Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Credit: Final Fantasy: Square Pictures

There’s one portion of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within that has much more poignancy now than when the movie played to mostly empty theaters over the summer: an opening sequence set in a devastated, future Times Square that looks eerily like what happened last month in Lower Manhattan. That accidental resonance aside, the picture still founders on rote star-voice turns, cliché-o-rama dialogue, and wildly uneven computer-animated visuals. There are moments when Dr. Aki Ross, the babe-in-a-space-suit heroine (who has nothing to do with the mega-selling videogames), looks oh-my-God photorealistic, as do her cohorts in a war against mysterious alien ghosts.

Unfortunately, they’re almost always the wrong moments. Just as Aki (voiced by Ming-Na) curls up in a low-gravity clinch with her soldier boyfriend, Captain Edwards (a blustery Alec Baldwin), for instance, you’re shown ravishingly backlit images that take you right out of the scene: Look at the veins in her hand! Don’t they look real? At another point, Baldwin’s character helps Aki through a life-threatening medical crisis, but what the images tell you is, Gee, look at all that superrealistic five o’clock shadow on his neck — it sure makes him look convincingly scruffy under the operating-table lights!

But most of the time, you’re struck by how unreal these characters look. Even when they’re not floating around in zero gravity, they too often move as if they’re underwater. They cock their heads and give blank looks like interstellar Barbies and Kens. The movie’s codirectors, Hironobu Sakaguchi and Moto Sakakibara, hail from the videogame world. There’s a two-word prognosis for their abilities as dramatists: Game over.

WHAT WE SAID THEN: ”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…” (#605, July 20, 2001) B+ — Lisa Schwarzbaum

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
  • Movie
  • 106 minutes