lauantai 16. lokakuuta 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)

Steve Burton : Cloud Strife
Rachael Leigh Cook : Tifa Lockheart
Steve Staley : Kadaj
Wally Wingert : Rufus Shinra
Quinton Flynn : Reno
Crispin Freeman : Rude
Dave Wittenberg : Yazoo
Fred Tatasciore : Loz
Steve Blum : Vincent Valentine
Beau Billingslea : Barret Wallace

Directed by Tetsuya Nomura & Takeshi Nozue

In 2001, Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi directed Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a movie that was somewhat liked by non-fans of the franchise, but expectedly hated by most people that were long time followers of the game series. Oh, let's just face it, shall we? The movie sucked ass. It was hyped to high heaven, and then it turned out like a CGI version of Alien, just without the horror, the action, and moreover related to our expectations, without any Final Fantasy in it. Just hearing the voices of Steve Buscemi and James Woods in some Final Fantasy-related feature wasn't enough for me to watch the wretched freakshow again. To be honest, I never thought Final Fantasy would provide material for a good movie to begin with. Then, I heard they were making a sequel to Final Fantasy VII, inspired by the financial success of Final Fantasy X-2, the first direct sequel in the series' 16-year history... only this sequel would be a movie instead of a game.

Before the movie took this form, it was supposed to be a 20-minute CGI clip influenced by Japanese OVA's (Original Video Animation), unrelated to Final Fantasy and feature an epic battle between two or three traditional anime characters. Character designer and jack of all trades for the Final Fantasy series since 1991's Final Fantasy IV, Tetsuya Nomura, figured Final Fantasy VII would be great source material for this clip... or even a full movie, from all standpoints. The team that was working on the CGI clip rejected Nomura's ambition, doubting their resources to do such a feature-length movie, but finally, after many forks in the road, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children became a 101-minute movie that changed the face and improved the mythos of Final Fantasy VII so radically, that even pure die-hard fans of the 1997 PlayStation and PC classic have seriously bombed Square Enix with pressure for a Final Fantasy VII remake. Is it really that good?

They're back.
Two years have passed since Cloud Strife, Tifa Lockheart, Barret Wallace and their unlikely allies saved the world from Meteor, Sephiroth and his mad ambition for a kind of godhood. Cloud lives a constantly troubled life, as he still blames himself for Aerith's death. In addition, he has been infected by Geostigma, a strange disease somehow related to Jenova's cells - due to which he has once again alienated himself from his friends, including Tifa, with whom he runs a business. As three new, remarkably dangerous Sephiroth clones emerge to search for Jenova's remains, Cloud must take a stand and find personal solace, for he is the only one fighting the good fight that has the skill to take on such force.

I'll say it right now: I hate anime. I simply hate that shit. Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Fullmetal Alchemist, Naruto... believe me, I've tried to bear it, but I simply can't. First of all, even if I DID understand a word of Japanese, the voice "acting" would still sound horrible and monotonic to me. There are confusing, out-of-the-blue scenes, weird angles, exaggerated action that defies the laws of physics and nature, and at least half of the time I can't even make out a real plot. I even hate the graphical style - all those crying eyes, the blushing, the colouring, the wind effects... just everything.

The Captain is in a better mood than usual, but
he still knows how to kick ass when needed.
When does he get his own compilation piece?
Well, first of all Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is not an anime flick. Even some anime fans apparently consider it to be its own kind of anime, but I don't even like to think of it as such. Secondly, there's an English translation to it. However, it does have some cinematographical connections to traditional anime. For some reason, I don't find it disturbing; it's noticeable, that's all. That reason might be that I love Final Fantasy VII, and I love the movie's script and how it is translated into this - a fascinating, epic action movie. Like a 101-minute cutscene, and I mean that in a good way! With a few very odd clips, but hey, let's keep in mind what the source was.

Steve Burton and Christy Carlson Romano reprise their roles as Cloud and Yuffie from Kingdom Hearts, while Lance Bass, thank God or whatnot, gets shoved out of the way by the great George Newbern as Sephiroth, and Mandy Moore is replaced by Mena Suvari of American Beauty fame as Aerith. The gaps are filled with several voiceover veterans such as Wally Wingert, Quinton Flynn and Steve Blum. Now I know there are some people who go apeshit about the subject of watching a Japanese movie in English. Hello, guys, anyone home? - did you PLAY Final Fantasy VII in Japanese? Did you recite those English lines in Japanese in your heads? No? Then grin and bear the movie in English, like the rest of us!

The English dialogue does have a few knots, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the voiceover work - it's simply excellent. Steve Burton and George Newbern absolutely nail those roles, Rachael Leigh Cook provides a beautiful, tender voice to the hotter than ever Tifa, Greg Ellis always cracks me up with his "drunken Irishman" take on Cait Sith, Chris Edgerly gives Cid the voice I always imagined him to have - he's WAY underutilized though - and finally, Quinton Flynn totally redeems himself. I'm usually so damn annoyed with this guy's voice, his lisp and somewhat tense mumbling. He gives his all to the now completely comical character of Reno, and his sharp work supports the behaviour of the character, who's reminiscent of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, perfectly. The first problem that arises, is that the game's English translation was so awkward that it's hard to follow the movie's plot if you're not well enough informed of all the specifics that really went down in the game. There is a short narrative covering some events in the game, but Jenova's role in the whole ordeal is still explained vaguely, and since the movie is pretty much all about the pursuit of Jenova's remains, then... oh, well. The other problem's a visual one - there's no English lip sync at all. Apparently it would've taken too much time to fix the sync, more time than non-Japanese distributors could afford. I truly hope that there's a good reason, 'cause the dialogue feels really detached from the movie from time to time. It looks like there's a lag or something.

The villainous Kadaj is a functional combination
of the insanity of Sephiroth and the sinister
gayness of Kuja from Final Fantasy IX.
I already said that I love this movie's script. I always thought Final Fantasy VII came to an abrupt end, and always wondered what happened during the 500 years between the game and the hidden final scene featuring Red XIII and his cubs. After all, there was close to no dialogue, except for a philosophical statement from Red XIII and the noting of a spiritual presence by Marlene after we put Sephiroth to rest. Did Cloud and Tifa finally get it on? How about Cid and Shera? What happened to Shinra Inc.'s survivors? How did the world go on? Well, Advent Children begins with the very same scene(s) the game ended with, first Red XIII and his cubs are shown in a faithful recreation - a high-pitched scream for a remake - of the hidden ending, and then, "498 years earlier", Marlene's recollection of the showdown between Holy and Meteor. Two years have indeed passed from the game's events, and we get a lot of answers to certain questions. Many characters return, some surprisingly so, to share their views on the new Geostigma situation, and in the simple coolness of their inclusion in this movie as technically advanced CGI versions of previously blocky themselves, they turn away attention from the obvious main emphasis of the movie. It's gonna hit you in the face the second time around.

This movie is like a collection of epic battles in a futuristic J-RPG style. We have Cloud kicking ass on the road from the back of a motorcycle (three hoorays for the memory of G-Bike), Cloud kicking extremely large Bahamut ass in the skies above the city of Edge, and Cloud kicking some historic ass in some occasional flashback sequences. Then we have Tifa, fighting it out with one of the clones in what I consider to be one of the sexiest battle scenes ever... I must be sick. Barret, Yuffie, Cid, Vincent, and the now unseparable duo of Cait Sith and Red XIII also show up to do a bit or two, briefly but notably enough; mostly to boast their CGI forms, I guess, and yet again tease us with "what ifs". The movie is full of subliminal Final Fantasy in-jokes, especially aimed at the source title, making it nearly orgasmic to watch for a die-hard fan... even if it's all action! There's a definite breaking point in the middle of the movie, after which the action clearly takes over. Before that point, the flick takes some time to explain things, both past and present, which is a good thing, I like that - but what would've made the film even better than it already is would've been to spread it out a little and balance it up. As beautiful and intense as the boundless CGI fighting is, I personally dig the first half of the movie just a wee bit more.

Reno and Rude are equally back, to provide
some extremely good laughs.
Although Nobuo Uematsu had already left Square Enix by the time Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was completed, he agreed to the use of his soundtrack composed together with Tsuyoshi Sekito, Keiji Kawamori and Kenichiro Fukui. There are a few new rock tunes to go with the more intense scenes, very fitting to the Final Fantasy VII theme, and a lot of remixes of the songs in the game, that bear a strong scent of Uematsu's work with The Black Mages. I totally love the soundtrack, I feared for the worst after I heard Sakaguchi, who had left Square Enix by the time the movie was completed as well, would not be involved with the making of the movie; I thought they would disregard Uematsu's importance as well and hire that damn duo of Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi to puke their "creativity" on this movie like they did on Final Fantasy X-2.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is one of the most surprising movies I've ever seen. It's Japanese, it's somewhat based on anime though not easily categorized as that, it does retain some of that Japanese quirkiness... on the other hand, it's based on the best video game ever, made possible by many staff members that worked on the game itself, it's so beautiful you sometimes have difficulties to see the difference between the image before you and reality... all in all, it's fascinating. Excellent, even. Maybe it could have been better, and maybe the extended "Complete" version does fix some of the original movie's flaws, I don't know, but 'til I see that extended version, this one works better than fine. Most definitely the best movie based on a video game, ever... as if it was some sort of a surprise.

(The standard, one-disc edition of the Advent Children DVD includes a "documentary" entitled Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII - Story Digest, which in reality is a collection of key scenes in the original game, shown in their North American form. They could've at least fixed the translation. Otherwise, it's a neat little extra.)

RATING : 9.1

Rachael Leigh Cook can
be my Tifa any time.

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