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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
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Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
voice cast (English version): Steve Burton, Rachael Leigh Cook, Steve Staley, Wally Wingert, and Crispin Freeman

directors: Tetsuya Nomura and Takeshi Nozue

100 minutes (PG) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Sony blu-ray Region B retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
This genre picture is entirely CGI. It was state-of-the-art digital for the year it was produced and, fantasy content aside, it's impossible to review this sort of movie fairly without commenting on both the visuals and the medium they were created in. Said visuals frequently achieve surprising degrees of realism, with skin (though, admittedly, too free of random blemishes for convincing 'people') and eyes being presented with impressive clarity, opacity, reflectivity and luminosity. Hardware is particularly well served, throughout, whether tangled detailing on stained or dusty ruins, or the appealing lustre of shiny hi-tech machines. Textiles are imperfectly rendered, however, as less attention is given to loose clothing (patterned after top designers?) than is afforded to flesh and muscle tones.

Sadly, the voice-actors (whether speaking Japanese or English) sometimes fail to 'sell' emotive or sympathetic performances by the animated characters half as well as relevant sound effects help convince viewers that splashes in pools and puddles, or the random noise of rainy weather are entirely natural and synchronous. Of course, decades of exposure to audio tracks fashioned entirely by sound designers, and the remarkable work of Foley artists, ensures that a majority of viewers should have few problems in accepting digitally-generated backgrounds as 'location' settings for unfolding dramas, but - for the CGI characters - there remains the viewing problem of the 'uncanny valley'.

Somewhat perversely, the harder that 3D anime strives to produce any 'believable' human figures and faces, the more - even unskilled - viewers might unconsciously 'reject' the delicate balancing act of creativity and software which blatantly seeks to accurately imitate life. When such presentations approach perfection, their tinniest flaws simply loom ever larger than life itself. Discernable 'imperfections' in this illusion of life are not to be confused with wholly commonplace 'human faults', of course. They are, instead, entirely the flaws of the 'inhuman', and their manufactured state is always readily apparent no matter what the context, so the illusion of life here remains naggingly incomplete and we disengage from the drama.

As ever with such genre productions, the biggest single flaw in the filmic narrative is not the presence of hackneyed dialogue or lack of believability for some fantastic aspects, but the movements and placement of virtual cameras. Simply put, there is just far too much ultra-fast cutting from one angle to another, and jittery whizzing about in midair, or swirling around in circles (that on a real film set would expose the 'fourth wall'), and this amounts to a rather childish misuse of the possibilities available for CGI. Virtual cameras unwittingly compromise the - usually passable - test of basic physics within portraits of imaginary worlds.

It does not help matters that in this movie, the plot is wholly incomprehensible. We struggle to make sense of mystic bullshit crashing into explorations of proper sci-fi themes, such as the 'geostigma' disease that's somehow being passed onto humans by the ailing planet. Visually, if not thematically, the influence of The Matrix films is evident in various fighting scenes, where both swordplay heroes (how do spindly-limbed youngsters wield unfeasibly oversized weapons?) and unarmed combatants lurch across the screen with no shortage of gravity-defying leaps over tall buildings and rather wretched and silly notions of bootstrap helpmates who each hurl the hero upwards like throwing a relay-race baton up the side of a skyscraper.

Nevertheless, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is quite amiable nonsense if you can overlook some amusingly ridiculous character names like Cloud and Rude, and your appreciation of genre action cinema is not hindered by any intolerance for the confusing absurdities of many convoluted and lengthy 3D cartoon sequences.

Disc extras for this blu-ray release include: Legacy Of Final Fantasy VII featurette, a Reminiscence Of Final Fantasy VII, original story digest (hmm... no help, there, really!), On The Way To A Smile episode, a complete set of trailers for this movie, and an exclusive sneak peek at 'Final Fantasy XIII'.

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