Review: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

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Jon Popick

Jul 10, 2001, 6:27:08 PM7/10/01
Planet Sick-Boy:
"We Put the SIN in Cinema"

© Copyright 2001 Planet Sick-Boy. All Rights Reserved.

Tomb Raider has, at press time, already inhaled over $115 million at the box
office, throwing the gauntlet down to this summer's other big
videogame-turned-feature-film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The game
is wildly popular, selling over 33 million copies of its nine different
versions since 1987. While the film version probably won't be nearly as
beloved, it is the first major motion picture to feature computer-generated
people who look real (other than the occasional character, like Toy Story
and Princess Fiona in Shrek), and that's got to count for something, right?
Even if the story is really bad, right?

The story is just as lame as Raider's and any other console-to-screen film,
but Raider had a lot more fun reaching its inevitable conclusion than most.
Fantasy's game creators, who also have all of their hands in the film, pride
themselves on creating new stories and new characters each time out, but
neither are anything you haven't seen a bunch of times before. It's
frustrating to hear about the detail, time and manpower put into animating
the 60,000 hairs on the main character's head when so little thought went
into the story.

The film is set in 2065 - several decades after "they" took over, or so a
narration tells us. "They" are a group of indestructible alien phantoms
that gobble the energy out of the human form like meat off a chicken wing
bone. Fantasy's heroine, scientist/physician Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na,
ER), has been infected by the aliens and is in search of an environmental
treatment that will both cure her and save the planet from total domination.
Together with Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland, Space Cowboys), she has determined
that collecting eight "spirits" will do the trick. Aki has six now, and
heads to Old New York City to find the other two.

It is here she meets Captain Gray Edwards and the Deep Eyes squadron (which
sounds like a kitschy garage band), who protect the few remaining citizens
living under the giant protective dome that covers a big chunk of Manhattan.
Gray (Cats and Dogs' Alec Baldwin, providing his second "voice" job in the
last two weeks) and his crew (Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin and Ving Rhames)
help Aki and Dr. Sid in their quest to find the missing spirits, which must
be done before the evil General Hein (James Woods, Scary Movie 2) unleashes
the giant, space-based Zeus Cannon on the alien meteor, which landed in the
Caspian Mountains. See? It's good vs. evil, with a whole environmental
message thrown in for good measure.

As silly and downright confusing as it is, the story (penned by director and
game developer Hironobu Sakaguchi and Apollo 11 scribe Al Reinert) is
largely inconsequential. How powerful is the ability of computer animation?
It can make Buscemi into an attractive man, for Pete's sake. But seriously,
folks, the characters are so frighteningly lifelike (especially Dr. Sid)
that it becomes distracting, which I guess actually helps the story in a
way. If you look hard enough, you can find plenty of flaws (especially in
the mouth movement when the characters talk), but don't bother - this still
looks pretty goddamn incredible.

As a side note, the filmmakers should get some credit for not making Aki
into an impossibly busted cybervixen (a la Lara Croft). Considering the
film's target audience (and the inability to get laid attendant thereto),
it's quite a pleasant surprise.

1:53 -PG-13 for sci-fi action violence

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Steve Rhodes

Jul 10, 2001, 7:01:08 PM7/10/01
A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****): *** 1/2

Hironobu Sakaguchi's FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN is such a ground breaking
piece of cinema that it raises fundamental questions about the future of human
actors in motion pictures. Its computer generated humans are astoundingly
lifelike in looks and motion. The eyes and eyelids are especially astonishing.

But, like TOY STORY, the magic comes more from what an intelligent script is
able to accomplish with the animation. Oscar nominated writer Al Reinert
(APOLLO 13), joined by Jeff Vintar and Hironobu Sakaguchi, fashion an
intelligent script of such depth that it's a challenge to keep up. Certain
aspects of story are so intricate that they are almost incomprehensible, and I
mean that as a compliment.

It's hard to come close to doing justice to the plot, which is set in 2065, but
I'll give it a try. The world, which looks like something out of BLADE RUNNER,
has been decimated by a group of ghostly aliens called phantoms. Mankind has
been fighting and losing in battles with these aliens who arrived on a meteor
that struck the earth. A scientist named Dr. Aki Ross, voiced touchingly and
strongly by Ming-Na (MULAN), is trying to find the 6th, 7th and 8th spirits.
With these, and the others she already has, she will have a key to dealing with
the aliens. Aki is a lot more likeable character than Ripley from ALIENS and
more compellingly attractive than Angelina Jolie in LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER.

Aki is mentored by Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), whose opinions, he explains, are
as unpopular as Galileo's were. Think of him as the Yoda figure who believes in
the power of the spirits, i.e., the force. The rival to this scientific
approach to the problem comes from the nefarious General Hein (James Woods).
Like General Turgidson (GEORGE C. SCOTT) from DR. STRANGELOVE, General Hein
places his belief firmly in the invincibility of maximum firepower as the
solution to catastrophic problems. He wants to use something called the Zeus
Cannon to blast these varmints to smithereens. Although there are some funny
moments, FINAL FANTASY is a deadly serious thriller that keeps you on the edge
of your seat. Elliot Goldenthal's impressive and dramatic score adds to the

Among the many aspects of the story to decode are those of Aki's recurring
nightmares. They clearly hold some clues to the mystery. Her boyfriend,
Captain Grey (Alec Baldwin), finds himself drawn into one of them, but he has no
idea as to what they mean. On a scale in which 10 means perfect understanding
and 0 represents complete incomprehensibility, most movies operate in the 8 or 9
level, especially towards the end. To it's credit, FINAL FANTASY rarely gets
much higher than a 6 or 7. The ending, rather than neatly wrapping up all the
loose ends, leaves you still perplexed. I suspect that most younger kids who
mistakenly see this film will leave shaking their heads, asking their parents,
"What was that all about?" Older kids and adults, however, will feel rewarded
and blessed to have seen something so intriguing.

FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN runs 1:41. It is rated PG-13 for sci-fi
action violence and would be acceptable for kids around 11 and up.

My son Jeffrey, age 12, and his twin friends, John and Steven, age 13, all gave
the movie a solid ****. They all commented on the impressive graphics,
especially the phantoms and the humans. They liked the way the story was
developed and the way that it was light-years away from a cartoon.

The film opens nationwide in the United States on Wednesday, July 11, 2001. In
the Silicon Valley, it will be showing at the AMC and the Century theaters.



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Annette Cardwell

Jul 16, 2001, 10:31:38 PM7/16/01
A film review by Annette Cardwell
Copyright 2001

With a team of 200 graphic artists and animators working on this first
film production from game developer Squaresoft's Square Pictures, Final
Fantasy, inspired by the top-selling game franchise, is visually
awe-inspiring and groundbreaking. No doubt, you have never seen
anything like this film, and the hyperbolic fanfare surrounding its
release is absolutely deserved. But why does such a tremendous feat of
eye candy have to be weighted down with a problematic story, wooden
dialogue and generally uncharismatic voice acting?

Obviously, the primary goal of the film is to stun and amaze audiences
with extremely sophisticated CGI. Everything you see in the film is
rendered in great detail: individual threads in the fabric, individual
strands of hair swaying, wrinkles and pimples on skin, incredible water
effects. Overall, the expressions and lip movements fairly accurately
match the emotions and dialogue; and the times when they don't sync
perfectly really stand out, since the animation is usually so dazzling.
But you won't spend much time dwelling on those gaffes -- as soon as you
catch one, the next stellar monster or effect will have you muttering,

Like the series of games, Final Fantasy's plot and characters have
little to do with its predecessors, outside of being born from the same
Japanese mastermind, Hironobu Sakaguchi. It's the year 2065, and humans
are prisoners in caged cities of their own making that guard them from
an outside world now overrun with deadly alien "phantoms." Whenever a
human comes in contact with the ghostly visitors, the often-invisible
beings pass through the body and wrench out its soul (for some
unexplainable reason). While many humans agree with a plan by
monomaniacal General Hein (James Woods) to blast the aliens with a "Zeus
Cannon," Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) plan to
build a "wave" using eight collected "spirits" to counteract the
phantoms and kill them off.

While the images serve the sci-fi aspect of the film well, the
storytelling doesn't. It's unfortunate, because the plot seems so
intricately thought out. Perhaps it was far too complex and enormous to
be entirely incorporated into the script. Some could blame this
weakness on the fact that it was a Japanese concept translated to
English, except two Americans wrote the screenplay. Nevertheless, the
end result is an elaborate story complicated by confusing holes. Why do
these aliens feed on souls? If they can pass through bodies and ships,
how can humans hurt them with guns? What is so special about the
"spirits" that they would create a force strong enough to destroy the

Worse yet, the dialogue is scripted to be either like a science-heavy
Star Trek episode, an installment of Die Hard, or a sappy love story,
depending on who's doing the talking. For the most part, it's bearable
considering the genre, but tedious speeches and cheesy lines don't do
anything to help the actors and can get annoying in the longer scenes.
The only exception is Steve Buscemi as pilot Neil Fleming, who always
has great cracks during tense moments.

But, when the lights come up and the credits roll, you're more likely to
be remarking on how fantastic the film looked. There's no question that
the roughly 33 million people who have bought at least one Final Fantasy
game will be eager to see this movie, and so should anyone who enjoys
being floored by the best CG animation ever put to film. You'd be
living in a fantasy world of your own if you expected much more.

RATING: ****

\ ***** Perfection \
\ **** Good, memorable film \
\ *** Average, hits and misses \
\ ** Sub-par on many levels \
\ * Unquestionably awful \

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi
Producer: Jun Aida
Writer: Al Reinert, Jeff Vintar
Starring: Ming Na, Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Ving
Rhames, Peri Gilpin, Steve Buscemi

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Dustin Putman

Jul 16, 2001, 11:12:18 PM7/16/01
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within * * * 1/2 (out of * * * * )

Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi.
Voices: Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Peri Gilpin,
Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Keith David.
2001 - 106 minutes
Rated PG-13 (for violence and brief profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 11, 2001.

Taking its title from the enormously popular video game series, Hironobu
Sakaguchi's "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" is a landmark achievement in
CG animation. With a full cast of human characters entirely evolved from
computers, it is the most impressively detailed and life-like animation to
have graced the silver screen--ever. Pretty images, however, do not a great
movie make, so it is with much relief and elation to say that "Final Fantasy"
has an--at once--somber, original, thrilling, and thought-provoking story
with messages that dig far deeper than the usual sci-fi/action film.

Set in the year 2065, Earth has been taken over by threatening, transparent
aliens who suck the spirit out of any living thing that they can get their
hands on. In order to save the fate of mankind, Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by
Ming-Na) and her trusting mentor, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), must find the
last eight remaining spirits that have not been taken away by the so-called
"phantoms," which hold the key to salvation. Aiding in their journey is buff
nice-guy Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin), whom Aki finds herself taking a liking
to. Standing in their way every step, General Hein (James Woods), who lost
his family to the creatures, has vowed to take out the aliens by his own
radical means.

Ambitiously written by Al Reiner (1995's "Apollo 13") and Jeff Vintar, "Final
Fantasy: The Spirits Within" defies all expectations and then surpasses them,
both in its historical leap in computer-generated animation, and its
beautiful, multi-layered story that thoughtfully touches upon such subjects
as life, death, human compassion, and faith. From the characters' skin pores,
to their nearly flawless movements, to their gently blowing hair strands,
people have never before looked quite so--well--genuine. Although it is still
fairly clear that they are animated figures, sometimes it isn't so apparent,
and this is when the CG creators' work really shines. Furthermore, the
ruinous backdrops from which the action takes place is astonishingly
naturalistic and awesome to look at.

The plot threads are every bit the animation's equal. While "Final Fantasy"
could have been marred in futuristic nonsense and non-stop alien attacks,
director Hironobu Sakaguchi's aims are significantly higher, both in scope
and substance. The action sequences involving the phantoms seeking out the
spirits of the characters are exciting and well-photographed, but the
quieter, more subtle moments are what lifts the motion picture above being
conventional. One such scene, in which Aki and Gray turn to each other in an
instantaneous embrace as they mourn the tragic deaths of their crew members,
is heartbreakingly powerful filmmaking that transcends the limits, up until
this point, of modern animated movies. With a story that is infinitely more
mature than most, and characters with a deep sense of humanity, it was easy
to grow to care about them as if they really were living and breathing actors.

The voice work is distinctive and universally strong. Ming-Na strikes all the
right notes as the determined Dr. Aki Ross, who is, perhaps, the most
memorable sci-fi heroine since Sigourney Weaver in 1979's "Alien" and its
sequels. Alec Baldwin holds up his end of the bargain in the other lead role,
as Gray Edwards, a dead-ringer for Ben Affleck. The burgeoning relationship
that forms between Aki and Gray is an involving, sweet one that doesn't feel
forced or tacked-on. Rounding out the notable voice cast is Donald
Sutherland; James Woods, whose villain role turns out to have an
understandable motive and, at the very least, a trace of heart; and Ving
Rhames, Peri Gilpin, and Steve Buscemi as the remaining members of Dr. Aki
Ross' hard-working crew.

At a time when practically every week holds some sort of step forward in
modern visual effects, "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" currently stands
as one of the great artistic achievements in film history. A gorgeous,
surprisingly meditative look at the beauty of life and the mysteries of
death, the film is definitely not standard animated fare. It has the ability
to inspire, contemplate, and most important of all, make you care.

- Copyright 2001 by Dustin Putman

* Coming Soon - My New Movie Review Website,!!! *

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Harvey S. Karten

Jul 16, 2001, 11:22:52 PM7/16/01

Reviewed by Harvey Karten
Columbia Pictures/Square Pictures
Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi
Writer: Al Reinert, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Jeff Vintar
Cast: Voices of Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Peri
Gilpin, Ving Ghames, Donald Sutherland, James Woods

"Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" was put together over a
four-year period by a team that was half-Japanese and half-
American, directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi--from a country that
has helped to popularize tofu (bean curd) in the United States.
Why mention this? There's an analogy to be found. When tofu is
not used in its most basic form, a white, nutritious cake which
takes on the flavor of whatever surrounds it, this miracle food is
in manufactured construct takes on the look and to some extent
the flavor of another edible that it's imitating. Look on
supermarket shelves and you may find tofu milk, tofu burgers,
tofu hot dogs, tofu ice cream and several other varieties of ersatz
nourishment. Can the tofu fool anyone into thinking that it's really
a burger or a hot dog? No way. After all the money that has
gone into research, there's a significant distinction between the
curd and the meat or dairy product it's designed to emulate.
What does this mean? It means that the cruel slaughterhouses
of agribusiness will continue to churn out billions of deaths each
year to feed the American palate. Will tofu ever replace pigs,
cows, lambs and chicken thereby eliminating the entire heartless
industry? Maybe...let's hope so. There's been quite an
improvement in the bean curd industry from its infancy when it
produced nothing short of offensive milk that you wouldn't
feed to your kitten.

Same goes for "Final Fantasy." The movie represents the first
time a real bid has been made to replicate human actors, a
potential union-busting technology which--even if it eventually
replaces Julia Roberts with her standard 20 million per picture
paycheck--still costs the producers a cool 140 million. Is "Final
Fantasy" worth the price? That depends on what you seek when
you pays your money and takes your choice. If you're looking for
a cool story, you'll get nothing new. The only thing that can be
said about this sci-fi narrative is that it is far superior to the
horrendous tale told in IMAX 3-D's "The Haunted Castle." But
you don't go to IMAX films for the yarn: you go for the
technology. Ditto "Final Fantasy." That's why you'd be well
advised not to pass up Mr. Sakaguchi's visionary work, a genuine
breakthrough which may not be the equivalent of the introduction
of sound or 3-D or even Cinemascope but which could point the
way to near-perfect, non-actor-performed pictures in the future.

Not that "Final Fantasy" dispenses with highly paid performers.
The story, scripted by the director together with Al Reinert and
Jeff Vintar, employs the voices of Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Steve
Buscemi, Donald Sutherland, James woods, Ving Rhames and
others--most effectively coordinated with the movements of the
computer generated lips of the cyberactors on the screen, but
we're not fooled. There's something otherworldly about the
synthetic men and women on the screen who battle aliens,
although Dr. Sid, a humanistic scientist, looks most frighteningly
like the genuine article.

"Final Fantasy," loosely based on a series of highly successful
video games, pits a group of scientists and military people
against an alien force that had been released when a falling body
crashed into the earth, killing human beings by sucking their
essence right out of them. We actually witness the demise of the
people, who appear to be engaging in out-of-body experiences.
Although the humanistic Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na) believes that
these aliens are not our enemies--they are simply confused and
searching for their roots--they certainly have us in the audience
fooled. Politically, the non-alien characters are divided into
rightists and leftists. The leftists, who include Aki and a guy
she's attracted to, Captain Gray (Alec Baldwin) as well as a
scientist called Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), consider that the
way to send the aliens on the merry way is to channel the Earth
soul, or Gaia, an environmentally sound technique. The right-
wingers, represented by General Hein (James Woods), want to
blast them all. The trouble with the latter approach is that human
beings will be killed as well as the spooky looking green dragons
and some unexplained creatures that spend their time running
some sort of marathon for reasons that only they may know.

I'm not privy to any interviews of director Hironobu Sakaguchi
but I'd guess he'd say to critics and a general audience alike,
"Hey, guys, don't judge me by the story. Appraise me strictly by
visuals." Well, now, he's got a point. While Dr. Aki Ross's hair
doesn't quite blow in the wind as much as does the hair of
models in a Clairol commercial, her eyes sure look real and she's
a most attractive fake. The explosions, the look of the
oxymoronic Old New York which could have come from "Dark
City," the all-around futuristic structures that abound throughout
every scene in this ocular-arresting film make it a picture that no
movie buff will want to miss.

When sound came around in 1929, there were skeptics who
said that it would never replace the silents. However, when 3-D
was first introduced to the movies during the 1950's and then
improved on greatly during the IMAX era, people were tempted to
say that all movies would shortly be in three dimensions. This
did not come to pass and will not. Even if the heavy glasses can
be dispensed with, there's something paradoxically artificial-
looking about the natural imagery of IMAX 3-D. Will "Final
Fantasy" be a harbinger of things to come or will its technology
remain simply an alternate way of seeing films when you're in the
mood for novelty? Hard to say, but I'd guess the latter. Then
again I'm not from the generation that eschewed punch ball and
stick ball in the street in favor of staying home with video games
like The Sims, Final Fantasy and Tomb Raider.

Rated PG-13. Running time: 105 minutes. (C) 2001 by
Harvey Karten,

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Jul 16, 2001, 11:31:10 PM7/16/01
RATING: 5/10

For more reviews and movie wallpapers, visit

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, our planet has been invaded by phantom aliens.
Few humans remain, but a handful of them actually believe that they can survive
the invasion and reclaim the planet as their own.

Despite some pretty stunning human-looking computer generated characters,
imagery and action sequences, this film's bleak and murky vision, and somewhat
incomprehensible spiritual mumbo-jumbo storyline, just didn't do it for me. And
before any of you "gamers" knock my ass upside down, please note that I have
never played or seen the "game" version of FINAL FANTASY, so I'm basing my
review entirely upon what I saw on the big screen and nothing else. Anyway, back
to what I was saying...basically, the biggest problem that I had with this movie
wasn't the fact that it was produced entirely by computers (human characters et
al), but that I just didn't care all that much about any of the people in the
film, and even more importantly, that I didn't really care about any of the
gibberish that they kept babbling about ("we must find the 7th spirit in order
to..."). Although that might just be a personal thing with me. I know that a lot
of people enjoy these types of themes in movies, but to me, they get a little
annoying, especially when they're made even more complicated than they need to
be. For example, I'm not entirely sure that I understood what went down at the
end of this film, and that's never cool. But enough about my non-appreciation
for the story line, let's talk about what everyone should be talking about with
this film and those are its visuals!

I have to admit that most of this movie's computer-generated images looked great
on the big screen and were perfect for the world created within the script.
Unfortunately, the characters couldn't help but look computer-animated from time
to time, and that usually took me "out of it" for a while. I also had some
problems with the recognizable voices on some of the characters, like Alec
Baldwin's voice on a young man (who looked like Ben Affleck!), Steve Buscemi's
on a good-looking funnyman and James Woods. I really think that I would have
gotten more into these characters, had they used non-movie star voices (as the
lead character Aki, who was also the most developed character). On the whole,
the dialogue wasn't bad and the speech-to-mouth synching either (I'd heard
horror stories on both), but I have to admit that despite my general
appreciation for "darker" movies, I was really quite depressed by the end of
this flick. I mean, why doesn't anybody smile in this movie? There were a few
jokes here and there (thank God!), but on the whole, the entire vision,
storyline and demeanor of the characters was just very, very gloomy.

So I guess that I'm about half-and-half on this movie. I dug most of its amazing
visuals, appreciated the action scenes and some of the real-life qualities of
the characters (the old man with the beard looked life-life in almost every
scene...very impressive), but didn't get into the story about the spirits
invading earth, felt pulled out of the picture from time to time, whenever I
noticed the "computerness" of it all, and definitely didn't buy into any of its
"emotional" scenes (real-life actors needn't worry about computers replacing
them just yet, these actors didn't deliver the goods in any of their "money"
scenes). But on the whole, I do still admire the ambitiousness of this project,
respect its vision and certainly look forward to more ground-breaking stuff like
this in the future. But as a movie...well, it just didn't entertain me all that
much. Wait for the DVD.

Where's JoBlo coming from?
A.I. (8/10) - Alien (9/10) - Aliens (10/10) - The Arrival (8/10) - Battlefield
Earth (7/10) - The Cell (8/10) - Dark City (9/10) - Mission to Mars (3/10) -
Titan A.E. (7/10) - Virus (5/10) - The X-Files (7/10)

Review Date: July 11, 2001
Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi
Writers: Al Reinert, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Jeff Vintar
Producers: Jun Aida, Chris Lee, Akio Sakai
Actors: Ming-Na as Aki Ross
Alec Baldwin as Gray Edwards
Donald Sutherland as Doctor Sid
Genre: Science-Fiction
Year of Release: 2001
JoBlo's Movie Emporium
(c) 2001 Berge Garabedian

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Evelyn C. Leeper

Jul 16, 2001, 11:46:59 PM7/16/01
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This very dark sci-fi fantasy is magnificent visually
but it has a nearly incoherent plot. FINAL FANTASY is a
Japanese-American co-production entirely animated but with a
very real three-dimensional look and with very real-looking
characters. In the year 2065 aliens that appear to us as
translucent images, but still very deadly creatures, have
invaded Earth. Saving the Earth requires resorting to
semi-mystical means to understand and halt the enemy. If this
film had been done in live-action the scenes more spectacular
than those of BLADERUNNER would have been hailed as a triumph.
Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)

The art of the animated film continues to evolve before our eyes
at an incredible rate. It seems that one animated film after
another is released and advances the art of animation. I
personally was very impressed with the visual images created in
TITAN A.E. But there are images in FINAL FANTASY that go well
beyond the power of that film's animation. The one problem is
that if I applaud this film it will have to be mostly on the
imagination of the concepts and on the visuals. I don't think the
story was a very good one. And the uncertain terms in which I say
that are intentional. The telling of the story and the
explanation of what is going on lies somewhere in the range
between terse and incoherent. I frequently had no idea what was
happening in the plot, thought FINAL FANTASY was never failed to
be an enjoyable film to watch.

The greatest part of what was remarkable about the film was the
animation work. The entire film is done in a three-dimensional
technique. Every single image is as three-dimensional as a live
action film. Of course, I am afraid one could always distinguish
the images from real live action. And that is (intentionally)
praising the animation with faint criticism. The computer-
generated images were almost photographic. And what images they
were! There were planet-scapes and futuristic battlefields.
There were alien monsters of towering height. There were things
that cannot be described; they have to be seen.

The story opens in 2065, with the Earth already mostly destroyed
and conquered by a diaphanous life form from space. Well, not
just one diaphanous life form, but a whole class of gossamer life
forms. There are things that are insect-like and things that look
like floating dragons. It is like a whole planet of creatures are
cooperating and taking part in the invasion. Why? Dr. Sid
(voiced by Donald Sutherland) and his protege Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-
Na) want to find out. The creatures seem to burrow into the
ground then attack with deadly potency. Humans have reacted by
retreating to force-field protected cities. A guard of power-
suited soldiers protects these cities and what is left of the
human race. Dr. Sid believes in the Gaia theory that planets are
like a living organism with self-protection mechanisms. Perhaps
they can be triggered to protect the planet. But Sid and Aki have
to act fast. Aki's body has been invaded by one form of the
aliens' essence. AIDS-like it will prove deadly if the nature of
the aliens is not better understood soon. Hironobu Sakaguchi, who
is connected with the Final Fantasy video games wrote the story
for this film as well as directed and acted as executive producer.
Jeff Vintar and Al Reinert wrote the screenplay.
Generally in an animated film of this sort, I complain that any
starving actor could have gotten a good job doing the voice of an
animated character. It usually seems wasteful and useless to give
these voice roles to established and successful actors. In this
film it really did serve a purpose. The animation technique makes
the characters realistic and even gives them some marvelous facial
expression, but it leaves them seeming cold and without much
personality. That makes it hard to keep straight who is who. One
thing that helped was that I found it easy to track four of the
characters because they spoke with voices I immediately
recognized. Those were Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Donald
Sutherland, and James Woods. I probably should have recognized
the voice of Ving Rhames, but did not. The main character is
played by Ming-Na best known for her roles in THE JOY LUCK CLUB
and in the various Disney productions in which she plays the
Chinese historic figure Mulan. What is a little disconcerting is
not that the voices are familiar, but that the faces do not
resemble those of the actors. Dr. Sid may have unmistakably
sounded like Donald Sutherland, but he looked very different. I
kept expecting to see Dr. Sid with the Sutherland face.

This film from Square Pictures (whose logo is a rectangle) is
animated to be just one step from live action. The viewer may
come away not understanding the story or the future Earth on which
is it set, but he will have seen some marvelous images set to the
tune of some really terrible music. I rate the film a 6 on the 0
to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2001 Mark R. Leeper

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Robin Clifford

Jul 16, 2001, 11:48:08 PM7/16/01
"Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within"

Aliens beings have taken over the Earth. The great cities are deserted and
precious few humans remain to repel the invaders and reclaim the world for
mankind. Aki Ross (voice of Ming-Na) and her mentor Dr. Sid (voice of
Donald Sutherland) must develop their "wave theory," the only antidote to
counter the alien phantoms in this latest video game to become a feature
length movie in "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within."

It was inevitable. Ever since Pixar Animation brought "The Tin Toy" to life
in 1988 as the first all-computer generated (and Oscar-winning) short, the
animation industry has been striving to create a realistic world using CGI
ever since. A few years later "Toy Story" wowed us and, most recently,
"Shrek" bowled the world over. Now, video game master Hironobu Sakaguchi
takes his own, popular game series, Final Fantasy, and brings his animated
video world to the big screen.

Live action films from video games have been around for a while. Super
Mario Brothers, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and Might Morphin Power
Rangers were all fodder for the video-game-turned-movie market. The latest
of the live makeovers, "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," is currently having a
successful run at theaters everywhere. But the video game to video film
niche has not, until "Final Fantasy," been tapped. Vid king Sakaguchi is
the first to make the leap from creating his own popular gaming software to
crafting a big-screen CGI version of his brainchild.

The brief description at the beginning of this review lays out the basic
story. Aliens, in this case amorphous monsters that live just on the edge
of human vision, are able to tear the spirit out of their victims, leaving
their bodies an empty shell. The military, led by General Hein (James
Woods), is gung ho against the invaders and, because they killed his
family, the general will stop at nothing to stop the alien invaders. Of
course, the misguided military mogul does not see the danger of this
stop-at-nothing-to-win ideology and it is up to the scientists, in the
"persona" of Aki and Dr. Sid (with the help of heroic Captain Gray Edwards
(Alec Baldwin) and his loyal Deep Eyes SWAT team) to save the world.

"Final Fantasy" is a traditional action/adventure flick with the
exceptional difference that there is, technically, little of tradition in
the filmmaking. Much like "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," we get a rousing
adventure that is made up with a series of high-tech battles that pit man
against monster. The CGI used here is outstanding, with the action
realistic and human movements and expressions genuine. The looks of the
younger characters still has a smooth artificiality to it that keeps it
just a step away from being "real" (though I think this is a move by the
filmmakers to keep from spooking the audience by being too realistic).

There are a couple of problems with this technical tour de force, though.
The main one I have is the same one that I have with many films. It is too
darn long to sustain the story line. The makers, here, are so taken with
the state-of-the-art technology that they feel they must sacrifice good
pacing with extra F/X - action scenes are carried too long and the story
meanders through its last 30 minutes with multiple logical endings,
preventing the film from being tight and to the point. 15 minutes of
judicious editing would have made this a terrific sci-fi adventure instead
of just a good one.

The other problem is the melding of CGI with the look and feel of reality.
We have entered the realm where the vid techies can create a
realistic-looking human being by manipulating the bits and bytes. Giving
voice to these new beings is going to create problems. It's one thing to
have Charlton Heston doing the voice of a dog. It's another thing entirely
giving that voice to a human, albeit a CGI one, that does not look like the
actor. I found it distracting to hear Donald Sutherland's voice coming out
of balding, bearded Dr. Sid. My mind kept visualizing the actor, instead.
Non-stars and unknown vocal talents would be less distracting when giving
voice to the characters in this reality-based animation world.

The real draw for "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" is to the many fans
of the video game series (over 33 million copies sold world-wide) and those
who are curious to see the first hyper-realistic, computer-generated action
feature. It is a formidable effort, despite the problems, and I give it a

For more Reeling reviews visit

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Susan Granger

Jul 16, 2001, 11:51:17 PM7/16/01
Susan Granger's review of "FINAL FANTASY: SPIRITS WITHIN" (Sony Pictures)
There's a far deeper question than whether the movie-makers were
faithful to the inter-active computer game which inspired this animated
fantasy/adventure. This is the first major studio release with an entire cast of
computer-generated humanoid actors - and the CGI graphics, dubbed
'hyperRealism,' are an amalgam of photography and painting. It's 2065 and Earth
has been invaded by spectral aliens. Few humans remain but there's the beautiful
heroine, Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na) and her mentor, Dr. Sid (voiced by
Donald Sutherland). They're working on an antidote involving various, positive
spirit waves which will disarm the enemy phantoms. Aiding Aki, who has a ghost
spore in her chest, is Capt. Gray Edwards (voiced by Alec Baldwin) and his
renegades, The Deep Eyes (voiced by Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Ving Rhames).
But a reckless, gung-ho military strategist, General Hein (voiced by James
Woods), is determined use the highly-destructive, space-mounted Zeus Cannon to
bombard Earth with a bio-etheric energy force although its ecological effect is
unknown. The "acting" is as credible as in many story-propelled sci-fi sagas and
Aki's character combines buff sexiness with spirituality. Significantly, this
could be the first Japanese animation to make the cross from cult status to mass
acceptance in the United States, a feat at which "Princess Mononoke" failed. The
"Final Fantasy" computer game has been popular since its introduction in 1987
and its creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi, worked with director/animator Motonori
Sakakibara, utilizing a cliché-laden, contrived script by Al Reinert and Jeff
Vintar. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Final Fantasy: Spirits Within"
is an innovative 6 - too bad the dazzling 'eye candy' technology was wasted on
such a trivial pursuit.

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Steve Kong

Jul 16, 2001, 11:57:58 PM7/16/01
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
Reviewed by Steve Kong (
Copyright (c) 2001 Steve Kong

So, does Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within live up to its hype? Yes and
no. What definitely lives up to the hype is the computer animation. What
doesn't live up to the hype is a totally engrossing story and good action.

Lets tackle the story first. The story follows Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na Wen)
who is a human infect with an alien "spirit". She and a Dr. Sid (Donald
Sutherland) are working on a way to save the Earth, which is being overrun
by these spirits. These spirits will take the life force of any life form
that it touches, killing them instantly. But, Dr. Sid was able to help Dr.
Ross and kept her from dying from the infection. Helping these two doctors
is the Deep Eyes squadron. Captain Grey (Alec Baldwin) leads the squadron;
he also has a love interest for Dr. Ross. The two doctors are trying to
save the Earth in an environmentally safe way, a way that will not destroy
the Gaia (the spirit of a world). On the other hand there is General Hein
(James Woods) who wants to fire a huge orbiting cannon at the crater where
the alien meteor is. He thinks this will kill off the spirits and free the
Earth. The doctors think different, they think that this will kill the
Gaia of the Earth also and if the Gaia of the Earth dies, then all the
spirits on the world will die.

The story is overly complicated, especially since director/writer Hironobu
Sakaguchi decided to throw in all kinds of meta-physical, existential, and
religious non-sense into what could have been a pretty straightforward and
fun story. The underlying story is pretty simple and I would have loved to
see it told without all this philosophical crap. The complication bogs the
movie down and sometimes makes it feel like it is preaching about saving
the Earth to an audience who is just there to see a cool movie. Does this
hurt the film though? Nope.

What saves the film is the out-of-this-world eye-opening computer generated
animation. This stuff truly lives up to its hype. The movie opens with a
very long close-up of Aki's eye and is incredible! It's almost as if the
filmmakers are inviting you to try to find something wrong yet we are
stunned at what is onscreen. Yes, there are times when the characters move
woodenly, but most of the time the movie gives a true sense of
reality. The characters all look convincing and their movements are
realistic. But, because it is animation, the filmmakers are able to do so
much more with the characters and with the environment. In the opening
sequence we see Aki through the ground (from bottom up) and it is just a
stunning visual. These stunning mind-bending visuals are used all through
the film. The landscapes that are created in the film are especially
stunning. There was one thing that felt "off" about the characters
though. The speech and the mouth movements just felt a little off. Kind
of like watching a movie with its soundtrack just a little be off. But,
that's no biggie.

The voice acting is great! Ming-Na does a good job with her role, as does
Alec Baldwin. But the real winners here are Donald Sutherland, Peri Gilpin
as one of the DeepEyes, Ving Rhames as another Deep Eye, and Steve Buscemi
as a pilot for the Deep Eyes. Buscemi was especially good and was
incredibly funny (like always). The only voice that felt out of place, and
this was because of the incredibly lame lines he got and the dumb things
his character had to do, was James Woods. Usually, I like Woods a lot as
an actor, but he just wasn't doing well in Final Fantasy. His General Hein
was a bit too badly written.

The score from Elliot Goldenthal is one to listen for. It is well done.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is truly a revolutionary step forward for
computer-generated movies. Will CG actors be replacing real human actors
anytime soon? Nah, there's still a ways to go, but Final Fantasy shows
just how far things have come. Should you see Final Fantasy? Without a
question, Yes! This is a Don't Miss movie. See it for the incredible
visuals that will leave you breathless. After a while I stopped trying to
keep track of all that was happening in the story because it was so very
complicated. And at times seeing how the consistency of the story itself
wavered, it seems that the moviemakers also started to forget about the
stories and concentrated on the visuals which is a damn good thing because
this film is all eye-candy and it is something worth seeing twice.
Mookie Kong (
Mookie's Gone Mad With His Digital Camera!

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Rose 'Bams' Cooper

Jul 18, 2001, 2:14:22 AM7/18/01
'3BlackChicks Review...'

Rated PG-13; running time 100 minutes
Genre: Animated (CGI)
Seen at: Jack Lokes' Celebration Cinema (Lansing, Michigan)
Official site:
IMDB site:
Written by: Al Reinert, Jeff Vintar, Hironobu Sakaguchi
Directed by: Hironobu Sakaguchi
Cast: voices of Ming-na, Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Donald Sutherland,
Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2001
Review URL:

Many of the tech and entertainment web pages I read regularly have been
gushing about the leaps and bounds that computer generated imaging has
taken as of late; these ezines breathlessly muse on advances made in
computing, even going so far as to suggest that One Of These Days,
actors just might be replaced by CGI-created "stars".

As purty as it is, if FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN is the yardstick
by which that ubiquitous They are measuring comp-tech success, Hollywood
has nothing to fear. Yet.

The Story (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
Earth, in 2065, is pretty toasted, in the aftermath of a Big Fight
between Earthlings and some ALIEN-like aliens. The ALIEN-like aliens,
called "Phantoms", kick much Earth booty, and don't bother with taking

But the Real, True Hope For The World is the fearless Dr. Aki Ross
(Ming-na); Aki and her mentor, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) struggle to
find and unite the eight Spirits that [mumblemumblemumbojumbo] so they
can stop the ALIEN-like aliens from further thrashing Gaia Earth while
helping the Phantoms [mumblemumblemumbojumbo] so they can chill here,

Of course, things aren't that simple. On the one hand, Aki has to deal
with Capt. Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin), who is not only a skeptic, but
is also her old flame. What's worse, Gray and his Deep Eyes military
crew Sgt. Ryan Whittaker (Ving Rhames), almost-but-not-quite comic
relief pilot Neil Fleming (Steve Buscemi), and kickbutt chick Jane
Proudfoot (Peri Gilpin) report to mean ol' General Hein (James Woods),
who is after the Phantoms with a vengeance - getting rid of Aki in the
process, being a bonus.

The Upshot:
FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN is *very* purty, let there be no doubt
of that. The sheer depth of its beauty, of animation that Walt Disney
would sell off Mickey and Minnie to see, was marvelous to witness. And
it is purty in a way that no other CGI movies have been yet. Even my
favorite CGI-animated flick to date, Pixar's TOY STORY 2, didn't come as
close to rendering its world as realistically as did "Final Fantasy",
both as a movie and as its video game predecessor - thanks in great part
to the mastermind behind both versions of "Final Fantasy", game designer
and film director Hironobu Sakaguchi.

And this is where we begin to Receive Wisdom. Even moreso than with the
dreadful mess that was the live-action movie version of the TOMB RAIDER
video game series of the same name, FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN
reminded me just why video games belong in the nebulous realm in which
they exist: they are simply *not real*. And unlike the
dead-from-the-neck-up morons who are ruining American public schools
with their incredulous Zero Tolerance policies [talk about your
contradiction in terms! I know...Another Time, Another Place], most
gamers *know* they're not real; and in fact, thrive on that knowledge.

I digress, but the point above - the shared knowledge by gamers that
video games are not at all real - doesn't seem to translate over well
into the cinema, unless it's as High Camp or Parody (the live-action
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES movie series comes to mind). FINAL
FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN works *better* than the TOMB RAIDER movie, I
think, because except for a few moments when the viewers' eyes plays
tricks on us, the audience never forgets that we are seeing animated -
that is, un-real - characters on the "Fantasy" screen [versus wholly
un-animated robotrons in "Tomb"]. For example, as good as the animation
was, the lack of realism was never more evident than in scenes calling
for the characters to Emote, especially with sadness; watching the
animated Aki and Gray stiffly commiserate with each other, with the
disembodied voices of Ming-na and Alec Baldwin providing emotion that
the animation just couldn't match, was like watching a Bad Karate Flick
where the dubbing is three steps off-beat.

But the kicker for me was, as with "Tomb", that the Spiritual Mumbo
Jumbo that "Fantasy" went on about - here, that Earth was Mother Gaia,
and Bad Things were disturbing her Wa - might work fine as a video game
cutscene; but as movie canon, it just made me want to cover my ears so
as to stop the pain of its wretchedness.

All that said, you'll notice I didn't red- or yellowlight this project.
Partially, that's because I finally *did* cover my ears, metaphorically
speaking. Once James Woods' characterization of the Evol General Hein
kicked in, in all of Woods' typical Chewing-The-Scenery glory, I decided
to not worry much about the silliness of "Fantasy", and to just groove
on its Pretty Pictures, as well as the acting talent behind it, realized
in varying degrees. Between Woods' always humorous appetite for
scenery, Baldwin's growing adeptness at providing vocals for animated
movies, and the ability of Peri Gilpin (from NBC's FRASIER) to make her
presence known despite not being given a whole lot to do, I could almost
forgive Ming-na's monotone, Steve Buscemi's lack of character quirkiness
[surely, Sakaguchi must've known that Buscemi *oozes* quirk!], and the
muting of Ving Rhames' standard powerhouse performing skills.

But damnifi didn't think that Doctor Sid was the spitting image (and,
sound) of William Hurt; right down to the receding forehead. Uh, sorry

The "Black Factor" [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]:
Relax, "angrywhiteguy" [yeah, I get email from 'em all. Lucky me.];
Black Folk were represented fairly well in "Fantasy". It's really the
Asian Factor that I'm addressing here.

And actually, it isn't me addressing this one; rather, this comes
paraphrased straight from the mouth of actress Ming-na, the voice Dr.
Aki Ross. Much has been made of the careful reproduction of Aki's
strands of hair, of making sure the other character's physical flaws
were reproduced, even of how the character Aki might become a Star of
"her" own right, in films beyond "Fantasy". But as she was being
interviewed by a female reporter of Asian heritage (whose name I am
blanking on right now, sorry) on CBS' THE EARLY SHOW, Ming-na said of
the way Aki was drawn - looking very little like the actress herself:
"The sista, wasn't a sista".

And the beat goes on...

Bammer's Bottom Line:
FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN receives a greenlight from me because,
in the final analysis, I think it's definitely worth seeing. "Seeing",
in fact, is the key term here. Soak in its beauty; and if you can swing
it, bring along a headset and your favorite music. Say, about 90
minutes worth.

But c'mon now; Gaia? What is this, "Captain Planet"?!

Rose "Bams" Cooper
Webchick and Editor,
3BlackChicks Review
Entertainment Reviews With Flava!
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2001

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