Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is not just a landmark in animation, it is a landmark in film. The animation is beautiful, the storyline is impressive--the movie is amazing.

The animated movie, loosely based on the Final Fantasy video

game series, takes place in the year 2065. Thirty-five years earlier, an asteroid crashed to Earth, releasing a race of phantoms onto the planet. Humans are now forced to live in "barrier" cities on the edges of former metropolises. Aki (voiced by Ming-Na) is a scientist who, along with Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), is searching for a way to defeat the monsters.

The conflict rises around the battle between humans and the phantoms, the political conflict of whether to use General Hein's (James Woods) "Zeus" cannon or Aki and Dr. Sid's method of finding spirits to combat the phantoms.

ÿ In a lesser film, this plot would come off as stupid and confusing, yet in Final Fantasy, director Hironobu Sakaguchi does a wonderful job of putting it all together. Sakaguchi has been involved as a producer/director for every Final Fantasy video game, and the movie-like series naturally transitions well over to the silver screen.

The voice-acting is magnificent. Alec Baldwin does a wonderful job of voicing Aki's love interest Gray. Sutherland, Ming-Na, Woods, Ving Rhames (Ryan) and Steve Buscemi (Neil) are natural fits for the characters' personalities, and give the animated film a very personal feel. The viewer feels for the animated characters in a way not seen in a cartoon in a very long time.

Reportedly, the film had a $160 million dollar budget, 20 percent of which ($32 million) was spent rendering the CGI animation for Aki's hair. The animated characters move with stunning realism; they blink, twitch, run, and talk with incredible clarity and precision. Final Fantasy rolls past Titan A.E., Shrek, Atlantis, and other animation masterpieces and takes it a step further.

Will there only be cyber-actors in the future? Probably not, as the characters are unmistakably animated, and not real. However, this represents future possibilities with CGI animation for dangerous stunts and better special effects. Final Fantasy is a masterpiece, and looks to take film to a new level.


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