Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Review
Almost 50 years into the future mankind has taken residence in global sheltered towns and cities. Sheltered by energy barriers which protect them from outside forces of what are essentially ghosts. Not your usual two legged variety here though! No, these ghosts, or spirits from the title, are the lost souls of an alien race long destroyed, now taking up camp on Earth. Any physical encounter with the spirits results in immediate death, your soul torn, screaming, from your body.
As well as defending themselves, mankind also tries to find a solution to the new incumbents. Laser fire, whilst ultimately destroying them, does take its time. Perhaps the new ultra powerful orbiting Zeus laser station has the power required to vanquish them once and for all. Certainly the zealous military think so, however the more gentile scientific community, led by Dr Cid (Donald Sutherland) and Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na) think otherwise. They believe these phantoms essentially never die, once dispatched by laser they return to their source to reproduce again. The only solution is to neutralise them using the eight harmonious spirits from the Earth itself, Gaia. The governing committee, standing in the middle, does best what committes do... nothing, and are largely irrelevant!
And so as the military decide to power up their super canon it is left to a band of renegade soldiers and the two afore mentioned scientists to find all the pieces of the soul of the Earth in the hope that this will ultimately succeed in being their salvation.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a remarkable attempt to bring a computer generated, photo-realistic action film to the big screen. Of course we have seen CGI animation on this scale before, Toy Story, Monsters Inc and Shrek to name but a few, but this was the first time that a studio decided to attempt realistic characters with a beefy sci-fi plot. It certainly tries, but falls at the last hurdle. Whilst the viewer fully accepts the characters produced in the previous animations before it, they do so because what they are looking at are mere cartoon characters. When going 'realistic' something more is needed and Final Fantasy shows that CGI still has someway to go before it will gain widespread acceptability, characters themselves lack any real spontenaety, any depth or emotional portrayal and as such no matter how well designed their costumes, how detailed the pores and freckles or how naturally that spring stream washed hair flows, basically these characters are no more than intricate Pinochios still waiting for that leap to become real.
The plot is acceptable enough, even for those who have no exposure to the PS2 franchise of the same name, after all it is sci-fi and most things can be accepted. I felt however that the back history of the phantoms themselves was more than enjoyable... done with waring factions obliterating themselves and their now long gone planet; and for me I enjoyed these scenes more than I did the current characters and the plight they were going through. The detail on the alien warriors armour, their ships and barren deserted landcapes is superb and I accepted it. This same level of detail is applied when searching the dark, decaying streets and buildings of Old New York; however ironically this level of detail detracts from the scene as the animation is too good, too clear and not as dark and foreboding as perhaps it should be.
Characterisation is another let-down. All of the usual stereotypes are there for your own amusement and what stereotypes they are. The hippy, liberal scientists, the dark brooding upper echelons of the military, the grunts who assist because of personal history with Dr Aki Ross. Ultimately you've seen them all before and always you wish for something more. Then again perhaps the characterisation doesn't work because what we're presented with on screen is all too wooden, and perhaps that in turn is only due to lack of imagination or more likely limitations in technology/cost/animation-requirements for this to really work. A sterling cast was employed to deliver the lines to the viewers, Donald Sutherland, as mentioned above, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin and James Woods to name a few; but their fine acting talents are not sufficient to raise this Titanic from it's icy depths. As I say though, most of the animation cannot be faulted and it is a joy to look at, detail in the ships, the backgrounds, that hair all come across here beautifully and in the end, enjoyable enough and certainly on this new UK Blu-Ray release a step above the already fine standard definition disc that's available.