Reviewer's Rating 3 out of 5   User Rating 4 out of 5
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

Tom Hanks, your nightmares can cease for your job is safe. Much has been made of "Final Fantasy" 's photo-realistic digital characters and, while digital actors may feature ego-free obedience and no exorbitant salaries, it seems even they cannot overcome a weak script.

Based on the phenomenally successful computer game, "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" is a visually stunning movie, and an outright triumph of technological innovation. You cannot fail to be impressed by the startling human detail: skin blemishes, fluid body movements, and (some) facial expressions have been realised with resounding success.

The story is a functional slice of science fiction, as scientist Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and mentor Dr Sid (Sutherland) work with a 'Deep Eyes' marine unit (Baldwin, Buscemi, Rhames) to defeat wraith-like aliens by channelling the eight 'spirit waves' of Earth or Gaia, the planetary soul. Yet like so much of Japan's Anime output, it's long on imagination and short on story.

With a plot that freely plunders the likes of "Aliens" and "Starship Troopers", the visual grandeur cannot hide clichéd dialogue, thin characters, and a frustrating lack of development. Where most blockbusters would go for the big-bang ending, "Final Fantasy" is content to indulge its spiritualist angle, resulting in a damp 'healing power of love' conclusion, replete with pointless sacrifice.

Given the technology on show, there are deleterious lapses: poor synchronisation of voices to digital lips and a limited range of facial expressions, resulting in extreme danger or sorrow being reflected in a surprisingly calm visage.

Without question, "Final Fantasy" is a technical milestone, and a thoroughly impressive one. While the astounding digital work will undoubtedly amaze, so will the fact that the film's four-year development did not generate a more cohesive story.

Check out our "Final Fantasy" mini-site, containing an exclusive Film 2001 report, a picture gallery (including development sketches of Aki), and interviews with the producers.

Read what Newsnight thinks of "Final Fantasy".

End Credits

Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi

Writer: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Al Reinart, Jeff Vintar

Stars: Alec Baldwin, Ming-Na Wen, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods

Genre: Science Fiction

Length: 105 minutes

Cinema: 03 August 2001

Country: Japan/USA

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