success that reached new heights when it was ported to Sony's PlayStation 2 video console. We'll let Sony pat itself on the back (its movie studio is distributing) and remind y'all that we don't compare to Source Material. You shouldn't have to play the game to understand the movie. Period.
And you don't -- unless there's something more significant that happens at the end of the film than this dim bulb (who didn't understand The Matrix, either) didn't get. We don't think so, but we could be wrong
So, aliens have invaded the Earth and we've got to whup their butts to retake the planet. This means, if Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within were to follow the standard template, lots of really big explosions and alien guts splayed over the big screen. Nope. No guts but a couple of glorious explosions.
The year is 2065, the 34th of the Occupation. Most of the major American cities are gone. What's left of New York sits under a protective dome where the Ruling Council sits. Our heroes, Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) have convinced the Council to accept the theory about universal spirits enabling all living things and how killing the aliens may actually kill Gaia (aka our good ol' Mother Earth). They believe that the alien invaders can be defeated in a particularly meta-physical pseudo-religious way involving eight spirits that, when combined, will cancel out the energy waveforms of the alien phantom spirits that are munching down on human souls., This really ticks off the military commander, General Hein (James Woods) who waits for Ross to screw up. Failing that, well, you know bad guys can't sit back and wait.
That doesn't mean our docs don't need protection. The protection they get, lucky for us guys, is a military crew having a fine time blasting everything in sight. The particular marines who save Aki's tail are a well distributed bunch: male (Ving Rhames), female (Peri Gilpin), comedy relief (Steve Buscemi) and romantic interest commander (Alec Baldwin).
Add to the mix the fact that lucky Aki only got "infected" when she had an earlier, pre-film encounter with the aliens. Thus, the clock is ticking while our heroes hunt down the eight spirits needed to cure Aki and the world. Why eight "spirits" are necessary to defeat the foe is never explained. We don't know if something got lost in translation from Japanese story to American screenplay. We do know that what is up onscreen was lightweight enough for us to follow, while we watched some stunning computer animation dance across the screen.
On the mostly positive side, we continue to be amazed at the leaps that computer generated animation makes, from film to film. The creators of Final Fantasy were quick to emphasize that they weren't trying for photorealistic animation -- a wise thing to say to cover themselves if the work had been shoddy. It's not. It's 85% fabulous with a number of scenes that do manage photorealism. From time to time we saw places where the quality dropped -- very brief cuts where skin texture and color didn't hold up -- but nothing that ever gets in the way of the story. We didn't think there was all that much new to what tale there was to tell.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, he would have paid . . .
But we're not neck deep in our SF phase. We're long past it and would much prefer to rent for the pretty pictures and the opportunity to replay the ending to see if there was something deeper than we saw. We did jump at the chance to speak with star Ming-Na when we saw pieces of the film a couple of weeks back. That plus Paul's interview comprises Cranky Critic® Star Talk, click here. For the target demo who think Aki is the neatest thing ever, we've got a whole bunch of wallpapers for your desktop. Ain't we great or what?
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