Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

The latest in a series of films to replace old-fashioned things like “story” and “character” with nifty special effects is “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.”

Yet again, filmmakers have forgotten that movie-goers are savvy. We’ve seen special effects before. And even when something new is achieved, as it is here, the novelty is going to wear off and we’re going to wish there were a real movie to back it up.

I’m not entirely sure what all the hoopla is about anyway. “Final Fantasy” is entirely computer-animated, and it looks highly realistic — that is, it looks like highly realistic computer animation. You’ll never be fooled into thinking these are actual people, especially when they move, as the motion is a little too smooth and robotic.

Furthermore, the facial expressions can’t seem to keep up with the emotions of the voice actors, and the characters are sterile and soulless.

As I implied earlier, there’s not much of a movie behind them, either. The story is set in 2065, 34 years after a large meteor crashed into the Earth and brought a deadly species of phantoms with it. A war has been raging ever since, and the government is about to launch something called the Zeus Cannon to destroy the meteor.

Opposing this is our hero, Aki (voice of Ming-Na), and her mentor, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland). They fear blowing up the meteor will harm “Gaia,” the as-yet unsubstantiated God-like entity who may be the Earth’s spiritual center. The idea that Earth is a living being, or even that people and animals have spirits, is mocked by the council, and particularly by the warlike General Hein (James Woods).

There are some interesting science-fiction ideas expressed here, notably in regards to the phantoms’ true origin. But they are mucked up by a lot of cheesy action-movie nonsense and unfathomable mysticism. The film’s tone and look are beguilingly moody, but darned if the thing doesn’t feel like a Saturday-morning adventure cartoon stretched out to feature-length.

C (; PG-13, action violence.)