A mere visual Fantasy

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi

(Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi)

Rated: PG13





The opening shot of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within features a closeup shot of
computer generated heroin Doctor Aki Ross’ left eye. It’s a visually stunning shot. Her
quivering pupil is framed by randomly freckled skin as she looks out over a dreamscape. It almost appears that the creators may have successfully turned video game visuals into believable, lifelike actors. There is no doubt the image is not human, but the attention paid to the detail of the image is visually stunning.

As the film develops, Director Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the video-game-cum-feature-film, explored the possibilities of computer imaging with vast alien landscapes, detailed post-apocolyptic cityscapes and characters that occasionally, and frighteningly, look human. But imaging is, after all, a purely aesthetic form. And while the purely aesthetic may work for video games where the players live through the characters by actually controlling them, characters that must stand on their own through dramatic emotion and action fall flat.

When the drama unfolds – and it is a fully dramatic film, complete with love, loss and suicide attempts – the ability of computer generated characters to relate to and interact with one another is unveiled, and it’s ugly. Reactions are late, embraces are awkward and when love interest Captain Grey Edwards listens to a teary-eyed Dr. Ross tell of a dying girl, his programmed expression closely resembles a sympathetic-acting Pauly Shore. The action sequences pitting Dr. Ross and her crew against the invading phantoms are even worse, with painfully slow development and emotionally empty death scenes. In other words, the acting is bad

It is the latest testament, following Starship Troopers and Men in Black, to the fact that visual effects do not make a great science fiction movie. The soul of the science fiction is in the drama. The dramatic development in Blade Runner, Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odessey are what drive the films. The special effects and otherworldly settings may give them the vehicle for the exploration of new styles of narrative, or the rediscovery of old styles of narrative, but soul of the characters and their interactions are what make the films great.

– Mark Baumgarten


Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is currently open in theatres nationwide.