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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
Rated PG13

Starring: The voices of Ming-Na, Donald Sutherland, and Alec Baldwin

Rating:
***
out of
*****

In the year 2065, Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and her colleague Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) believe that all living things contain a spirit that might possibly be used to repel aliens that have taken over the Earth. In their quest to find the specific spirits that will have the desired effect, they have found six of the eight spirits needed.

While searching the remains of Old New York City for spirits, Dr. Ross encounters the alien force -- called "Phantoms" -- and is rescued by a group of Marines called "Deep Eyes." The Deep Eyes soldiers are assigned to protect Dr. Ross as she hunts for the spirits. By coincidence, the leader of Deep Eyes is Grey Edwards (Alec Baldwin), who is Dr. Ross' ex-boyfriend. There's not much time for romance as Dr. Ross reveals that she has been infected by one of the Phantoms and needs to find the last two spirits to save herself as well as the Earth.

General Hein (James Woods) believes that no time should be wasted by searching the Earth for the final two spirits. He feels that the aliens should be blasted from above using a giant laser cannon. Dr. Ross and Dr. Sid's scientific methods stand in the way of Hein's plan, so he plots to sway popular support to his side through devious methods.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is completely computer generated and is supposedly based on the series of videogames it shares its name with. In reality, the movie has absolutely nothing to do with the videogames and seems to be using the brand name to attract an audience that might like the type of sci-fi story contained in the film. While that's probably not much of an issue to most people, some fans of the videogame series might be disappointed that their favorite characters do not appear in the movie.

Some critics have berated the movie for being little more than eye candy and not much else. I disagree. Sure, Final Fantasy looks great but, as my regular readers should know, I hate movies that are more interested in looking good than having a good story. Final Fantasy has a decent story that actually makes sense. But, even though the story is stronger than many other recent science fiction movies, it's not great. It's not particularly innovative when compared to the stellar visuals that accompany it.

A strong cast of voices also gives the movie a shot in the arm. Ming-Na is a perfect choice for the voice of Dr. Ross. Donald Sutherland lends a grizzled charm to Dr. Sid. Steve Buscemi is his usual sarcastic self as Neil, although it's strange hearing his voice coming out of another body. Alec Baldwin is fairly blasé as Grey Edwards though. Ving Rhames and Peri Gilpin lend support as members of the Deep Eyes group.

It's one thing to do something with a movie that's never been done before, but it'd be yet another to do something original with the effects and the story. Had the plot been a little stronger, Final Fantasy would be a classic sci-fi film. As it stands, it's simply an average one. In a market that's sorely lacking quality science fiction movies, though, I'll happily accept Final Fantasy, warts and all.

Trivia: One of the few connections between the movie Final Fantasy and the Final Fantasy videogames is the character Dr. Sid. A character named Cid has been included in most of the ten chapters of the game series. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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