Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

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“Fantasy Becomes Reality” (or the one on the poster)

Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi
Starring (voice cast) Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland and James Woods

Following a meteor strike, the people of the world are under constant attack by the Phantoms, invisible alien beings that kill with a touch and can infect a person with their ‘energy’, forcing the surviving population into barrier cities, defended by energy shields. Two solutions are on the table to end this stalemate: General Hein (Woods), who wears a lot of black, scowls a lot and occasionally justifies his actions with a tragic back story, wants to blast the meteor crater with an orbital laser cannon; Dr Aki Ross (Wen), a young and attractive scientist with soulful eyes and perfect hair, and her mentor Dr Sid (Sutherland), a wise old man who combines science and benevolent mysticism, have proposed a plan to assemble a psychic waveform, a spirit, based on the collected bioplasmic  signatures of eight essentially random lifeforms.

Spoilers! They are right, Hein is wrong, and they have to team up with elite military squad the Deep Eyes – Captain Gray (Baldwin), big sergeant Ryan (Ving Rhames), tough lady soldier Jane (Peri Gilpin) and comic relief guy Neil (Steve Buschemi) – to complete the spirit and heal the Phantoms before Hein accidentally shanks the spirit of Earth.

What’s wrong with it?

The film was an incredibly expensive piece of animation, and still looked kind of uncanny valley in places. More confusingly, Gray has the voice of Alec Baldwin, but the face of Ben Affleck (seriously, there are many webpages discussing this likeness, so it’s not just me).

Some complain that it isn’t in keeping with the Final Fantasy games, and it doesn’t really fit their usual themes of a wildly magical-yet-technologically advanced world full of ludicrous waprons like the gun-blade, but it does have an insanely complex plot explained in dialogue which is presented as if what the people are saying were entirely self-evident and only a fool could argue with it. The fact that it does this in the space of a movie doesn’t help, where normally it would be developed through a dozen or more hours of stumbling around getting into fights with fucking houses and pissing around with subplots about cross-dressing or party music and a hopelessly awkward romance!

Okay, I may have some issues.

The film fails to develop sympathy or tension properly, largely because for all the effort put into the animation, there is something slightly distancing about the almost-real faces; or perhaps with Ben Affleck using Alec Baldwin’s voice.

What’s right with it?

The animation may not be quite true to life, just close enough to be a little eerie, but it is also beautiful.

How bad is it really?

The Spirits Within is less of a movie than a spectacular tech demonstration.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The deaths of the supporting Deep Eyes, picked off one at a time prepping the escape ship for the leads, manage to develop some of the only real emotional resonance in the film.

What’s up with…?

  • The Deep Eyes referring to each other by their first names, regardless of rank? It violates one of the cardinal rules of both the real and conventional fictional militaries.
  • The alien war? Maybe it’s supposed to be symbolic, but the two alien forces wear no uniform or insignia to differentiate one from another. Brother vs brother?

Ratings

Production values – Oh, it is magnificent. I can not take that away from them. Even after thirteen years it’s still impressive. 2
Dialogue and performances – I can’t fault the performances either. The cast are solid pro thesps and deliver the goods, but much of what they are saying is pure bollocks, either maintaining the Final Fantasy tradition of stilted romance or expounding the film’s super-literal Gaia theory. 12
Plot and execution – The plot is overly complicated, but still in places rather dull. 17
Randomness – The whole thing is pretty random, being a search for some lifeforms or other, but it doesn’t go mad once it gets there. 10
Waste of potential – This is the most expensive video game movie ever made; it has little excuse for being so dull. 17

Overall 58%

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