Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
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|Featuring||voices of Ming-Na Wen, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland|
|Producer||Chris Lee, Jun Aida, Akio Sakai|
Before any review of “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” is given, it is best for potential viewers to have a brief history of this popular video game so as to understand the theme and concept behind this film. After all, the basic foundation of the film is based upon the game.
Sometime in 1987, a small Japanese publishing company named Square Co. LTD. was in desperate need of a hit. Until this point, Square had mostly published smaller games for the Famicom Disk system. The titles sold respectably, but the modest installed base of Famicom Disk systems made blockbuster status an elusive goal. Hironobu Sakaguchi had an idea: why not create a game similar to competitor Enix’s “Dragon Quest”? The console RPG was a big hit with gamers, and Sakaguchi thought that Square could significantly improve upon the basic formula. Thus work began on a massive one-megabit cartridge role-playing game that would attempt to revolutionize the genre. All of Square’s resources, dreams, and hopes were placed on this single game. If it failed, Square would be no more. The project, as Square’s final gasp, was given the name “Final Fantasy.”
Needless to say, the first “Final Fantasy” game was a massive success, and each sequel has been even more successful. “Final Fantasy VII” has sold nearly six million copies worldwide to date. Almost three million of those were sold within the first 48 hours of its Japanese release. The “Final Fantasy” series has proven to be almost without peer in both quality and popularity.
Most of it’s missions involve a primary team of four warriors working together. They have included themes of witches, spells, black magic, crystals, incarnations, resurrections, prophecies, and several elements of Buddhism. The new movie version contains some of the elements of the past and, of course, some new ones.
The story of “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” centers around the work of Dr. Aki Ross (voice by Ming-Na Wen from “ER”) and Dr. Sid (voice by Donald Sutherland). The year is 2065 and Earth is once again invaded by aliens. Dr. Ross and Dr. Sid are working together to save the Earth from extinction. They are trying to gather eight “spirit-waves” from all over the planet. They believe that these spirits can be channeled into an energy that can defeat the aliens, save the Earth, and protect Gaia (the planetary soul). If all of this sounds New Age to you, it is! These plot points are once again true to the “Final Fantasy” tradition. Included is high doses of Buddhism (reincarnation included) to solve this perilous dilemma. The two doctors are fearful that their ideas will be mocked and other plans will be destructive failures.
They are opposed before a governing council by General Hein (James Woods). He is in favor of the traditional military option. His team has developed a space cannon known as Zeus. “Let’s go in there and blast the aliens.” Earth is desperate for options. What remains of its cities is protected by a series of defense shields.
Dr. Aki, the heroine in the story, is joined by the Final Fantasy traditional team of four. The team is lead by Gray Edwards (voice by Alec Baldwin). They are the “A-team” that is assigned by the council to help Doctors Ross and Sid carry out their mission. The task of gathering “spirits” is not an easy one, though. It may be a rare remaining plant or a bird that is the host. The pursuit is compounded by Aki’s reoccurring dreams. I will not reveal this plot point, but she believes these are connected to this complex mission.
The aliens are called “phantoms”. They are red ghost-like images that take on a variety of shapes. They have the ability to capture a person’s spirit (represented by the color blue) by just a touch. The scenes are violent in nature, but not extremely fearful. Viewers get to see this battle between the “red” and “blue” teams. The good news is that any Rambo with a gun can blast them away. So why hasn’t the battle been won quickly, you ask? The aliens come from a meteor that crash landed on Earth 34 years ago. Weapons fired inside the meteor somehow make the aliens stronger. Hmmm. Will our heroes solve this puzzle and foil Gen. Hein’s mission to use the power of his weapon Zeus?
“Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” does contain some incredible animation and visuals. I am, like many other critics, torn by the elements of the story and the craft involved in making it. The movie represents four years of work and $140 million dollars to make. Human actors are safe (for now), but it is always fun for this SciFi fan to see them push the technological boundaries.
“FF:TSW” is, however, like that video game system you just couldn’t wait to buy. The satisfaction comes quickly, but leaves just as quickly. Satisfaction is like that in this film as well. Children are strongly discouraged from watching this ground-breaking effort, since the primary themes of the story are not a healthy influence on any young mind. There are many elements of the plot that will disturb the “true Spirit” within Christian viewers, and could continue to lead those who are not true believers down a deceptive and deadly path.
Yet, there is the “gotta see it” crowd who I cannot discourage from seeing this film. My recommendation is that SciFi fans see and enjoy the moment and that parents use the cautions stated above to guide in your discernment. Bridges can be built to explain the truth of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer. Take advantage of those opportunities to open discussion.
In other content, “FF” feels tame for a “PG-13” rating. It does contain some mild profanity and uses of God’s name in vain. It doesn’t contain any sex or substance abuse. The most dangerous element is the spiritual fantasy within, so don’t dismiss the prompting you may feel from the Holy Spirit within to share the truth with those who don’t know without your help.