22 March 2006

Disappearing Ink #5 - Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Sci-Fi and animation has never been a very successful combination, and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was unable to turn that trend around. While this film lost over $100 million in the box office, it is deserving of a second chance. The plot is essentially video gamesque. Deadly phantoms roam the earth after arriving via giant meteor. Simply coming in contact with these spirits is deadly. But Dr. Aki Ross has found 5 of 8 life forms that she needs to neutralize the phantoms. During the course of the movie, she must find the remaining 3.

I don't want to spoil the movie, but there is quite a bit of action throughout, and plenty of death to go around. The death effects are particularly cool, and contact with a phantom causes a humans spirit to be sucked out of its body. The animation in amazing in this film, and stills are beautiful. I don't think any film since has captured the realism as FF; however, some of the movements of characters are a little unnatural. Anyways, this film is way better looking than Kaena: The Prophecy, though the style is very similar. Also, while there is a happy ending, its happy in the sense that not everyone dies as opposed to the War of the Worldsish ending where nobody you care about dies. The song during the closing credits is also worth checking out, and perfectly fits the films mood. Lastly, there are top rate voice actors in this film, from Donald Sutherland, to Ving "don't call me Michael Clark Duncan" Rhames, crazy eyed Steve Buscemi (without the crazy eyes of course because of the animation and all), Ming-Na AKA Mulan, and even Alec Baldwin.

So why did this film do so poorly? Well, first of all the title Final Fantasy is a double edged sword. It is a well known and extremely popular brand. While the film certainly contains themes of the final fantasy saga (balance of man and nature, spirituality, and a character named Sid), there are no swords or magic, no chocobo or moogles, and the film is set on Earth rather than some newly imagined world. Fans of Final Fantasy seemed to struggle with accepting this film into their cannon. A better title would have been simply The Spirits Within. Also, as stated above, Sci-Fi animation seems to be a big turnoff to movie goers. People want real explosions, and mature sci-fi. Unfortunately, many people (read Americans) ignorantly think cartoons = kids and do not expect an animated film could satisfy adult expectations. Lastly, the plot is a little too video game like, and a bit predictable. Some of the characters, especially the antagonist General Hein, are not as developed as they could have been. It really is too bad this film bombed though because I would have loved to see the planned follow-up. But, $100 million is a big loss, and in this case the studio was bankrupted. :(

All in all, this is an enjoyable film. It is ambitious and beautiful despite not really meriting the title of Final Fantasy. Nevertheless I grade this film a respectable B.

Check out my past reviews:
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Grave of the Fireflies
The Iron Giant
Kaena: The Prophecy

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