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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Cosmic Puzzler
by Betty Jo Tucker

Now letís get this straight. In the year 2065, humans will be battling phantoms from outer space who have taken over planet Earth. But even though theyíre fighting ghosts, the characters in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within use the type of firepower that usually works with traditional invading forces. And this isnít a sci-fi comedy? Too bad. The movie might have been saved if played for laughs. Instead, itís just plain bewildering.

As the first full-length cyberfilm in the history of the world, Final Fantasy ranks as a millstone Ė er, milestone Ė movie. Computer generated images provide all its special effects, sets, monsters, and people. But, wouldnít you know it, those pesky humans just donít come out right. The leading man (or mannikin) looks like Superman but talks like Alec Baldwin (whose voice seemed more appropriate in Cats and Dogs). One of his sidekicks resembles the boy next door but sounds like an eerie Steve Buscemi from Con Air. Clearly recognizable voices of James Woods (The Generalís Daughter), Ving Rhames (Bringing Out the Dead), and Donald Sutherland (Space Cowboys) emerge from characters who appear very different from themselves physically. While this technique works for cartoon characters, my primitive brain rebels against such dissonance where humans are concerned.

Still, even if more commonplace voices had been used, the mechanical appearance of the filmís humans would also be off-putting to me. Case in point: the movieís feisty heroine, Dr. Aki Ross, whose dialogue is spoken by the relatively unknown Ming-Na of Mulan. Not being distracted by Akiís verbalizations, I could concentrate on other aspects of her "performance." While her eyes and hair amazed me with their lifelike appearance, she reminded me of a wind-up doll, not a real person. Even the little mole on her face seemed too perfect.

Iím becoming more and more wary of films based on video games. (A big Tomb Raider disappointment remains fresh in my mind.) The inspiration for Final Fantasy came from a highly successful interactive game created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, who also served as the filmís producer and director. "I have always wanted to create a new form of entertainment that fuses the technical wizardry of interactive games with the sensational visual effects of motion pictures," Sakaguchi declares. Although recruiting some of the same artists who worked on The Matrix, Godzilla, Titanic, and The Fifth Element, Sakaguchi failed to put together a movie with the visual thrills of such sci-fi classics as Alien, Blade Runner, and Star Wars. Yes, there are intriguing giant phantoms with filmy, serpentine tongues and tentacles, but they keep showing up over and over again. I donít think Iím alone in preferring a little variety in my futuristic creatures. Last yearís sci-fi disaster was Battlefield Earth; Iíll be surprised if Final Fantasy doesnít earn that distinction this year.

What does surprise me, however, is that Oscar-nominee Al Reinert (for Apollo 13) co-wrote (with Jeff Vintar) the nonsensical script for Final Fantasy. In an attempt to blend spiritual themes with environmental concerns and sci-fi adventure, these writers have come up with a plot that defies description. No wonder most of the filmís characters complain "I donít understand" at one point or another. And that pretty much sums up my feeling about the entire movie. Just because you can do something doesnít mean you should do it. Although the technology for a completely digital movie exists, I donít understand why it was used to make a film as unsatisfying as Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

(Released by Columbia and Square Pictures; rated "PG-13" for sci-fi action violence.)

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