Final Fantasy (PG)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD FEATURES: Disc One: Digitally Mastered in High Definition using the filmless digital files; Commentaries: 1) Co-Director and Crew/ 2) Animation Director, Editor and Staging Director; Isolated Score with Commentary by Composer Elliot Goldenthal; Storyboard/Playblast selects with optional Filmmaker Commentary. Also includes Subtitle factoids; Interactive Animation Menus: Featuring CGI; Intros Created by Square Pictures; Scene Selection with Motion Images; Theatrical Trailers; Production Notes.

DVD Special Features Disc 2 Original Interactive Documentary: The Making of Final Fantasy. Dig deeper and link-out to 17 information pods including: Final Fantasy Thriller Music Video, Mini-Movie: Aki's Dream, 2 Face Wraps (Aki, Dr. Sid), Character Morphs, Matte Art Explorations, Composting Builds; Multi workshop Including: 7 In-Depth Character Files, 3 Vehicle Scale Comparisons (Bandit, Quatro, Black Boa), Trailer Explorations, Sets and Props; Alternate Opening Sequence; Final Fantasy Shuffler: Become the filmmaker by re-editing a pivotal scene from the film.; Interactive Animated Menus

IT MAY look fantastic and set a new standard in three-dimensional animation; but Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ultimately flatters to deceive because of a cumbersome plot and far too many one-dimensional characters.

Rightly heralded as a cinematic breakthrough - it is the first computer generated animated motion picture - and viewed by some as the reason why actors should be worried, Final Fantasy may herald the onset of a new era in digital storytelling but, on this evidence, a great deal of work still needs to be done on plot and characterisation.

The film is based on the best-selling interactive computer game of the same name, which has sold over 30 million units and which is the number one game in total sales world-wide, and it has been directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi from an original screenplay. It even features the vocal talents of talented actors such as Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi and a certain Ming-Na (of TV's ER fame).

But peel away the glossy exterior and what remains is a movie based on a computer game franchise which again fails to make a totally convincing transition from console to screen.

Set in the not too distant future, when the Earth has been invaded by aliens and cities have become deserted, Final Fantasy charts the battle between the surviving humans and the extra terrestrials which now roam the wastelands of a once healthy planet.

Lining up for the humans are two opposing sides -  one led by Woods' vengeful General Hein, described in the publicity materials as "a futuristic version of General Patton", who would rather wage war against the visitors aliens; and the other led by Ming-Na's Aki Ross, a brilliant scientist who - together with Sutherland's wily old Dr Sid - is determined to find a peaceful resolution to the problem.

Trouble is, Aki has had contact with the aliens and now faces a race against time to stay alive. To stand any chance, she must collect eight spirits that will save her and possibly bring about a safe conclusion to the suffering that will not affect the Gaia (or spirit) of the Earth.

Assisting her is Baldwin's heroic but hopelessly bland Captain Gray Edwards and his band of fighters - among them a wise-cracking Buscemi and a typically laid back Rhames - who offer their assistance knowing that it will place them at odds with their military superiors.

Final Fantasy isn't a braindead piece of movie-making in the same way that Mortal Kombat, or even the recent Tomb Raider, are. Rather, it is too densely plotted and simply not interesting enough.

Aside from the been-there, seen-it-all-before feeling to the story, the characters stick strictly to formula and are not served by a mundane, even over technical script. And to make matters worse, not one of the digital creations is really memorable (Aki, in particular, is a somewhat uninteresting hero, while Woods sounds as though he is on auto-pilot).

So what's left are is the effects which, while consistently special throughout, are forced to wrestle for your attention in between the boring bits. Even the supposedly emotional finale fails to make its mark.

Digitally, the characters are breathtaking and it is amazing just how far and how fast animation has come - hair sways in the breeze; people blink in close-up - while the landscapes, aliens and set pieces are particularly jaw-dropping. The search for a spirit within the crumbled ruins of New York, for example, or the numerous dream sequences, certainly warrant praise and won't fail to impress.

But Final Fantasy is ultimately too long and takes itself far too seriously throughout. There isn't much fun to be had once that initial sense of awe has diminished, while the movie feels like it belongs in a different medium. It lacks a human touch - and that is really its undoing.