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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Starring: Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin
Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 101 Minutes
Release Date: July 2001
Genres: Action, Animation, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Peri Gilpin, Steve Buscemi, David Michie, David Randolph, Steve Alterman

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

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 tension.

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.

Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes

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