Final Fantasy

A lot has been written about “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” a computer generated science-fiction adventure that attempts to duplicate photo realistic people. A lot of time and money, reportedly a lot of money, went into the development and production of “Final Fantasy.”

final fantasyBased on the popular video game, “Final Fantasy” is indeed a stunning piece of filmmaking. It is filled with breathtaking, gorgeous images and some genuine white-knuckle thrills. What “Final Fantasy” lacks is a decent script, character conviction and a total lack of originality.

The screenplay for “Final Fantasy” is just as synthetic as the film. Writers Al Reinert (Apollo 13) and Jeff Vintar had the world at their fingertips and dropped the ball. Except for incorporating elements of the game into their script, Reinert and Vintar could have imagined anything they wanted.

What they give us is a rehash of every popular science-fiction film they have ever seen. I imagine their research included watching everything from “Starship Troopers” to “Bladerunner.” This isn’t a script, it’s a greatest hits collection.

Adding insult to injury is the filmmakers insistence on using well-known actors to voice the characters. While this strategy works in animated fantasy films like “Toy Story” and “Chicken Run,” it’s quite disconcerting in a film trying to pass itself off as reality.

Instead of accepting the characters, you keep thinking they don’t look like Alec Baldwin, or Steve Buscemi, or Donald Sutherland. “Final Fantasy” would have benefitted from unknown vocal talent. It would have helped create an illusion rather than spoil it.

Ten minutes into “Final Fantasy,” and you’ve pretty much seen the film. What follows are variations of the same thing, just what you would expect from a film based on a video game. I think part of the problem lies with game creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, who serves as producer- director of the film.

Sakaguchi is so close to “Final Fantasy” that he seems afraid to stray from the formula. So what we get is a really expensive video game that plays itself. That’s fine for ten minutes, but then what? Sit back and enjoy the scenery? Hardly. The script sucks, so don’t expect any surprises.

While a lot has been said about the film’s photo-realistic look, I found most of it flat. A lot of money was spent to create computer-generated hair that looks like the real thing, and skin tones that are translucent. So what? All I kept thinking while watching “Final Fantasy” is how cool it would have looked if it were shot live.

It’s impossible to invest yourself in the characters, a rag-tag group of Earth survivors fighting off the spirits of alien invaders sometime in the distant future. The group is led by Doctor Aki Ross (voice of Ming-Na), who is working with Doctor Sid (Donald Sutherland) to find a way to understand then beat the aliens.

The rest of the computer-generated cast includes a group of soldiers who are assigned to protect Ross while she looks for the key, and a rebel faction intent on stopping them. The characters are thin and predictable, always doing exactly what you expect of them. You really don’t care what happens to them, not just because they’re computer images, but because they’re badly written and acted computer images.

I don’t blame the medium. I love computer generated movies, and found myself laughing through “Toy Story,” “Chicken Run” and “Shrek.” As a bold experiment, “Final Fantasy” falls short. The images are not sharp enough to qualify as photo-realistic. The people look and act like video game characters. When the movie comes to an end, you expect it to say Game Over.

All the time and money spent to make “Final Fantasy” seems like a waste of time. Just between you and me, the characters in “Final Fantasy” looked like roto-scope characters in Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated “Lord of the Rings.”

Faced with a limited budget, Bakshi filmed live actors in costume and then had the film frames painted, creating a surreal animated look. It’s not always effective (it looked out of place in Bakshi’s “Animated Pop”), but it was cheap and sufficed.

Twenty-three years later, that same look is being hailed as groundbreaking. There’s nothing groundbreaking about “Final Fantasy.” It’s an expensive diversion for people who have nothing better to do with their time.


Computer generated film fails to flesh out characters, story


The voices of Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland, James Woods. Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi. Rated PG-13. 101 Minutes.


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