Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Thoughts on Final Fantasy VII Part 2: Advent Children: THE MOVIE...

Can you keep a secret? Back in the day... I was a hardcore lightweight RPG gamer. That's a strange thing to call one's self I know. Might seem like a joke, but I'm serious. I call myself that because I know what a hardcore RPG gamer is. I had lots of friends of varying degrees of dedication and/or flat out addiction, and I know I'm not up to snuff. That said, I love old school RPGs. I love the epic scale, the strategy, the narrative and character development. A good RPG is like a good soap opera, it's a guilty pleasure and that's half the allure: the sheer amazement that you have been drawn into caring about a cluster of pixels that by today's graphical standards would hardly be fit to make up a freckle on the face of their all too real character renderings. I played a few of them and helped out friends with a lot more. I still own the original Nintendo version of Final Fantasy among many others like Breath of Fire. I call myself a light weight because I couldn't find it in me to dedicate the HOURS it took to beat many of these games myself, often teaming up with friends who could knock out a game in a three to six weeks. (I've spread some games out over the span of several years.) Still, I can talk about obscure things like how the original Final Fantasy might be in a similar if not the same world as Dragon Warrior because in one of the towns, you can find Edward's gravestone. Edward being an important figure in Dragon Warrior, whose various possessions such as his sword and armor are the best in the game. I also know that anyone looking for a really fantastic RPG that's been all but forgotten need look no further than the wonderful but tragic Lufia series... unless you hate puzzles with the same passion that I do.

I also own Ultima... the original... with the BASIC drawn 3D caves... and the rocket ship... yeah.

Ok... so I hope I've established my gaming cred. This is supposed to be a film review of sorts and I haven't even mentioned the game - I mean movie that it's about yet. I'm sure a lot of the above doesn't even make a lick of sense to non-gamers, or maybe it does. An RPG is a Role Playing Game for those not in the know, and though that can apply to a lot of things...

Tell you what... I'll do a proper geek-out on RPG gaming later. Too much time has been wasted rambling. Let's get to the movie.

I'm sure I've sacred a lot of people away already. Ya probably wondering if there are six movies already made that you missed. Have they all been straight-to-video after Final Fantasy: Sprit Within or something?

Well... let me explain. (WARNING: more geeky gamer speak, but relevant this time.)

Final Fantasy was in fact originally a game back in the day. It still is so I hear. They're working on part XII right now. The title (which is in a contest with The Never Ending Story for most silly... and winning) comes from the fact that it was an all or nothing deal. If the game flopped, the company would go under. With each following game the attitude held true (even if the situation wasn't quite so) and the games have thus been the kings of the hill, almost always being at the forefront of the genre. Aside from this, each game has been different. Until recently with Final Fantasy X2 the games never were direct sequels. Some things carried over like giant chickens you could ride around on called Chocobos, Airships and a chacater calld Cid. Think of the sequels as being Lord of the Rings meets Sliders. Actually the games seem to have probably drawn some influence form the original Ulitma with its mix of technology in a fantasy environment. (Ulitma is generally believed to be the first computer game of the RPG genre.)

The movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a continuation of this idea of pushing technology to the limit. The underlying themes and essence of Final Fantasy is there, but it's the furthest departure from the original themes.

So hopefully that clears up that you don't have to worry about any other Final Fantasy titles to appreciate Advent Children. It's a world of its own. Although there is still the question of weather you need to have played Final Fantasy VII, which this is a cinematic sequel to, in order to understand what is going on. Let's hold off on that for the moment.

If you want a plot summery go somewhere else. I'm lazy, and if you have put up with reading this long you are probably of the ilk that need not a summery from me. Let's get down to the nit picking.

The first thing I had a problem with are the villains in this go around. I'm sorry but I have no patience for this Bishonen stuff. A villain needs to evoke something from me to be a good villain. I need it to either scare me, make me believe they are a dangerous SOB, or they need to engage me in some other way, like leave me morally troubled about how my beliefs relate to theirs. Something, ANYTHING! These three "Remnants" do nothing for me. They are wimpy sissy boys. They don't even evoke a real sadistic streak like some sissy boys can. They ain't even super intellectual sissy boys. They're just sissy boys right out of some day dreaming 16-year old girl's sketchbook. They're a bigger threat to the catwalk than the world. The biggest problem with this for most fans will probably be the fact that they know well what the Remnants are not living up to... Sephiroth. That guy was a badass mother. The villian of FFVII, he was cold, evil, and killed people... with a sword so long it would give Pyramid Head a boner. (Actually a lot of swords in FFVII would probably give Pyramid Head a Boner... but one thing at a time.) He had his drama moments, but he weren't no sissy boy.

There is some reason behind the Remnants. As their name suggests, they are not normal humans, but the remains of Sephiroth. They are in a sense children. Having existed for only two years, their childish qualities are with reason... but that doesn't really make it all ok. The characters are still underdeveloped on a script level, and behave like obnoxious Japanese super models. Too much is implied weakly where some more time alone with them would help. Some of the dialog in this is painful beyond words. I'm really not clear what age demographic they were going for.

Along with the pretty boy villains with cliché Japanese villain poses, I noticed a lot that was very dissatisfying... the monsters. WHERE THE HECK ARE THE MOSNTERS? This is FINAL FANTASY! I want monsters out of the wazoo! There are only two kinds in this film and frankly that ain't enough. There should have at least been five... AT LEAST. There weren't even Chocobos, and dagnabit I want me some hot Chocobo riding action! That's the only reason to make a sequel to Final Fantasy VII. The game was perfectly conclusive. So give me some high rendered bird riding! But no... not even a feather. Also the whole film takes place in a rather isolated area, no globe spanning here. We only get a little airship action near the end and that's just the cavalry arriving. Not much sailing the high clouds on this outing. Which would be another reason to revisit one of these classics.

So do you need to know the original game? I'd say it would help a lot. They do explain a bit, but overall this is a film for fans. There is little help offered for those in the dark as to who the cool guy in red is or what the hell is up with that cat thing with a crown on its head riding that other cat thing. They just assume you know all these cool characters that show up out of nowhere and never really bother to flesh them out.

Biggest pet peeve of all... the goddamn little girl. They always have to have obnoxious kids around to ruin a perfectly good sci-fi fantasy film, and boy did they give Jar-jar a run for his money this time. This little girl is so annoying... much violence I came to wish upon her.... She is also done more photo-realistic for some reason. I like how they chose not to go the Spirits Within rout on this film and kept the characters more fantasy-like in design, but this whiny little brat sticks out as almost photo real from a mile away, and her color pallet never seems to match up with the environment around her. She looks like she was pasted in from another movie!

This film has Tokyo pop smeared all over it. There is no real Final Fantasy drama. Those little 16-bit pixels from back in the day had more depth and originality to there performances than any of this shit. And the Godzilla-esque showdown at the ending is completely cheapened by the half-ass illogical decision made by all the other fighters NOT to help Cloud (da Hero) fight the super-evil bad guy to the death. I watched it three times hoping I missed some shard of reasoning... but the closest I found was that they had all gotten weak (though not weak enough to do some fine ass kicking just a few minutes ago) and if anything Cloud was stronger now... so having all six, or however many of them there were, help gang up one guy... when many of them had guns and the one guy didn't... would be a bad idea... so they should let Cloud fight him ALONE... even though this ONE GUY has a box that if he opens will turn him into Sephiroth... making the world a very shitty place to be in...

Yeah... that makes sense...

And the list goes on and on. The problem with Final Fantasy is that it is EPIC. To do it right, you have to make it Peter Jackson scale EPIC... times three!

So now to feebly attempt to say nice things about it.

Ok, there are some nice things to be said actually. Cloud's Sword(s) is crazy cool. I mean... this ain't the big hunk of metal from the game. This thing is like a mega-ultra Power Ranger from back in the day when Power Rangers were Mighty Morphine... I mean Morphin.... This sword is a bunch of swords that interlock into a big one but can be taken apart for all kinds of coolness. The way they are held in Clouds new supped up bike... I ain't seen a bike that sexy since Akira!

Then there is the fighting... it's sick. Perhaps will give you motion sickness though. No really... it's like they saw the mob fight from Matrix: Reloaded and said... Pansies. But much like that fight, as insanely cool as much of it is... there is no weight to it. No umph. It's all CGI and in a fantasy world that don't give a damn about physics. After a while, you don't feel any drama with the blows...

Still... some of the most insane fighting you'll ever see...

Also... much like Godzilla: Final Wars, I was left scratching my as to why there was so much Kung Fu Fighting. You go to Godzilla to see men in rubber suits stomp model cities, and you go to Final Fantasy for epic plots, melodrama, using magic, shooting guns (if you're of the post VI gaming generation) and fighting monsters. Sword duels are obviously expected and some martial art brawling is more than welcome... but this movie is saturated in them. They are pretty damn cool and I'm not saying cut any of them... but give me monsters and magic! Give me FANTASY!

As mindless fun, this film has a world of cool fights. They are shallow, but very cool looking. I love the Final Fantasy games and don't feel this does them justice. I liked Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and feel that as radical a deviation from the gamming norm as it was, it was miles closer in sprit to Final Fantasy than this film.

Still, for mindless fun... ain't too bad.

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