Friday, May 26, 2006

Final Fantasy: Advent Children

Short Version: The (barely comprehensible) story sucks. The voice acting is terrible. It retroactively wrecks the end of Final Fantasy VII. But hey, it's still worth watching.

Final Fantasy VII is one of the most popular computer games of all time, and even though it's a Japanese RPG (a genre legendary for it's confounding plot lines) it actually had a pretty decent story, if you paid enough attention to decipher it. In particular the ending was appealingly ambiguous (for the record, my interpretation was that the planet (with it's self-defence mechanism 'Holy' activated) purged itself of the thing that caused it all the problems in the first place, i.e. the human race). However a lot of people can't handle ambiguity and legions of fanboys were positively salivating at the chance of some sort of explanatory sequel.

So Square-Enix have followed up their last box-office flop The Spirits Within with this movie, which continues the story of Final Fantasy VII. It turns out I was wrong about the ending of the game, as the human race is alive and well. Mostly well anyway, a virus called the Geostigma is afflicting children all over the world, and a bunch of guys with long white hair are riding around on motorbikes fucking shit up. But never mind the plot, like ninety percent of Japanese imports it's nearly incomprehensible to our feeble, unenlightened western minds. The emotional arc is trite and stupid too; it can be summed up as 'Cloud has to learn to stop running away'. (Hey, didn't he learn that lesson in the game?)

While The Spirits Within was released in theatres worldwide and was designed with an international audience in mind, Advent Children is basically by the Japanese for the Japanese, with an international DVD release almost an afterthought. The difference is obvious just from the look of the character models, those in The Spirits Within have a deliberately raceless character to their faces, while those in Advent Children are definitely Japanese.

So why is it worth watching then? Firstly the animation is great, the backgrounds still look pretty fake, but some of the detail on the characters is amazing, especially the hair. Secondly the music is excellent, it includes orchestral and hard rock arrangements of the midi music from the game which was brilliant even in that format, but benefits greatly from a real performance. (There's a very funny moment when Tifa finishes beating the crap out of some guy and his cellphone starts ringing. His ringtone is the classic Final Fantasy 'battle over' bugle call.) Lastly the fight scenes are immensely entertaining, cheesy as fuck but definitely cool. The movie only really succeeds because it's ninety percent fight scenes. In fact the whole last half hour is simply nonstop action, and it's a jolly good time.

The movie is really just an excuse to see these well loved characters, locations and musical themes back in action again. By the end there's no avoiding that the plot is there simply to provide a pretext to resurrect Sephiroth for an over the top rematch with Cloud, enhanced by the latest advances in computer animation. There are heaps of references to the game thrown in for the enjoyment of fans (mostly special moves from the game performed during the fight scenes) and if you're a fan of the game and accept the movie as just a big blatant piece of fan service and don't take it at all seriously, it's a lot of fun.

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