Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi & Moto Sakakibara
Yeah, so it's based loosely on a video game, apparently. I have no idea, I've never played even one of the series (up to what, 12 now?). But the biggest appeal to me was the computer animation done on this film, and it really is incredible. It's the first truly 'realistically' portrayed fully CGI-animated film to hit the screens, and does a pretty damn good job, if I do say so myself (yeah, it makes 'Toy Story' and the other Pixar films look a bit dated, even as they were released). I dabble a bit in some 3-D modeling, so I know how difficult is to not just make the models, texture them properly, light the scene realistically, but then to animate them as well in a believable manner. In-fucking-credible. On the technical side, this movie is Fan-fucking-tastic. Why all the su-fucking-perlatives? It's a groundbreaking film in modeling and rendering. Basically you have to see it to believe it. The biggest problem is with the organic forms we are most familiar with, most notably, humans. Some of the characters are excellently done, but ultimately, it comes down to human expression, and many still seem a bit 'wooden.' You'll see for yourself. After all, this is the first movie of its kind, and has some technological limits to still overcome. But overall it does a pretty good job in this regard.
The story itself is what it is. If you've ever seen a Japanimation film, you will recognize the themes right away. Primarily it is a study of human nature, more specifically the spirit, and how that effects people and even the well-being of the planet as a whole. Totally an eastern philosophy, which, well, due to the heritage of our western culture, doesn't always translate the best. It's pretty obvious in it's spiritual theme, but if you think of it more from that aspect, it doesn't seem quite as blatant. If you've ever seen 'Akira' and 'Princess Mononoke,' (alas, two of the more 'popular' Japanimation films I've seen [not too big of a fan myself, but these are pretty decent, particularly 'Akira,' particularly in style]) this is kind of an amalgamation between the two. 'Final Fantasy' takes it to an entirely different medium. It's an adventure and a look at human nature in an amazingly realistic light (well, okay, maybe just the adventure part). Social and historical references are kept to a minimum, making the characters a bit more accessible (as opposed to speaking in a developed vernacular, as would seem most likely if projecting that far into the future [minor gripe]). But if you haven't seen this movie, and you don't mind the Japanimation sci-fi aspect to it, definitely rent it or pick it up for the $15 that it's being sold for. You'll watch it at least twice, and there's a shitload of extra stuff on the 2-disc DVD set.
My final comment (I have to keep these reviews relatively short), is on one of the major downfalls of the movie, and it comes down to the talent they got to voice the characters. Pretty much all of them are recognizable U.S. stars, and it's a bit disturbing to recognize them and not be able to relate it to the character that is speaking. It's kinda hard to get used to, if you can at all. I would suggest just doing the subtitle thing, but then you're too busy reading the hokey dialogue while the visually spectacular is happening above, so fuck it, get used to the voices.
DVD note (for the true DVD fans): Let's face it, this is basically a video game played out without you having to actually waste 104 hours of your life (if you're lucky) playing the damn thing. [I guess it isn't that incredible to think that these games are getting million-dollar budgets, it makes it back ten-fold considering the cheap medium and massive market appeal.] The guys who put this together know it, so they put a shitload of extra stuff on the DVDs to keep your interest. I haven't even been able to go through all the material, which made me apprehensive about including it so early in the DMR, but what I have seen is on par with the movie itself (for good and bad, but mostly good). For example, there's an option on disc one with the 'Playblast' option that shows facts about each sequence on the screen via textboxes, while commentary of various artists who created it say something about the modeling/development, while showing storyboard sequences/early renderings/final cuts of the film intercut with each other. Yeah, well, you may not want to get that involved, but the option is there, plus many many many more. 'Nuff said.