Final Fantasy is the most successful RPG series in video game history. The games celebrates the broad historical and cultural thrusts of its computerized world while invoking a deep respect for the individual strengths of its characters as summoned by player strategies. Every incarnation of the video game follows the same premise: a lone warrior must save the earth with the help of individuals he discovers during his worldwide travels. During this journey, they encounter monsters of various strengths, all susceptible to specific magical, physical or summoned attacks. The journey is not only one that leads to world peace but one that evokes the spiritual actualization of its characters.
Despite my utter contempt for the digital downsizing of cinema in the wake of George Lucas’s ILM revolution, I have a soft spot for anything remotely related to Final Fantasy. The legendary role-playing game has fabulously evolved since its early Nintendo incarnation only to take a step back in Sony’s all-digital motion picture Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a film which has left many nervous thespians wondering if their services will be soon rendered obsolete. Despite the film’s deft attention to detail and its downright scary reproduction of the human body’s fluid mobility, SAG need not worry. Spirits Within will make nary a blip on the radar—its more potent themes are muddled beneath what is an otherwise standard sci-fi plot-line that will put audiences, including gamers, to sleep.
The time it takes to finish a Final Fantasy game is enough to involve the gamer in the complex histories and motivations of the game’s characters. As the video game evolved throughout the ’90s, the game’s many settings grew increasingly more digitalized and the themes took on technological slants. The game’s sense of mythos and purpose is absent from Spirits Within, which tells the story of a destroyed Earth haunted by ghosts perceived to be alien threats by what remains of mankind. Aki, voiced by Ming-Na, is a super chic environmentalist on a mission to collect spirits that will rid the earth of danger and restore power to the mythical god Gaia. The film’s first half is burdened by tedious speechifying of scientific mumbo jumbo. The series’s once complex characters now feel lifeless and homogenized. Everyone from the film’s hardcore Jane (Peri Gilpin) to sacrificial lamb Ryan (Ving Rhames) become little more than expendable sci-fi archetypes.
Anyone looking for Spirits Within to acknowledge a character’s ability to summon mythic figures to do their handy-work or the need for a character to build magical and physical strength through experience might as well stay at home. Though The Spirits Within is spiritually and environmentally conscious, the Green Peace procedural calls entirely too much attention to itself—as do the Hollywood voices on parade here. Only Aki’s dream sequences seem to capture the essence of the Final Fantasy games, suggesting nameless worlds that are constantly at odds with their material selves. Fear not Hollywood actors. As long as human angst continues to play itself out in realms outside that which is technologically defined, there will never be a need to go completely digital. In this respect, Aki would have been proud.