Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is really a technological fairy tale, the story of some software that wanted to be real actors in a real movie. Not so fast. It would take a platoon of Blue Fairies to take code this far. I've never played the game, but it has to be way more fun than this movie. How sad that the first studio film ever with human leads played by non-actors is so lifeless and plastic. The voices are out-of-sync like those Japanese sci-fi movies. At least the film could have had the decency -- give Tomb Raider some credit here -- to hire a real actor and have a little fun with itself. Dr. Lara Croft understood what she was created for -- to kick a lot of butt. Dr. Aki Ross, played here by some code with too much lip balm, is more like Enya, a new age scientist whose weapons are dreams and wiggly spirits rather than guns and bombs. Bring noseplugs to this stinker. And don't worry about the ending being given away here. I couldn't tell you what it was if I wanted to.
Yes, the animation is fine, occasionally terrific. There is no acting to speak of, and how could there be? There are only disembodied (like Godzilla) voices -- Ming-Na (Dr. Aki Ross), Alec Baldwin (Capt. Gray Edwards), Ving Rhames (Ryan), Steve Buscemi (Neil), Donald Sutherland (Doctor Sid) and James Woods (the evil General Hein).
The overall affect is cold and fake. Obviously, animation has warmed up the cartoon genre (Toy Story, Shrek) giving the characters color, depth, expression and dimension. But it has the reverse effect on traditional films, at least if Final Fantasy is any indication.
If software has given added depth to animated films, the characters in Final Fantasy don't quite make it to one-dimensional. They appear slow-moving, a click behind their own emotions, and utterly unbelievable and remote. The real actors doing the voice-overs are dramatic, almost desperate, to give the story some life. They can't. Beyond that, the plot is just stupid, a loopy, quasi-religious narrative that posits that aliens landed on the earth years earlier, and have since ferociously gobbled up most of its people and cities, for reasons that are never explained, and for that matter, are apparently inexplicable. Like seemingly every other sci-fi, game-based or techno-centered movie in the last decade, Final Fantasy takes place largely in a destroyed New York City. (Why is it always in a ruined Manhattan? The tall buildings?)
The ghostly aliens are squiggly, gummy, amoeba-like things (though some look like translucent dragons and serpents) that nobody on the Earth understands but Dr. Ross. They kill by contact rather than weaponry, swirling around their targets like mist. The nasty General Hein doesn't like science or scientists or people who are nice, and wants to blow the aliens all to Hell.
Dr. Ross's allies are her software-lover Capt. Gray Edwards, who makes Buzz Lightyear look like Robert DeNiro, and some heroic, cartoon cut-out soldiers. There's even a software kamikaze scene meant to be touching (nothing can make you care about these creatures.) Dr. Ross is attractive but never makes it to sexy. The coded characters all seem to have mastered the sad expression and the smile, but can't go any deeper. Dr. Ross and Dr. Sid exchange spirit mumbo-jumbo for nearly half of this movie's interminable 105 minutes. There isn't a single decent battle scene, for God's sake, blasphemy in a movie that purports to herald the ascent of the computer game over the traditional film.
Final Fantasy is bad news for moviegoers, but great news for human actors. It turns out there are still some things humans do a lot better than software.