So, does Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within live up to its hype? Yes and no. What definitely lives up to the hype is the computer animation. What doesn’t live up to the hype is a totally engrossing story and good action.
Lets tackle the story first. The story follows Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na Wen) who is a human infect with an alien “spirit”. She and a Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) are working on a way to save the Earth, which is being overrun by these spirits. These spirits will take the life force of any life form that it touches, killing them instantly. But, Dr. Sid was able to help Dr. Ross and kept her from dying from the infection. Helping these two doctors is the Deep Eyes squadron. Captain Grey (Alec Baldwin) leads the squadron; he also has a love interest for Dr. Ross. The two doctors are trying to save the Earth in an environmentally safe way, a way that will not destroy the Gaia (the spirit of a world). On the other hand there is General Hein (James Woods) who wants to fire a huge orbiting cannon at the crater where the alien meteor is. He thinks this will kill off the spirits and free the Earth. The doctors think different, they think that this will kill the Gaia of the Earth also and if the Gaia of the Earth dies, then all the spirits on the world will die.
The story is overly complicated, especially since director/writer Hironobu Sakaguchi decided to throw in all kinds of meta-physical, existential, and religious non-sense into what could have been a pretty straightforward and fun story. The underlying story is pretty simple and I would have loved to see it told without all this philosophical crap. The complication bogs the movie down and sometimes makes it feel like it is preaching about saving the Earth to an audience who is just there to see a cool movie. Does this hurt the film though? Nope.
What saves the film is the out-of-this-world eye-opening computer generated animation. This stuff truly lives up to its hype. The movie opens with a very long close-up of Aki’s eye and is incredible! It’s almost as if the filmmakers are inviting you to try to find something wrong yet we are stunned at what is onscreen. Yes, there are times when the characters move woodenly, but most of the time the movie gives a true sense of reality. The characters all look convincing and their movements are realistic. But, because it is animation, the filmmakers are able to do so much more with the characters and with the environment. In the opening sequence we see Aki through the ground (from bottom up) and it is just a stunning visual. These stunning mind-bending visuals are used all through the film. The landscapes that are created in the film are especially stunning. There was one thing that felt “off” about the characters though. The speech and the mouth movements just felt a little off. Kind of like watching a movie with its soundtrack just a little be off. But, that’s no biggie.
The voice acting is great! Ming-Na does a good job with her role, as does Alec Baldwin. But the real winners here are Donald Sutherland, Peri Gilpin as one of the DeepEyes, Ving Rhames as another Deep Eye, and Steve Buscemi as a pilot for the Deep Eyes. Buscemi was especially good and was incredibly funny (like always). The only voice that felt out of place, and this was because of the incredibly lame lines he got and the dumb things his character had to do, was James Woods. Usually, I like Woods a lot as an actor, but he just wasn’t doing well in Final Fantasy. His General Hein was a bit too badly written.
The score from Elliot Goldenthal is one to listen for. It is well done.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is truly a revolutionary step forward for computer-generated movies. Will CG actors be replacing real human actors anytime soon? Nah, there’s still a ways to go, but Final Fantasy shows just how far things have come. Should you see Final Fantasy? Without a question, Yes! This is a Don’t Miss movie. See it for the incredible visuals that will leave you breathless. After a while I stopped trying to keep track of all that was happening in the story because it was so very complicated. And at times seeing how the consistency of the story itself wavered, it seems that the moviemakers also started to forget about the stories and concentrated on the visuals which is a damn good thing because this film is all eye-candy and it is something worth seeing twice.