Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi
Starring the voices of Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Donald Sutherland, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, and Keith David.
I remember Augustana’s first-ever anime festival. At one of the (well, actually, only) round-table discussion, mention was made of the Final Fantasy movie, which was already in production at the time. I clued in the panel that it was going to be an original story, along the lines of the then-popular Final Fantasy VII. A collective moan went through the panel, as they were hoping for something more along the lines of the swords-and-sorcery of the earlier games. They perked up, though, when I mentioned what got people like me interested in it. It was going to attempt to be the first computer animated film with photo-realistic people. That is, CGI people that look just like you and me. It’s been two years since that anime festival, and we finally get to see the finished product.
Earth. 2065. For the past 35 years, Earth has been under attack by ghost-like aliens dubbed “Phantoms.” They attack by sucking the lifeforce out of Earth life. The last remnants of humanity live in giant, shielded cities, while most of the planet has been turned into a lifeless wasteland. Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and her mentor, Dr. Sid (Sutherland) have been working on a plan to defeat the Phantoms. It’s Dr. Sid’s theory that all planets have a spirit, and each spirit has its own distinct wave. If the inverse wave of the Phantoms could be constructed, it could wipe them out. Discovering the inverse wave, though, involves discovering Gai’s wave, or the wave of the Earth spirit. The wave fragments, which Sid dubbed “spirits,” lie in the remaining life on Earth. Only two more need to be found, and then he and Aki can save the planet. General Hein (Woods) however, has a different theory. The best way to get rid of the Phantoms, he believes, is with bigger guns, mainly his orbital weapons platform called the Zeus cannon. So, the race is on for Aki to find the last two spirits before Hein gets all trigger happy. Fortunately, Aki has help from Capt. Grey Edwards (Baldwin), and his elite army unit, the Deep Eyes Squadron (Rhames, Buscemi, and Gilpin). Did I mention that Aki and Grey are former lovers? Can Aki and the Deep Eyes find the last two spirits? Will Hein accidentally destroy the Earth with the Zeus cannon? Will Aki and Grey rediscover their feelings for each other? And what’s the deal with those weird dreams Aki keeps having?
I once read somewhere that, here in North America, we only get about the top 10% of anime. Final Fantasy must come from that other 90%. It’s not terrible, but I found it to be…lacking. The animation, however, is truly spellbinding. No wonder this movie took four years to make. Computers do have a long way to go, though, before producing a fully fluid human face. And, it does seem to borrow from other sci-fi films. As I’m sure every other film critic has pointed out by now, the Deep Eyes are a bit like the Marines in Aliens. They were creative, though, in making Steve Buscemi play the normal guy. And I always love hearing Keith David giving a character his “Goliath” voice. All that aside, there are some great visuals, and a not-to-bad plot. Don’t get me wrong. I liked this film. But, ultimately, I have the same complaint that I had with Titan A.E.: it’s good, but I sooooo wanted great. Animation is trying very hard to grow up in North America, but it’s still going through a painful puberty.