The challenge of turning a popular video game into a feature film has long resulted in less then stellar moments in cinema history. One only has to look at such clunkers as “Mario Brothers”, “Double Dragon” “Street Fighter” and “Wing Commander”, to see the pitfalls of trying to create a 90-minute story around a game that has little if any back-story, character development, or real plot.
Yes, there can be success stories, as “Tomb Raider”, “Mortal Kombat” and “Pokemon” proved that while the critics may not like them, if done to the taste of the fans, video game based movies can make serious money for the studios that created them.
The latest contender into the video game to movie fray is “Final Fantasy The Spirits Within”. The film is based on the series of popular video games that place emphasis on merging gaming and cinema around themes of love, death, friendship, and spirituality. The games have been very popular and over 33 million copies of the game series have been sold making it one of, if not the top selling series ever.
“Spirits” is nor based on a specific game in the series, but rather is a new adventure in the traditions and styles set by the game. The film also is groundbreaking in its advancement of computer-generated graphics, as computer artists with the most realistic animated the entire film and lifelike characters ever created.
The story centers around an Earth of the near future where few humans survive due to an invasion by aliens known only as “Phantoms” It seems the Phantoms arrived in a meteor crash and have laid waste too much of the planets surface. The humans who do remain live in barrier cities that are protected by a defensive shield, and are protected by the military that many believe are the only hope for humanity.
Despite strong support for a military solution amongst the population and elected leaders, two scientists, Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), have a belief that an organic wave theory can defeat the invaders if certain spirit waves of the Earth can be identified, collected, and combined.
This theory is very unpopular with the Military leader, General Hein( James Woods) who belies that a quick strike with the new Zeus cannon upon the enemy base will destroy the threat once and for all.
Hein further distrusts the scientists when it is revealed that Dr. Ross is infected by the aliens and is suspected by Hein to be a traitor under alien control. The two Doctors are against the use of the Zeus cannon, as they believe that the Earth has a living spirit or Gaya that will be harmed if the weapon is used.
Hein assigns a squad of soldiers to watch the Doctors lead by Captain Gray Edwards( Alec Baldwin) as the team attempts to find the missing spirits to defeat the invaders.
It is at this point that the film takes a turn for the worse as the history of the aliens is never fully explained and we have the obligatory past relationship tension between Dr. Ross and the good Captain that goes nowhere. We also get the stereotype villain in Hein who plots and schemes to get his way, even if it means unleashing the aliens upon the population he is sworn to protect. The film even has a pair of bickering soldiers, Neil (Steve Buscemi) and Jane (Peri Gillpin) who exist as little more than comic relief and as a source of romantic tension opposite Gray and Ross.
The film started out on a good premise but quickly looses focus due to a lack of character development, and a story direction. The audience is expected to believe that the scientist have been searching for years for the spirits yet in the span of a few days, three spirits are found, and all with amazing ease and little explanation as to how and why. The supernatural element of the Earth’s natural Gaya is even more confusing and it results in a final showdown with the aliens that in all reality are much ado about nothing. It is amazing how many things, just happen to fall into place, with little or no explanation. At one point in the film, Dr. Sid explains that they all need to sit and wait for something to happen. This is much the way the movie works, as things do not unfold in a logical progression, they just seem to happen. Long lost spirits are found with little effort beyond scanning, a few times, when supposedly this search has gone on for years. People are infected by the aliens rather then killed, but we never learn the how and why behind this? I suspect it is a form of reproduction, but the nature of the aliens that is later revealed in the film might contradict this. It is a lack of continuity and logic that dooms the film, as the audience is asked to take leaps of faith to accept that things just happened to fall into place and that the conclusion of the film happened by action, not a matter of random chance. The romantic element of the film is nonexistent as many in the preview audience laughed during the supposed tender moments between Ross and Gray, as well as at many lines of dialogue that seemed poorly placed and executed in the film.
Woods does a great job voicing menace and madness to General Hein as one can tell that his character is one driven by rage and revenge but he is given little more to do than rant and menace with little substance behind it and General Heins remains little more than a standard cartoon bad guy.
The graphics of the film are nothing short of amazing as at times I had to remind myself that the characters were not flesh and blood but rather tricks of light and pixels as the facial features and movements are very impressive and will surly set the new standard for computer animation. That being said, despite the impressive visuals, a weak story and pacing, and a lack of energy do in “Final Fantasy”.
2.5 stars out of 5