Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Now Playing
dir. Sakaguchi

All right, people. You have a set of standards you use to gauge whether or not you like a movie, and it's time to reevaluate them. I'm not asking you to put them aside--never, ever. But see, if you go into Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within thinking "good acting + good plot = good movie," you aren't going to have as much fun watching it as you should.

Basically, you want to go into it with the notion that you're about to be slapped on the forehead with a big slice of cheese. If you're already prepared for bad jokes, convoluted plot, yet very cool special effects, and a fairly standard anime storyline (peaceful Eastern philosophy vs. destructive Western decadence), Final Fantasy is going to be a decent way to spend two hours. But if you never actually enjoyed an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, it's time to dust off that Godard collection and forget you ever read any of this.

Okay, plot. Cut out the following paragraph and take it with you to the movie; it will save you several moments of trying to interpret the characters' initial incomprehensible jibberish.

In Final Fantasy, it's 2065 and a meteor carrying soul-sucking aliens has crashed on earth, wiping out most of the world's population and devastating its cities. There are only two possible ways to potentially save the planet and destroy the aliens before they eat the souls of every living thing. One way is to use this outer-space plasmatic laser weapon that would definitely kill all the aliens, but would probably annihilate everything else on earth, too. The main advocate of that method is General Hein, a mean-looking, embittered man who will stop at nothing (and basically represents Western thought and Americans, in general).

The other way to save the planet is based on wise old Dr. Sid's theory that earth is a living entity with a spirit named Gaia. Dr. Sid and the main protagonist, Aki, believe that if they collect the eight spirits of the world, they can create a reverse magnetic wave equal to Gaia that will merely cancel out the aliens' energy. It will be peaceful, it won't destroy Gaia, and everybody's happy, right? But devious Hein thinks peace is stupid and believes Aki is a lunatic under the possession of the enemy. Everybody flies around in space vehicles shaped like lobsters. Conflict ensues.

Final Fantasy was five years in the making and, unfortunately, has absolutely nothing to do with any of the Playstation games, other than that its creator, Hironubu Sakaguchi, also directed the film. It is, however, a milestone in computer animation. It's the most photorealistic work ever made. You can still tell it's animated, of course, thanks to the characters' weird, bouncy motions and the fact that their lips don't quite synch up with what they're saying. But the animators spared no detail in making the characters look as human as possible. For instance, they peeled off a thin layer of skin from a live human and laid it out flat so the artists could examine and emulate its every blotch. That is totally fucking disgusting, but the result is that the characters have blemishes and freckles and are so textured you feel like you could touch them.

Like all CG animation films, the creators of Final Fantasy spent so much money on their artists and thin peels of human flesh, they forgot to pay their scriptwriters to actually make a coherent movie. To its credit, FF is far more comprehensible than any CG before it and most anime films. However, I believe that fans of Final Fantasy, the role-playing games (RPGs), would have much preferred a more developed story and traditional anime art. Then they could have spent the extra money on controllers for the audience to make a huge, epic, interactive RPG--now that would have been rad.