Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)
"We've been making video games forever, and now we've tried it without the game."- writer Kazushige Nojima
Stars: Steve Burton, Rachel Leigh Cook, Steve Staley
Other Stars: Wally Wingert, Quinton Flynn, Steve Blum, Beau Billingslea, Chris Edgerley, Christy Carlson Romano, Greg Ellis, Liam O'Brien, Mena Suvari, George Newbern
Director: Tetsuya Nomura
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence
Run Time: 01h:30m:27s
Release Date: 2006-04-25
DVD ReviewSome movies ask a lot of their audience, but I can't think of another quite as demanding as Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children—if you plan on having any idea what's going on, you need to have played, and completed, the 70-hour (plus) videogame upon which it is based. Released for the Playstation in 1997, FFVII was the first in the series to make as big a splash in the U.S. as in its native Japan. It's a role playing game, an experience akin to plowing through a novel, but with more button pressing. The plots are epic, and in the case of FFVII, melodramatic and convoluted (though not necessarily in a negative way).
I don't know how to begin to explain the plot of the game, which I finished nearly a decade ago, let alone the movie, which is a direct sequel and picks up two years later. Suffice it to say, all the major characters are back: Cloud, the brooding hero with a thing for motorcycles and gigantic swords; Tifa, his childhood girlfriend; Barrett, who has a gun instead of a hand; Red, a talking cat (he's red); and Yuffie, a sing-songy girl who cottons to gigantic throwing stars, among others. Set in a future world that's a little bit Blade Runner and a little bit Mad Max, the plot has something to do with the resurrection of the videogame's big boss, Sephiroth, who shares a shady past with the hero, but hides out for most of the movie, which favors a trio of new villains led by the mincing Kadaj, who is supposed to be tough, but acts fey enough that you keep expecting him to pause during a battle to compliment Cloud's blouse.
I don't know if it's just the translation, but the dialogue is laughable ("I've thought of a wonderful present for you. Shall I give you despair?" cackles the villain at a climactic moment). It's almost quaint, actually—some of the Final Fantasy games have been lovingly mocked for their overwrought or outright weird dialogue ("You spoony bard!"), so why should the movie be any different? But it doesn't make the plot any easier to understand. Like I said, I played the game and all, and I have no idea what Kadaj is talking about when he goes on and on about a "memetic legacy" and a coming "reunion" and assorted babble. On a strictly emotional level, though, it does feel like taking up with old friends, sort of, and the continuing adventures of Cloud and friends hold undeniable appeal for gamers, especially, I suss, the ones who wept and rent their garments when a certain love interest was killed off halfway through. I never used her character, and thus, never understood what the fuss was about, but those who did will be happy to know her story gets some much-needed closure here.
For everyone else, though, the appeal lies in the animation and the action. Visually, this stuff is much cooler than anything in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (a part of the series in name and vague thematic ways only), though, to be fair, that film was striving for a certain realism that Advent Children clearly abandons about three minutes in, when Cloud gets caught up in a motorcycle fight that would turn Neo into a road pancake on his best day in the Matrix. Some facial features are exaggerated, and the colors are sort of muted and gauzy, but the stylistic flourishes are much more convincing, somehow, than the doll-like mannequins of Sprits Within. Backgrounds, on the other hand, are almost photo realistic. In context, they're obviously computer generated, but they're at least as real as the all CGI environments in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
The realism, such as it is, does pose a bit of a problem, though. Action sequences that wouldn't seem out of place in traditional anime look cool, but are also ludicrously over the top. If you're going to enjoy this movie, you must go in assuming, basically, that every character has all the power and durability of Superman. Otherwise, like me, the only thought going through your mind after Cloud leaps hundreds of feet in the air will be, "Aaaand, all of his digital bones just shattered into a million pieces" (also, you'll wonder why a character has no problem jumping off the side of a building, but fears a fall from the same height).
Get over all that, and you'll be treated to some of the most frantic action sequences ever put to film. They aren't genuinely thrilling, because it's all too obvious how cartoony it all is (they're totally bloodless, for one), but they do hold some visceral appeal. It starts with the aforementioned bike chase, and builds with a nifty guy versus girl fistfight (in a church!) that I was ready to proclaim totally awesome, until the movie managed to trump it only minutes later with a sword fight, another chase sequence, a fight against a giant dragon (makes sense in context), and a climactic dual that ignores every law of physics on record (er, more so). It's almost exhausting—if you time it out, I figure there's maybe 30 minutes of plot and dialogue, and an entire hour of non-stop action, all of it snappily edited and shot with swooping cameras. If you like it, you'll probably really like it; if you think it's utterly vacuous, well, you're not wrong.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: C
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: This is the kind of movie you'll want to pull out to show off your fancy new TV. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image is impressive, with great clarity and detail (I couldn't stop marveling at the incredible texture of some of the fabric). Colors are intentionally muted, and though there aren't a lot of dark scenes, shadow detail is good. My only complaint, and I don't know whether it's a problem with the transfer or inherent in the animation, is some slight shimmer on some of the busier images (particularly leaves).
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The movie will give your speakers a workout, too. Every action sequence, and there are a LOT of them, puts all the speakers to good use. The rear channels are as active as the front, and there are constant directional and panning effects, along with plenty of LFE. During the quieter moments, dialogue (in English or the original Japanese) and the score are balanced nicely across the front soundstage.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese with remote access
9 Original Trailer(s)
11 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Keep Case
- Venice film festival footage
Everything else is found on Disc 2. Distance: The Making of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (36m:18s) is heavy on the talking heads, but provides an interesting look at the creative process nonetheless. The director explains that he didn't want the characters to look "too realistic," aping the look of the game somewhat, and then greatly amuses me by following that up with "There are parts where people may think, 'people can't jump that far.'" (All the parts?) "We decided not to care about that as long as it looked cool... Anything goes in this movie." Well, OK then. Later on, there's a look at the motion capture process and the technical side, with people sitting in front of computers, as well as digital creature, prop, and fashion design and the Japanese voice acting. A reel of 11 deleted scenes offers brief edits (mostly dialogue), in more or less finished form.
A lot of the material is just repurposed animation. The Venice Film Festival Footage, for example, condenses the movie down into about half an hour (which means I was wrong—there is a way for it to make less sense), while nine trailers from various video game conventions offer a look at how the movie was sold as far back as 2003. There is also a gallery with trailers for upcoming Final Fantasy VII spin-off games (recalling the mid-'90s, when Capcom made a dozen versions of Street Fighter II without quite making it all the way to III).
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA thrilling technical achievement that... also has a plot, sort of, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is visually stunning and a somewhat satisfying continuation of the videogame. If you haven't played it, though, I don't think the movie will do much for you.
Joel Cunningham 2006-05-10