Thursday, 8 May 2014

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

Toy Story was in many ways a very ambitious project: the first fully CGI feature length animation.  But it one important respect it was deliberately unambitious: the folks at Pixar were aware of the then-limitations of the form, especially a certain 'plasticity' to the characters, and deliberately framed the story around characters where such traits would be more easily accepted by the audience.  Human characters were kept to a minimum.

It would be six more years before this film would pioneer photo-realistic human characters and motion-capture animation.  It's a tremendous technical achievement.  I mean sure, you can point to a few shortcuts that were taken: many of the minor characters have helmets that conceal their faces for instance, while of the main cast only one of them has hair too long to be animated as a solid mass.  But these are hardly major criticisms.

Alas, however, there are some major criticisms that can be made of the film, mainly in regards to the voice acting and the script.  I like many of the cast members of this film, but they are film actors, not voice actors, and it shows: the two disciplines use different styles and skills.  While some people can make the jump between forms, that's not generally true of the cast here.

And then there's the script.  I actually don't mind the first half hour of this.  It's exposition heavy and the dramatic action sequences aren't anywhere near as tense as the movie wants them to be but they set the scene pretty well and they give us a very nice second act where everything goes to hell and giant monsters and eating people left, right and centre.  Alas, the film peaks here, and the 55 minute or so mark, and then limps home with a talk-heavy final forty minutes that simply don't sustain the gravitas or tension they aspire to.

Ultimately a flawed film, then, but worth checking out if you have any interest in the technical innovation possible with CGI.  Plus, that middle act is full of monster fun times.

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