Some films are enjoyably bad. You can rip into them with your friends afterwards, laugh at how there was that big hole in the plot towards the end, and whine about their obvious flaws and fatal errors. But Final Fantasy, the latest cinematic hi-tech sci-fi video-game tie-in, is so bereft of any heart or soul or interest that even complaining about it seems an absurd waste of time.
Let’s start with the positive: the computer-animated special effects, which have been trumpeted endlessly in a blaze of PR prior to the film’s release. Indeed they are diverting and eye-catching, at least for the first ten to fifteen minutes. The scenery is occasionally alluring; but most of the time I couldn’t help thinking that the vast landscapes resembled closely the sort of images teenage hoons airbrush onto the back of their panel vans in Australia. And people are getting excited about putting that on the big screen and watching it move?
There’s an overall gloom of dinginess throughout Final Fantasy, and you may be forgiven for wondering if someone forgot to turn the lights on in the tech-heads’ workrooms. Or maybe they spent so long in there tweaking and fiddling to create their new world that they forgot to occasionally go out and get some sun in their own.
It is reasonably intriguing to check out the reality of the human characters. A number of reviewers have criticised the technical geniuses responsible for the film for not quite managing to capture the idiosyncratic look of real people. However, according to Reuters, director and writer Hironobu Sakaguchi says that:" Aesthetically we felt it would be more interesting if we stepped away from photo-realism and created our own look."
So instead, marvel at how the mouths move too slowly for the speech of the voice actors, say oooh at the strangely smooth gestures the characters make when they walk, and frown at the way a character’s face can alter so much from cut to cut.
Whether or not you like the style of the futuristic world, the real problems begin when the excitement of the new fades and you start to look for good old-fashioned cinematic ingredients, like narrative and character. You don’t have to look for long to realise there’s nothing there.
The story is set in 2065, 34 years after a meteor has crashed into Earth, bringing with it a species of phantoms – which are pretty cool undulating, glow-in-the-dark cretins looking like dragons and giant crustaceans – that can suck the lifeforce out of humans. A war has been raging since, with survivors living in walled cities hiding from the deadly beings. The government is about to launch something called the Zeus canon to destroy the meteor. But Dr Aki Ross (voice of Ming-Na), a compassionate scientist who looks uncannily like a Bridget Fonda, and her mentor Dr Sid (Donald Sutherland), believe that this will damage the Earth’s "gaia", or spiritual centre.
Their theory, sprinkled with a confusing blend of superficial Buddhist and animist tenets, is as yet merely a theory. To prove it – and save Dr Aki’s life – they’re trying to collect the eight spirits (yes, go figure why) that will together neutralise the evil phantom force. She’s helped out by various soldiers, including her love interest, Captain Gray Edwards, a Ben Affleck-clone (Alec Baldwin). Their on-screen kiss is suitably one-dimensional.
Clearly none of the films reputed US$140 million budget was spent on plot development – although a fifth of it was spent on rendering Dr Aki’s hair attractive. Nor was the remainder spent on script development, with lines like "This city may be lost, but we’re not" and "There’s a war on. No one’s young anymore". You’ll just want to laugh out loud.
If you worship technology or video-games, Final Fantasy might flick your switches. But in case you haven’t caught my drift so far, my switch stayed firmly unflicked at off.