Animation Features Movies

Final Fantasy:
The Spirits Within

Directors – Hironobu Sakaguchi, Motonori Sakakibara – 2001 – Japan, US – Cert. PG – 106m


Earth (and its attendant spirit Gaia) have been attacked by aliens, its human and animal populations decimated, its cities deserted – review originally published in Ad Hoc magazine, 2001

The first computer-generated movie to dispense with real live actors in favour of their computer-generated counterparts – at least as far as the visuals go – Final Fantasy The Spirits Within proves as radical a departure as the first animated feature Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937), the convincing computer-generated characters of Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) and the first computer-animated feature Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995).

The lead heroine’s hair and the creases in the characters’ clothing both convince utterly. The characters’ movements are taken off real people and fed into a computer by a process known as motion capture, which also provided the incredible moving freeze-frame moments in The Matrix (Larry and Andy Wachowski, 1999).

Mouth movements spouting pre-recorded speech doesn’t quite come off every time while the facial expressions haven’t quite managed all the subtleties of human visages. Most of them, true, though not quite all. But then, the computer technology here is way ahead of another of this year’s animation highlights, the cartoony Shrek (Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jensen, 2001).

FFTSW’s Japanese origins lie in the role-playing game (RPG) Final Fantasy. Each successive version of the game has featured a small group of protagonists, one of whom is named Sid, defending the world from annihilation. So too does the movie.

Earth (and its attendant spirit Gaia) have been attacked by aliens, its human and animal populations decimated, its cities deserted. Beautiful and brilliant scientist Dr Aki Ross (voice: Ming-Na Wen, character animation: Roy Sato) is plagued by dreams in which she comes face to face with armies of the aliens on their home planet. Aki is the protégé of much maligned genius Dr. Sid (voice: Donald Sutherland, character animation: Louis Lefebvre), who believes (to simplify plot complexities) the aliens can be defeated by the gathering of eight spirits, inexplicable survivors of the extra-terrestrial onslaught.

Alas, the military under the command of the implacable General Hein (voice: James Woods, character animation: Matthew T. Hackett) propose to wipe out the intruders using the Zeus Cannon – a giant laser gun orbiting the Earth – which could destroy one of the eight spirits prior to its gathering.

There’s a lot more to it, with more than a few surprises along the way (if other reviews don’t reveal any of them), providing a welcome alternative to the general dumbing down of recent Hollywood blockbuster fare. If the art direction owes something to seminal Japanimation outings Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1987) and Bubblegum Crisis (1987-90), FFTSW nonetheless remains very much its own film – and, hopefully, the first in a new cinematic wave.

Trailer 1:

Trailer 2:

Review originally published in Ad Hoc magazine, 2001.

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