Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Review

Jul 12, 2001 | 10:10am EDT

It's 2065. The earth has been taken over by phantom-like aliens against whom the dwindling human population is powerless save for a super-weapon that could destroy the entire planet. But Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na) and her mentor Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) are working fast to prove that "Gaia " or the spirit of the earth could be harnessed to wipe out the invaders by creating a spiritual "wave" using eight rare organic life forms. (Yeah we didn't really get it either.) Aki has found six of the eight but time is running out--so together they join ex-beau Captain Grey (Alec Baldwin) and his squad to find the remaining two life forms and complete the wave before a nefarious military official (James Woods) fires his super-weapon and damages Earth beyond repair.

All the amazing visual effects of this film couldn't save it from lame dialogue recited more stiffly than any other animated film in recent memory (couldn't they get the characters' mouths to move just a little?). With the most formlessly drawn face of the characters (she looks like she's 12) Aki demands a vivid personality--not supplied by a monotone Ming-Na who couldn't break a smile in her voice if her life depended on it. Grey (who looks weirdly like Ben Affleck on steroids) Woods and Ving Rhames Peri Gilpin and Steve Buscemi (as the requisite Black joker and chick squad members) are just as wooden but you hope to chalk it up to the stilted and cliché-sodden discourse. Sutherland is the standout as is Dr. Sid--his is the most fleshed-out character in concept delivery and appearance.

Director Hironobu Sakaguchi the video game's creator spent years on the much-touted photorealistic ("hyperReal") visuals which truly are jaw-dropping particularly in Aki's dream sequences and the attack scenes. (Ethereal and strangely beautiful the aliens are a sight to behold.) Some characters look so real you almost forget they aren't. But on the way to creating this masterpiece somebody forgot about the dialogue which is laughably insipid (did Sakaguchi think audiences would be so busy watching they'd forget to listen?). The film's pace is much slower than you'd expect with too little action too much storyline (which unfortunately requires more conversation). It's more inventive than say Tomb Raider but pay close attention or the blather of Mother Earth life forces and other New Age-y gobbledygook will waft past like so much phantasmagoria.

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