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In the year 2065 aliens, known as phantoms, have invaded the Earth and decimated mankind. Physician Aki Ross (Ming Na) and her mentor Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) believe they are close to finding a way to repel the invaders by using spirit waves. But time is running out. Aki is infected with the alien force. She and her ally, Marine Captain Grey Edwards (Alec Baldwin), must also battle the hawkish General Hein (James Woods), who favors a more drastic military solution.

There are films that lose something in the translation to DVD, and others that grow in stature even as they are shrunk for the small screen. Final Fantasy, like Shrek and the other nu-classics of CGI, belongs firmly in the latter category. Itís not just the many hours (in this case 10) of bonus materials that the animation process provides. Visually, thereís just too much going on here to be taken in during one sitting. Only with remote in hand can the artistry of Final Fantasy be truly appreciated.

The animation is so precise that at times itís easy to miss the genius at work. Even synthespians get their close-ups and the incredible detailóright down to hand painted poresóis as good a reason as any to give the pause button a workout. When the picture is in motion the delicacy of the animation is wondrous. Great actors know that on the big screen the tiniest of facial tics can speak volumes. Final Fantasyís animators seem to have got that message.

A second viewing also frees up the mind to appreciate director Sakaguchiís visual style of storytelling. Final Fantasy is an ambitious and thoughtful sci-fi tale, and while the story is not too hard to follow, verbal exposition often takes a back seat to visual explanations. Much of the storyís subtlety, especially in Akiís interplay with the phantoms, only reveals itself when you already know where the film is heading.

Sadly the characters donít grow much warmer the second or even third time you watch them. Maybe itís the fault of the wooden script, or perhaps a failing of the actors. Only Donald Sutherland, as Dr. Sid, really engages with his voice. But most likely itís a by-product of the animation itself. For all its technical accomplishments the hyperreal animation falls between two stools, neither as expressive as flesh and blood actors nor traditional cartoon characters. Thereís more spice in any Manga episode than Aki and Greyís much hyped but strangely cold kiss.

A little humour would have gone a long way. Despite the presence of Steve Buscemi, Final Fantasy is thin on laughs. Donít blame the animators, who show they have a sense of humour with the joke outtakes they created for the digital actors in their spare time (where did they find that?!). Time has also been taken to create a back story for each character, which is revealed in the special features along with technical specifications for the make-believe vehicles they pilot. If thatís not enough to keep teenage boys happy, thereís also a photo shoot of Aki in a bikini.

Three commentaries and a wealth of behind the scenes (or should that be in front of the computer screen?) footage answer any question you could possibly have about how the film was made. Each animator on the digital assembly line schools us in their area of expertise, giving a real appreciation of the collaborative effort that went into the finished film. Did you know there was an animator responsible solely for all the hairstyles? It certainly explains why Aki bobs and preens like a model on a shampoo ad. Thereís also an alternate opening where the origin of the phantoms and what they really are is all explained in the first minute of the movie. Wisely it was dropped, allowing the pictures to tell the story and keeping the viewer in the dark until Aki herself comes to a conclusion.

The real treat however is the storyboards, known here as Boards/Blasts. The entire film is recut to show the various stages of development, with pencil drawings and blocky animation alongside the finished article. The soundtrack stays the same so that itís possible to watch the movie from beginning to end in this revealing mode. And a strange thing happens. Seeing the completed characters intercut with the sketches and cartoons that brought them to life, you begin to warm to the spirits within them. Itís sometimes easy to forget that Final Fantasyís characters are the first generation of hyperreal CGI humans. They certainly wonít be the last.
Stuart Whitmore

Published: November 29, 2001

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia


VOICES: Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Peri Gilpin,

DIRECTOR: Hironobu Sakaguchi

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: November 21, 2001

Widescreen; 2 audio commentaries by co-director and animation director; Isolated score with commentary by composer; Theatrical trailers; Animated storyboards with optional commentary; Making of documentary; Final Fantasy Shuffler (edit your own scene); Character files; Joke outtakes and music video; Aki photo shoot; Akiís dream montage; Alternate opening sequence; 5 featurettes on the production; DVD-ROM features. Languages: English 5.1, Spanish 5.1. Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese.

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