Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was inspired by the Final Fantasy series of video games.   It is also the first movie to be advertised as having used only 'digital actors'.  Since this revelation, the Hollywood press have of course jumped onto the marketing bandwagon with many so-called news stories concerning the coming obsolesence of 'real' actors.  Based on Final Fantasy, which amounts to nothing more than a computer-generated cartoon, I'd say those dire forecasts are a bit premature.
   
    In fact, as far as I can tell, it actually took more people to create the 'performances' in this film than in a live action feature.  It's obvious that animators used recorded physical performances of real actors to guide their progress in creating natural human movements for the characters.  Additional actors were then needed to perform the voices for those characters.  Lastly, the animators themselves have built performance characteristics into their digital creations.  The only downside to this is that there now still appears to be plenty of work for Keanu Reeves, well into the 21st century.
     
    Technically, Final Fantasy is a wonderful showcase for all the really cool things digital animators are able to do with expensive, sophisticated rendering software.  In that regard, this movie is an effective promotional advertisement for their work.  Animators have taken great care to detail most of the scenes, creating nearly photorealistic imagery.  Unfortunately, not every scene was given equal attention, as the image quality varies, making some settings, character movements, and skin tones appear less natural looking than others.  Overall though, the visuals are quite impressive.
   
    From a story standpoint, there is little to speak of.  Final Fantasy is a rather generic space drama.   Essentially, there is a threat to mankind and a struggle between those who depend on technology and those who have faith in a natural 'life-force'.  The bad guys use technology and the good guys use the 'force'.  Been there, done that.  Also, it's interesting that the film makers have decided to focus on drama as opposed to action.  There are few moments of suspense, and most of the action sequences are marred by cheesy dialogue and comic book style heroics.  The plot was so weak that most of my time was spent admiring the animation and looking for anything that didn't look quite right.  There were enough 'not quite right' images to keep my attention on the screen, but little to keep me interested in the story.  However, I did find the irony of computer generated characters defending the existence of a force within all living things quite amusing, since no living things appear in this film!
   
    So, if you want to see some great computer graphics, see Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.  Otherwise, I think there's another new Julia Roberts movie out soon, so see that instead.
  
The Spirits
Within - and
Without!
A.J.'s Rating: 2.5 All Digital Stars
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Directed By:  Hironobi Sakaguchi
Written By:  Al Reinert, Hironobu Sakaguchi
Starring:  The vocal talents of Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Ming-Na, Ving Rhames, Donald Sutherland, James Woods
Rated:  PG-13  (Violence, Language)
Running Time:  86 Min.
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Review published
July 12, 2001
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