Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

(In theaters, July 2001) There is no doubt that this is a must-see film, though you’d be advised to remember that this in no way implies a particularly enjoyable movie. To re-state the obvious; yes, this is the first feature-length computer-animated film to attempt full photo-realism, especially when depicting human characters. Again, to re-state the obvious: no, it’s not undistinguishable from your living, breathing actors. But it comes close, and that’s why Final Fantasy is such a landmark. Had the animation been slightly more stylized, there would be no end to the technical praise; as it stands now, however, it’s so close, and yet so far, from full photo-realism that your pattern-recognition mechanism might temporarily balk at what you’re seeing. At least visually, the film makes full usage of its capabilities, depicting ruined cities, deserted wastelands and other areas hugely expensive to re-create practically. It’s a shame, though, that the overall palette of the film is so… bland and ugly. Believe me, you’ll thirst for non-LED green after a while. There is some amount of visual clutter too, almost as if the animators spent too much time cramming each frame with cool effects. Still, the film’s technical aspects will hold your interest for its whole duration, which is fortunate given the paucity of the story running the engine. You might have Titan A.E. flashbacks. Viewers approaching Final Fantasy as an SF film that happens to be animated will have a harder time at digesting the story than those who watch it knowing fully that Final Fantasy is a Japanese anime film that happens to be computer-generated. (The final minutes, for instance, are pure-anime mumbo-jumbo-mystical-sacrifice, entirely logical within the conventions of anime, but harder to grasp outside the genre.) See it, if only as a harbinger of things to come in a very few years.

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