I just caught a film that will have a huge impact on
CGI in the future of Hollywood. Will it leave a mark
on any other level? The spoiler free answer is below.

Premise

Intangible aliens have landed on Earth in an
asteroid, and humans are
losing the war against them. In classic Final
Fantasy style, a small
group of heroes are all that stands between victory
and defeat.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

The voice cast in incredible, and the director was
Hironobu Sakaguchi,
best known for directing most of the Final Fantasy
games. The IMDB
page with the details is here.

Relationship with the Games

If you’ve played the games, you’ll recognize the
structure of the
plot, and you can probably guess the name of the
scientist. What you
won’t see are chocobos, airships, or magic. This is
a science fiction
movie with spiritual elements more than it is a
fantasy. If you come
expecting the games, you might be disappointed. The
people who sat
behind me expected that, and they sounded like they
hated it.

High Point

This is not a typical Hollywood blockbuster. The
people who made it
had the guts to do something at the end of the film
that George Lucas
chose not to do with Return of the Jedi.

Low Point

The lip synching and facial expressions were just
flawed enough to
make sure I could never forget I was watching
computer generated
images.

That wasn’t the part of this presentation that
irritates me the most,
though. Theaters running Final Fantasy: The
Spirits Within

are contractually obligated to show the
Spiderman teaser
trailer for the first week of release. The theater I
saw this in
(Cineplex Odeon in Eaton Centre, Edmonton, Alberta,
Canada) did not
show this trailer on the 1:00 show. I worked as a
projectionist for
over two years, so I know that sometimes these
trailers don’t arrive
on time, so they obviously can’t be shown on the
print. These are
rare situations, though, especially on a Wednesday
release. (These
usually ship with releases from the previous Friday.)
I don’t know
why that trailer wasn’t there, but I was disappointed.

The Scores

I’m going to judge the originality of this
film by comparing
it with Hollywood fare. In that field it does well.
There are some
moments that will remind a lot of viewers of
Aliens, and some
of the dialogue is predictable, but the overall plot
and premise are
very different from Hollywood stuff. The tone of the
film is very
similar to the tone of Final Fantasy 8 in
terms of
execution. I give it 4 out of 6.

Now it’s time to evaluate the effects. As I
said above, you
won’t think you’re watching humans. On the other
hand, the humans are
leaps and bounds above those in, say, Toy
Story
, and a few
notches above Shrek. It’s not perfect, but
they’ve come a
long way. 5 out of 6.

The story is not overly complicated. In
terms of complexity,
it’s better than the average Bruckheimer production,
but it’s easier
to follow than, say, Weekend at Bernie’s.
Still, they had
moments that wouldn’t be in your average Hollywood
film. I give it 4
out of 6.

Tom Hanks was worried about digital actors replacing
the real ones.
He shouldn’t be. The voice acting was actually
fairly high quality,
but the facial expressions just ruined it. (I think
part of the
problem is that the skin around their mouth doesn’t
fold when they
talk, it just seems to stretch and compress, staying
smooth at all
times.) I give it 2 out of 6.

In terms of an emotional response, this
could have done
worse. There were some definite tense moments;
Sakaguchi can direct
an action movie quite well. (Sakaguchi could produce
a better sequel
to Alien than David Fincher or Jean-Pierre
Jeunet did.) The
final moment in the crater wasn’t as powerful as it
should have been,
though. 3 out of 6.

The production quality was mixed. The
action scenes were
well directed, and the visual effects were great.
The rest was
mediocre, but not exceptional. The editing was
nicely done. The
score felt out of place, though; it reminded me more
of Batman
Forever
than it did of the games, which is
unfortunate. Nobuo
Uematsu has done a wonderful job scoring the games,
but he was too
busy to do the film. (I just checked the IMDB;
Elliot Goldenthal
scored Final Fantasy, Batman
Forever
, and Batman
and Robin
among others. That explains that.) I
give the
production 4 out of 6.

Overall, this is a worthy matinee, but not
worth the full
evening price. I’ll probably pick up the DVD just to
play with the
PlayStation 2 specific features. I give it 3 out of
6.

In total, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
has 25 out of
42. It will change the way we look at CGI, and
should show Hollywood
that they can take risks with the way they resolve
major characters,
but I think everything but the CGI will be overlooked.