In the year 2065, Earth is completely overrun by alien creatures known as 'phantoms' – energy based extraterrestials that kill human beings by absorbing their souls. The surviving humans have retreated to a 'mother ship' orbiting the planet, where the scientist Dr. Aki Ross (voice of Ming-Na) believes that the phantoms are not actually living physical organisms, but confused spirits seeking a home. According to Dr Aki's theory, she can stop the phantoms by tracking and absorbing the spirits of various lifeforms, creating an opposing spiritual energy. She is assisted in her quest by her mentor Dr Sid (Donald Sutherland) and by her sceptical ex-lover Grey Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his team of Marines. However, her implacable opponent General Hein (voice of James Woods) dismisses all this as mumbo jumbo and is convinced that the phantoms should be destroyed with a blast from the laser Zeus gun – even though Dr Aki and Dr Sid fear that this may destroy Earth's own spirit, Gaia.
Photorealistic humans roam the earth, or what’s left of it and primarily New York (or Old New York as the caption has it) and defend themselves against alien forces. So far so tedious. But the sheer energy and visual invention of Final Fantasy demands to be seen (we’ll talk about the score later). Real actors and their agents will sigh with relief seeing Final Fantasy – it is not the end of the tangible casting world as we know it. The characters are no more simplified than a mediocre mainstream studio script would deliver, and while they move as smoothly as most real actors and have good skin (with a few minor blemishes for the sake of reality), the one thing they can’t quite do is smile or laugh. (They kiss, though…what’s next?!) The absence of smiles robs the film of some crucial dynamic and balance, but hold the stretch limo, it ain’t half bad, either. If Sakaguchi felt like a god for the four years it took to make this film, he deserves every minute of it: striking for a whamalistic, futuristic reality where every detail has to be created on the computer, the filmmaking team is clearly inspired. Although aimed at a younger demographic than the one I inhabit, I found the imaginative visual aspects of the film a thrilling adventure, and considering we travel the galaxy for the price of a movie ticket, it’s good value. My other reservations about Final Fantasy are to do with the story, which is as complex as it is mythical, especially for a 106 minute outing; and some of the vocal performances, which sometimes take on an alarming stiltedness. But the technical achievements are awesome. Now, about the score: it’s effective and soaring, in tune with the overall tone of serious endevour. The film’s over-arching moral message is drawn from decent humanity, and is set in a good v evil fable; all of this is wrapped in a cocoon of science fiction with a twist of mysticism and spiritual healing. If only there were less than eight spirits, it would be easier for us to follow, but aside from that, it’s quite a blast.
Andrew L. Urban
Nearly four years in the making with talents from 22 countries including Australia, Final Fantasy is a trip – a fantastic trip into fantasy. Seamless integration of the creative offerings from animators, graphic artists, musicians, actors and special effects make Hironobu Sakaguchi's extraordinary vision a sensation. Sakaguchi first created the game, now he's created the ground-breaking film using state of the art computers to create not only an awe-inspiring sci-fi adventure, but computer-generated human characters. Visually extraordinary, Final Fantasy is a mind-blowing explosion of synergies that stimulate, entertain, move and dazzle. But beyond the technical prowess is an absorbing story – one that thoroughly engages. It's like being caught in the middle of a fantasy; if you dream of conquering the universe, this may be as close as you may wish to get. There are no limits or bounds – anything and everything is possible. That's the beauty of the medium, and the film-makers have grabbed the chance and taken advantage of every opportunity. The characters (wonderfully voiced by a stellar cast) seem so real. But it goes far beyond the facial hair and lines, the skin tone, the freckles, the lines etched in the palms and the body language. We believe them and we believe in them. They even have chemistry, and I defy anyone who doesn't feel some emotions when Aki and Gray kiss. Effective use of blues and dark colours in the production design provide wonderful contrast with the hypnotic effects of the phantoms, ghosts and spirits, stunning in vivid shades of orange, yellow and blindingly beautiful white light. Final Fantasy is a little like watching a mesmerising fireworks display, while the story's undercurrent of survival, determination and overcoming the odds is the barometer. Add Elliot Goldenthal's music into the mix and it's a sublime fantasy indeed.
Recently there's been a lot of hype around the idea that flesh-and-blood actors will eventually be phased out of Hollywood, superseded by digitally generated virtual stars. However, upon watching a photorealistic computer animation like Final Fantasy, it becomes clear that this supposed threat is a long way off. Clearly a lot of work has gone into outfitting the film's 3D cartoon world with believably intricate textures, but there's no way you could mistake the androids marching around its sci-fi settings for plausible people. With their smooth egglike faces and arms held stiffly away from their bodies, they bathe every scene in an eerie Stepford Wives aura. As always with digital effects, everything and everybody appears to be modelled from a waxy, infinitely malleable plastic. It's one more demonstration of the insane stupidity of employing computers to simulate reality – obviously a cartoon character like Daffy Duck is a million times more expressive (not to mention human) than these creeps. Matters aren't helped by the dialogue, which is nondescript at best ('Let's do this thing and get the hell out of here'). The surprise is that in some ways Final Fantasy is quite a thoughtful film: rather than being a straightforward action adventure, it represents a significant attempt to combine Hollywood resources and spectacle with the more conceptual tradition of Japanese animé. Unfortunately, the filmmakers have no way to reconcile their intended message of compassion with the alienating, hollowed-out effect of their chosen form. There are a few moments where technique and content do combine for a strange poetic effect – perhaps the best example is an zero-gravity love scene that brings back memories of Brian de Palma's unfairly trashed Mission To Mars. But where de Palma's film (at its climax) openly breached the boundaries between live action and animation, Final Fantasy exists in a dubious border zone, succeeding as neither one nor the other. Still, purely as a curiosity item it should be of interest to animation and/or science fiction fans.
Email this article
Read Andrew L. Urban's INTERVIEW with James Rogers
VIDEO PRESENTATION with Louise Keller
FINAL FANTASY (M)
VOICES OF: Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland, Peri Gilpin, Ving Rhames
PRODUCERS: Jun Aida, Chris Lee, Akio Sakai
DIRECTOR: Hironobu Sakaguchi
SCRIPT: Al Reinert, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Jeff Vintar
EDITOR: Christopher S. Capp
MUSIC: Elliot Goldenthal
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Elliot Goldenthal
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Tristar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 26, 2001
VIDEO RELEASE: November 21, 2001
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Home Entertainment