By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 17, 2020 at 03:09 AM EDT

You can look at Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, as an apocalyptic showdown between good guys on the side of spirituality versus bad guys on the side of the Strategic Defense Initiative. You can follow this computer generated sci-fi movie, produced and directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi and inspired by the Japanese creator’s popular Final Fantasy videogame, as a conventional romantic adventure on the ”Star Wars” model, involving a wise old man, a brave woman, a fearless man, and the fate of the earth.

And you’d be wasting time better spent just ogling this gorgeous curiosity. The story is merely average by sci-fi standards; the spiritual/ ecological message verges on gooey. But ”Final Fantasy” is also a mesmerizing technical achievement, and a breakthrough in the synergy — to borrow that corporate cliché — between digital gaming and moviegoing. Untethered from the conventions of human emotion based storytelling, these computer created characters represent a cinematic art of the future taking its first baby steps today.

Those steps open possibilities human actors might well worry about, since the performers playing the earthlings in this fable will never threaten a SAG strike. True, their voices are contributed by established dues payers including Ming-Na (as the heroine, Aki Ross), Alec Baldwin (as her rugged love match), Donald Sutherland (as Dr. Sid, a Yoda stand-in), Steve Buscemi, and Peri Gilpin. But can it be long before synthesized voices do that work too?

Besides, what is lost in the transference that traditionally connects moviegoers to ”real” actors is made up for in the glory of the imagery created by Sakaguchi and his team. The texture of skin and hair, the play of light on form, is astounding — and matched by big picture moments of exquisite, psychedelic complexity. ”Final Fantasy” may not tell a great story, but it’s a great wow.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 106 minutes
  • Hironobu Sakaguchi