Sunday, May 07, 2006

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a computer-animated film based on the long-running PlayStation franchise. For anyone who cares, the film is set two years after the events of Final Fantasy VII, in a post-apocalyptic world, and follows ex-SOLDIER (caps intentional, don't ask!) Cloud Strife as he unravels the cause of a mysterious plague that is, erm, plaguing the population.

One of the most amazing things about the film is that got made at all. The first Final Fantasy movie, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, despite agressive marketing by its Sony sponsors, was one of the biggest box office bombs in film history, with losses of over $100 million.

I enjoyed the first movie, but mainly as a technical exercise. It pushed the edge of photo-realistic computer-generated animation, there were times when you found yourself reminding yourself that this was a 'cartoon'. However the movie had no real relation to its gaming roots, and the plot-line was dull and formulaic, and any scenes that featured walking (one of the really difficult things to computer-animate properly) were less than convincing.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a very different item. Set two years after the events of Final Fantasy VII, the planet has begun healing from... OK, I'll stop now... you don't care, and the plot really isn't important anyway. What is important is that FFVII doesn't try to be a Hollywood movie.

What you are watching is a series of extended 'cut-scenes' from a video game (the animated shorts that are played while the next scene/segment is being loaded). And what spectacular scenes they are. The characters' skins are convincing (My eldest son Brooks says this is thanks to sub-surface scattering, with a smidgin of volumetric transparency, but what does he know?). Their hair is so beautiful, and (hyper) real that it could feature in L'Oreal commercials. The outfits' materials are superbly rendered, every fibre, zip-tooth and stitch is viewable, and they move in a realistic and satisfying manner.

What you are watching is a demonstration of just how far CGI technology has moved. Don't watch it expecting a satisfying plot, or meaningful dialogue (although there is plenty of humour and in-jokes for the initiated). But if you are willing to go along for the ride, you will find yourself immersed in a perplexing, intriguing and absorbing alternative universe, where people jump between different realities in a heartbeat, where weapons and vehicles transmogrify at the touch of a button, and where an unarmed 6-stone girl can (convincingly) kick a fully-armed 20-stone guy's butt.

Even if you've never set your hands on a game-controller, put this DVD on your 'watch it sometime' list. Even if you don't love it, you will be impressed by it. Oh, and if anyone is thinking of a good early birthday or Christmas present for me, I want Cloud Strife's bike!

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