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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Written By: Joe Rolfe

While in practically every other situation, PSGF would normally stray away from writing anything remotely close to videogames and Hollywood in the same sentence. After all, with the history of the Street Fighter, Mario Bros. and Double Dragon movies, respectively, what editor in their right mind would want to divulge even the slightest into a link between flicks and gaming? However, there does seem to be hope on the horizon. Yes, fellow gamers, an upcoming game-to-movie translation could possibly be good - no, wait - great, despite the track chronicles of the past. And that movie, my friends, actually doesn't come from a "real" Hollywood production, but instead by a game company itself. Welcome to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

While the movie isn't directly linked to Sony, the PSOne or PlayStation 2 in any way (unless a game is in the works, which is possible), SquareSoft is still an exclusive Sony developer (for the time being, that is). Directed by famed Final Fantasy designer, Hironobu Sakaguchi, The Spirits Within (FFSW) is being developed internally by the aptly named Honolulu-based crew, Square Productions. Despite FFSW not being a play or extension off any of the nine Final Fantasy videogames (though a SquareSoft product without legendary icons Biggs and Wedge seems awfully odd), do not expect The Spirits Within to divert immensely from the popular RPG series themes. But, as the description implies, the big screen adaptation looks to center itself around the futuristic subjects of Final Fantasy VII, rather than the medieval, swords-and-magic identities of the latter of the series. The official narration is as follows:

"Set on Earth in the year 2065, destruction and confusion surround us. Cities are deserted, the population is decimated, and the precious few humans who remain must find a way to survive. In this world, we face death as we part with our loved ones. We begin to question what "life" and "love" is, and what is the philosophical definition of the "heart." After all in this world, science has analyzed life and death, expressing life as a form of energy. Beyond the riveting battle scenes, Final Fantasy will take you on a journey of personal discovery into both the real and fantasy worlds, drawing you deep into its characterizations and themes: love, friendship, dreams, adventure, life and death."

Seems pretty cool so far, huh? Well, not only does the premise seem obviously kick ass, but Square has also hired an all-star lineup of actors to do the voice-overs for the main characters. They include:

Ming Na (Joy Luck Club, Mulan) - appears as Aki 
Alec Baldwin (Notting Hill, Mercury Rising) - appears as Grey 
James Woods (Any Given Sunday, The General's Daughter) - appears as General Hein 
Donald Sutherland (Instinct, A Time To Kill, M*A*S*H) - appears as Doctor Sid 
Ving Rhames (Con Air, Pulp Fiction, Mission: Impossible I&II) - appears as Ryan 
Steve Buscemi (Big Daddy, Armageddon, Fargo) - appears as Neil 
Peri Gilpen (Fraiser, Hercules, The Lionhearts) - appears as Jane

Even if the interesting plot line or grand list of vocalists doesn't entice you, then possibly, beyond all else, the CGI does. Short for Computer Graphic Imagery, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within will show off what the next-generation of computer workstations can produce. For you Final Fantasy pundits who don't have a grasp on the gaming lingo, try to remember any of the cut-scenes in the recent PlayStation FF games, such as the memorable Aries death scene in FFVII or the epic sword fighting cinema in the beginning of FVIII. Those are both CGI composed, although the aesthetic quality found in FFSW will make the PlayStation cinematics look like they're running off a Super Nintendo. Never before has Hollywood witnessed such an awe-inspiring step in computer-animated films. While Toy Story I&II and A Bug's Life all had fantastically designed characters and environments, the surreal amount of detail and clarity found in The Spirits Within is simply uncontested.

"When this started Toy Story was already out, A Bug's Life and Dinosaur were on the horizon. Looking ahead, I wanted to make a difference with something that would be fresh in three years. To do that, I had to do what was considered the most difficult: realistic human characters," says director Hironobu Sakaguchi, as seen in a MSNBC interview. Indeed, the movie has been in production for four years, but even the most jaded critics would swear that The Spirits Within still looks like the technology it exploits wouldn't be around until four years from now. Utilizing new skin and flesh texture advancements in animation, Square's epic film will combine videogame-termed motion capture with recent computer drawing physics to create a visual punch that should leave most, if not all, movie goers breathless from start to finish of the film. Just download the trailer and witness the near-photo realistic animation of a close up eye blinking. You'd be hard pressed to believe that it's not an actual human before the camera flicking their eyelids.

Even if Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within actually bombs (read: not likely), the movie will nevertheless be regarded as a monumental step in not only computer-generated movies, but for critics to realize the underlying artistic format that only videogames represent and in turn bring to the Hollywood table. Whatever the outcome of the film, Hironobu Sakaguchi and his team of designers should all be applauded for their effort in representing the writing and producing ability that the game industry contains and will hopefully be capitalized on in the future. It may have to fight off other big-name summer flicks such as Jurassic Park III, but this writer hardly doubts Sakaguchi's epic should have little problem in making a huge wave that should rock the mentalities of the public and critics alike.

Note: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is produced by Columbia Pictures and is set to be released July 13th, 2001.


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Posted: 2-5-01
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