In 2032, a large meteorite hit the Earth, bringing with it the Phantoms - quasi-corporeal beings with a hunger for human souls (the various filmmakers can babble all they want about 'bio-etheric energy', but these things eat your soul). In 2065, with two-thirds of Earth's population fallen to the Phantoms, scientist Aki Ross (voice of Ming-Na) and a squad of elite troopers venture from the dodgy safety of the Barrier Cities to locate the Eight Spirits, which can form a sympathetic vibe that will banish the Phantoms. Of course, a slightly off-kilter General has his own agenda which is in opposition to Aki's, and that agenda involves treachery and a really big gun...
This is the completely computer-generated movie produced by Japan's SquareSoft, a gaming company whose massively complex role-playing games are the stuff of legend. It may stand more on its own as a technical achievement rather than as entertainment, though; it bears close resemblance to a story I wrote when I was thirteen years old - with all the simplistic plotting and characterization that implies. Given the presence of the troopers and the nearly-indestructible monsters, it is hard to avoid the specter of Aliens - especially with the Vasquez clone and her really big gun - and the movie hardly even tries.
That said, the voice acting is excellent, and there is absolutely no denying the amount of work that went into this movie. The detail on display is incredible, and though the humans are not exactly photorealistic, it does become increasingly difficult to remember you're watching CGI. All I ever ask from a monster movie is cool creatures with a unique way of spreading mayhem - in this, at least, Final Fantasy delivers the goods. I enjoyed watching it, and it's too bad it tanked so terribly at the box office. Which makes it even more amazing that Columbia/TriStar produced such a massively loaded two-disc set.
Forget film transfers, this is direct from the digital files, and it is pretty. Nice, creative sound design, too. That might impress your friends, even if the movie doesn't.
The animated menus will work out your surround sound right from boot-up; then you have your choice of two commentary tracks featuring various animation directors, artists and editors - the first is in Japanese (subtitled in English or French) and the second in English. There is also an isolated score track with commentary by composer Elliot Goldenthal. And an option called "Boards/Blasts", which plays a slightly truncated version of the movie, alternating between storyboards, various stages of animation, and completed animation; this is a very interesting way to watch the movie, since it has it's own commentary track and an option to turn on "Subtitled Factoids" - yes, it's the Pop-Up Video version of Final Fantasy.
Additionally, there are the teaser and theatrical trailers for this movie, the "Final Fantasy X" RPG, and previews for Men in Black, Starship Troopers and Metropolis, which is not the Fritz Lang silent, but a more traditionally animated feature. There is also a Easter Egg showing Aki in various bikini and leather outfit poses (okay, okay, go to "DVD-ROM", press "up" twice and hit "enter". Jeez. Fanboys!)
Disc Two opens with an amusing bit where Aki finishes a line, an offscreen director yells "Cut!" and the digital actress steps out of her virtual set and walks past motion-capture-suited actors to watch her scene on a rendering station. This leads to an original featurette called The Making of Final Fantasy - where every few seconds, an "information pod" streaks across the screen. Pressing "Enter" on your remote will expand the pod, giving you a brief (and sometimes not-so-brief) digression/illumination on what is being discussed (and some of these have their own secondary audio commentary track! Blimey!). When it plays out, you are returned to the documentary.
Two also contains character and vehicle files - fully- produced mini-docs covering the major characters and vehicles, their animators, designers, and voice talent; additional mini-docs on trailer production, matte painting and compositing (how many elements are combined in each frame? Lots!); a leftover Boards/Blasts segment; some joke renderings; the somewhat infamous recreation of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" employing characters from the movie; "The Grey Project" which is basic animation left over from an earlier version of the movie; the original opening; and "Aki's Dream", a major plot point edited into one continuous sequence.
Speaking of editing, there is also "The Final Fantasy Shuffler", which allows you to re-edit one of the major exposition scenes. Novel once, perhaps, but utlimately pretty worthless. There are also a lot of storyboards buried in the disc, but I'll leave it to you to come up with the Stupid Remote Tricks to access them; I'm exhausted from ploughing through the hours of easily accessible material on this set.
I find it more than a little sad that we won't be seeing anything else from Square Pictures, but it's nice to know that this set serves as a monument to all the people that dedicated four years of their lives to the making of Final Fantasy.
Dr. Freex, 12/26/2001