Four years in the making, “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” is a sci-fi fantasy with breathtaking visuals and stunning alien designs unlike anything we have ever seen. This completely computer-generated movie features a cast of digital actors voiced by well-known Hollywood celebrities. Story and video game references aside, there is one compelling question on the minds of everyone who goes to see “Final Fantasy” – are these digital actors as good as real human actors? We’ll get to that big question later as it seems to be the crux of this whole experiment. One thing you should know, the story has little to do with any of the “Final Fantasy” video games except for the names of some of the characters. Or at least that’s what fans of the game told me. I’ve only played two of the FF games myself and never got very far. It takes a commitment to play those games that involves giving up weeks of your life and going without food, bathing and sex. I just don’t have the resolve required to survive one of those role-playing-games.
Anyway, the story is more convoluted than it really needs to be, but here’s a quick summary: It is the year 2065. Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na who also did Mulan) is haunted by dreams of an alien war. In her dreams, she is trapped in the midst of the conflict and is witness to the suffering of these alien warriors. The nightmares continue and nothing seems to soothe her. Aki’s dreams have something to do with the spirit or virus that is quarantined in her body. We quickly learn that the earth has been taken over by alien spirits. The last remaining humans live in enclosed fortresses that keep the alien ghosts away. Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) believes that by collecting eight spirits or life energy and combining them, they can be used to repel the alien invaders. Here begins a quest not unlike one found in an RPG. A military team including Neil Fleming (Steve Buscemi), Ryan Edwards (Ving Rhames) and Jane Proudfoot (Peri Gilpin) is led by Captain Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin). They’re out to stop the spread of the spirits while keeping an eye on Dr. Aki who may be a mysterious link to the aliens. James Woods is the villainous voice behind General Hein who will risk the safety of the planet if only to wipe out the slayers of his family.
Yeah, it all looks really good, but do you care? For me, I stopped caring halfway through the movie. I mean, there is no arguing that the film looks breathtaking – it is truly spectacular. And it looks spectacular every damn minute, it just gets tiresome. It’s as if the filmmakers were so impressed with themselves knowing that they could make any shot look amazing, they decided to make it all amazing. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I know, it’s a strange complaint, but the look of the film, that one consistent dark look, gets dull.
About midway into the movie I just wanted it all to end. Ultimately, I felt like I was watching one of those cool-looking PlayStation game intros. You know the ones I’m talking about. “Final Fantasy” just has that look. It looks like a video game intro. The whole last half of the film, I was wishing I could press the “start” button on my PlayStation controller so I could actually start playing a game instead of watching some film I could care less about.
As for the question of whether these digital human likenesses will replace real actors, the answer is plain. No. No way. There’s a reason that all of the trailers and promos for the film only show spectacular visuals and avoid revealing any real acting between characters. It doesn’t quite work. It’s odd. They move fine. The action or acting that involves running and jumping looks damn near human, but those subtle facial expressions are not quite there. Captain Gray is especially strange since the character is so obviously based on Ben Affleck, yet we’re hearing Alec Baldwin’s voice come out of his mouth. It’s bizarre. The reason that all the acting doesn’t seem to work is simple. It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul. When you see the eyes of these digital thespians, there is no life. It’s like living, breathing mannequins were cast in a film and forced to act. Like seeing a movie filled with “Real Dolls.” There’s a glaze in those eyes that looks lifeless. And that makes a lot of sense because they are lifeless. The attempt is admirable and I’m sure we’ll see other films make a go of it. They actually have a lot to live up to in comparison to “Final Fantasy” since the film certainly has its moments. I wish those other pioneers a lot of luck.