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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (review)

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Actors, film purists, and everyone worried about the eventual replacement of humans onscreen with CGI constructs is right to be concerned. It’s happened already. The beady eyes, the plasticine skin, the immobile face: we have been fooled into believing a computer-generated “person” is actually human.

I speak, of course, of Ben Affleck.
Few movie fans realized that the Ken-doll action hero and star of such films as Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, and Reindeer Games was little more than a sophisticated Jar Jar Binks, but it’s true. If you don’t believe me, check out Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, in which BenAffleck.exe gets an upgrade to Version 2.0 — he’s more animated here than he ever has been before.

Affleck “stars” as Captain Dirk Masculine, the dedicated and valiant military squad leader fighting off an alien army that has invaded Earth in the 21st century. (Oddly, this is the first outing to feature the Affleck construct voiced by a different voiceover technician — here, it’s Cats & Dogs‘ Alec Baldwin, though that choice is not unusual when you remember that Baldwin’s consciousness was uploaded to the Net late last year and made available to animation producers for a nominal download fee.) Surrounding him are the standard package deal in SF-action-movie soldiers: Sergeant Serious Black Man Destined to Die First (voiced by Ving Rhames: Mission: Impossible 2), and the two-fer of Corporal Ethnic Woman with a Badass Chip on Her Shoulder (voiced by Peri Gilpin) and Corporal Cynical Wiseass White Guy Who Is Subconsciously Threatened by a Strong Woman So He Takes It Out in Insults (voiced by Steve Buscemi: The Imposters). Think: “Hey, Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for hand-drawn?” “No, have you?”

Captain Masculine has the hots for Dr. Beautiful, Compassionate, and Demurely Small-Breasted Scientist (voiced by Ming-Na: Mulan), who has the magical ability to carry her own personal breeze with her. Nowhere can she travel that her lovely and well-conditioned auburn tresses don’t undulate in her individual weather system — it’s nice to know that salon-quality hair-care products survived the apocalypse and collapse of planetwide civilization.

Oh, yeah: the end of the world. Dr. Beautiful stumps for Greenpeace, with much talk about Gaia and “bioetheric waves,” while researching a way to get rid of the ghostlike aliens that have trashed planet Earth. Dr. Older Avuncular Man There’s Nothing Going on Here (voiced by Donald Sutherland: Space Cowboys) is helping her. General Evil McSinister (voiced by James Woods: The Virgin Suicides) wants to stop them, because he is wearing an ominous black leather trench coat — again, nice to know fashion is still a priority in the Post Apocalyptic Era.

Apparently, about $100 billion and millions of hours of rendering cycles went into creating Dr. Beautiful’s hair, and about $1.50 and a coffee break went into the script. (Screenwriters stopped worrying about being replaced by computers long ago — they know they’re not important enough for anyone besides them to care.) There are some attempts to explain what’s going on — something about “overall phantom density” — and why we should care, with scintillating dialogue like “Luck has nothing to do with it” and “I said go! That’s an order!” But the line that spoke most to me was “Proceed to the nearest evacuation facility. Proceed to the nearest evacuation facility. Proceed to the nearest evacuation facility.” I almost complied.

In a movie with human actors, sometimes chemistry between the performers or the feeling that those in front of the camera are having fun with a piece of junk can salvage a flick and make for a fun, if instantly forgettable, good time at the movies. That’s impossible here, of course, because even the most sophisticated computer operated by the most talented animator cannot yet simulate the subtleties of complicated human emotion crossing a capable actor’s face or convey a gifted actor’s innermost thoughts, like “That bastard of an agent is fired” or “I can’t believe they pay me to watched Gorgeous Starlet’s breasts bounce in that uniform.”

But CGI actors are probably the wave of the future. If you’re going to make a crap movie, doesn’t it make more sense to employ programmers paid in Jolt Cola and M&Ms? Doesn’t it make sense to avoid dealing with coked-up prima donnas who won’t come out of their trailers until they get their triple lattes prepared exactly the way their contracts stipulate? CGI actors won’t have affairs on the set and then break up, hence refusing to promote the film together. CGI stars don’t require salaries for their entourages of personal trainers, personal chefs, personal yoga masters, nannies, dogs, and best friends from back home. If the resultant movie’s gonna be shit anyway, why go through all that hassle? Fire up the workstations and get rendering.

Though the producers of Final Fantasy might want to look into who in their animation lab purchased the teledildonics suit on the company’s dime, and who’s, er, jacking in to the network a lot. Way too much hormonal worship went into creating Dr. Beautiful — at the expense of everything else onscreen — for anyone normal and well-adjusted to have been involved.

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and sensuality/nudity

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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