Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
August 22, 2003
There are those films in cinematic history that have redefined the way other films are made. The first talkie had silent film stars running for the hills. Snow White proved that a feature length animation can work. Jurassic Park spelt the end for the 3D stop motion animator and Toy Story had cel animators quaking in their pencil sharpeners.
Final Fantasy represents what is possibly a more drastic revolution in film. The end of human actors!
The film is set in the year 2065 where man is an endangered species – ala’ Starship Troopers. Earth has been the victim of a meteorite collision that has brought with it hordes of ferocious phantoms that suck the spirit out of people on contact. Best avoid them, then. The only hope for mankind is to find the 8 spirits, that when joined together will cancel out the energy of the phantoms, or to fire the enormous Zeus cannon that orbits the Earth. Either one is good, apparently.
The strangely arousing Aki – voiced by Ming-Na – represents the only hope for a ‘non firing of enormous cannon’ resolution to the struggle as she hunts down these elusive spirits of life. Aided by the ever increasingly bizarre Donald Sutherland as the eternally mad doctor, she ventures into the phantom menace that is the covered wastelands of Earth (did you see what I did there?).
It isn’t long before the damsel in distress requires the help of some big strong marines to dig her out of a hole – literally – and to start blasting some phantoms as big strong marines tend to do. A prior relationship with one of these marines, Gray Edwards – voiced by Alec Baldwin in one of his better roles, is revealed to give our CGI actors a more human side. Indeed this works, the human facial animation is so impressive that it actually straddles the hurdle of having Alec Baldwin in the film. No mean feat by any standards.
Naturally any film that features the survival of the human race and a bunch of marines will have a fair dose of corruption thrown in somewhere along the line. Enter the bad boy of films, James Woods, and a long black coat. You can tell from that description that he’s just itching to fire his Zeus cannon can’t you? James plays General Hein in a rather obvious Nazi styled manner. He quickly sets about plotting against Aki and her insane doctor friend so that their peaceful spirits solution is ridiculed by the high council in favour of the old bang-bang of the cannon, his preferred method of phantom blasting.
You can probably tell by this that the plot isn’t anything that you haven’t seen before. It borrows heavily from such films as Aliens and Starship Troopers – the characters from Aliens are directly ripped off in Final Fantasy. Aki is Riply, Gray – Hicks, Neil – Hudson and Jane – Vasquez, so on and so fourth. The plot and characterisation of Final Fantasy isn’t what this film will be remembered for, it’s the character animation. I have never seen human animation with such mastery of the subtle nuances, the grasp of characters not moving being as important as them actually moving. The facial expressions were nothing short of, well – realistic I suppose is the best description for it.
There is work to be done though. The lip sync remains the undiscovered country for animators (did you see what I did there? Star Wars and Star Trek puns in the space of one review – damn I’m a geek). The thousands of different positions that a mouth can make in order to produce the sounds required are yet to be adequately replicated in any film.
They will get there though, slowly, but surely they will get there. When they do, I fear for the actors – or Alec Baldwin.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within represents a great landmark in film, one which could change the course of cinematic history forever. The plot may not be the most original in Sci-Fi terms, and the characterisation may be borrowed directly from Aliens but this film threatens the biggest revolution in film since the advent of the talkie.
Over ten years ago it was speculated that one day we would have a film comprised entirely of computer generated actors. Hokum! People cried, who wants to see a computer act? James Cameron wanted to make the feature film: Spider-Man – yet he wished to wait until technology caught up with his vision in order to have a completely CGI rendered Spider-Man. Events conspired against him, but the Spider-Man project did indeed go ahead with Sam Raimi at the helm.
Final Fantasy has proven that the CGI actor does indeed work, and represents the biggest threat that the aspiring actor has ever faced – even more so than paying the rent.
Imagine an actor that never shows up for work drunk, never has an ‘off’ day, and never throws a tantrum when his trailer isn’t as big as Eddie Murphy’s. An actor that can perform stunts without a stunt double, doesn’t command a $20,000,000 fee and isn’t picky on the script.
An actor that never ages and never dies. Meet the new face of cinema.
In the future we will see more CGI movies, each one technically superior to the last, each one with more realistic facial movements and gestures. Then we will see deceased actors making a comeback, Marilyn Monroe, James Cagney, James Dean and Humphrey Bogart – heck even Elvis himself. Once the image rights have been finalised the long-time dead will return.
The future looks bleak for the human actor – for when a group of pixels can out-act Keanu Reeves, the end is near. Though, my desk can out-act Keanu Reeves.
But you get my point.