Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Surat's Final Fantasy: Advent Children writeup
Over in the forums, I've posted my review of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. It's not quite as long, informative, or humorous as Matt's review of the new Captain Harlock, but cut me some slack, will ya?
After years in the making, the highly-anticipated Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children movie is out, and it was everything I expected it to be.
That's not exactly a compliment.
When I saw the initial trailer for it a few years ago, my gut expectation was that it'd be just like other all-CG Asian films like Wonderful Days, Appleseed, or the previous Final Fantasy film, The Spirits Within. That is to say, something pretty to look at with no comprehensible plot to speak of and absolutely overflowing with pretense. I didn't bother watching any of the trailers which would be released thereafter since I figured I'd rather just see the whole piece at once.
In the interest of fairness, I should note that I never really cared much for Final Fantasy VII to begin with. I myself have barely played the game, and I'm somewhat loathe to the whole shebang on account of one incident in my youth where an anime club meeting I'd attended ended up consisting of watching the club president play Final Fantasy VII for over six hours instead of watching Japanese cartoons. Then his 3rd party memory card crapped out and he had to start over from the beginning. The teeming hordes of cosplayers, fanfic authors, and fanartists present at anime conventions and on the Internet have done little to change my mind over the years, though they have given me a fairly decent knowledge of the characters and situations to something I've had relatively little firsthand exposure to. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not the target audience for this film, which is quite obviously a "for fans only" affair, much like the Macross Plus soundtrack CD of the same name. In case you forgot about or never heard of For Fans Only, that CD was so named because all the tracks on it were songs that were already available on the other soundtrack CDs with the exception of about three or so tracks which were quite good, particularly "Dogfight." Sorry, I was never big on "Wanna Be an Angel." Advent Children feels a lot like that CD to me.
I was originally going to write about the plot to this movie, but you know what? The plot to Advent Children doesn't matter. All that stuff about the Lifestream this and Geostigma that is ultimately of little importance unless you're a FF7 fanatic, and even then I'd still say you shouldn't bother with paying too much attention to it because it doesn't really make much sense anyway even if you did spend 100 hours breeding Chocobos or fighting Emerald Weapons or whatever. Despite taking place two years after the game, we neither learn any significant new information about the FF7 world from the story of this film, nor do the characters undergo any new development outside of changes that are made for the film only to be reverted by the end. The net change is zero, but it's not like there's much in the way of characterization in this film anyway since this film takes the "Escaflowne: The Movie" movie approach of having nearly all of the characters be introduced in rapid-fire succession by way of popping up out of nowhere then doing something to essentially communicate the message to the viewer that "HEY GUYS, REMEMBER ME FROM THE ORIGINAL WORK WHICH PRECEDED THIS? WELL HERE I AM IN THIS MOVIE NOW EXHIBITING MY TRADEMARK BEHAVIOR!" before pretty much vanishing. The music feels the same way, as if they thought they had to cram snippets of every single instrumental motif from the game into the movie regardless of relevance. This isn't Nobuo Uematsu's best day.
If there's nothing worthwhile to be found in the plot, what's this movie got going for it? Well, it looks nice. Yes, that's the entirety of my reaction to the visuals of this movie. Not "WOW THIS IS THE MOST MINDBLOWINGLY GORGEOUS VISUALLY INCREDIBLE THING EVER," just "it looks nice." Frankly, I got over THAT reaction within the first few minutes of the film just like I did when watching all those other CG animated movies. The main strength of this film lies entirely in one thing, and it's the same main strength that Appleseed et al had going for them: the action sequences. Unlike the other CG movies I've mentioned, the makers of Advent Children must have been somewhat aware of this fact from the start, as not only do the action sequences constitute a significant chunk of the movie, it's quite obvious that the lion's share of the creative efforts put into this film went into the choreography of these fights. I'll tell you right now, they certainly didn't spend all those years crafting the storyline together. In a stylistic decision that can best be likened to that of wuxia fantasy, the action sequences opt to forego the laws of physics entirely: characters--almost always characters with silvery colored hair of varying lengths--leap and fall the heights of skyscrapers as though they had the weight of a feather and are thrown or hit the distances of entire city blocks without appearing any worse the wear. A great many people don't like this style of action because it requires too much suspension of disbelief, and it's not like I can say they're wrong to think that way because well, it IS completely unbelievable while also being rather inconsistent. But from where I'm standing as someone who's a fan of fighting on the screen, most of those people probably don't know what I'm talking about when I wrote the word "wuxia" just now and are happy to equate any sort of physics-defying action with what they saw in the Matrix trilogy. Then again, a great many people who DO like that style of action probably don't know what I meant by that EITHER, so slightly inaccurate jargon aside, as kinetic as these fight sequences are, there's a glaring flaw to all of these scenes which extends to the non action sequences as well, and that's the editing/directing style. It's a neverending barrage of ultrafast cuts, extreme closeups (often of someone's eyeballs), unnecessary pans and zooms (no Wayne's World references, please), and all the other "MTV style editing" tricks (I honestly can't remember if there was "shakycam" or not) commonly utilized in your typical "action movie starring a rapper" flick in order to hide the fact that the people in question aren't actually doing anything of note themselves since they're unable to perform what the script calls for. Such things are not an issue in an animated movie like this where the CG "actors" can do anything the animators can imagine, so to Tetsuya Nomura or Takeshi Nozue or whoever's responsible for doing this ****, I got one thing to say: while I understand that you're REALLY proud of the level of intricate details present in your CG characters and set models, there is no need to have the camera constantly zipping and zooming around nonstop to show off those details. You're making a movie, not an Nvidia tech demo.
Suffice it to say that, for better or for worse, the action scenes look like they're something you'd see out of a video game, which--hey, what do you know!--they are. If you've ever played the Devil May Cry series of games, the cutscenes in those should give you an idea of what to expect. Ultimately, that's all this entire movie is: a theatrical length videogame cutscene. For some, that's a plus, but I think it's kind of disappointing since the film could have been more than that without too much effort. The most entertaining non-action aspects of the film came from the interplay between the supporting characters such as the Turks and all the heroes once gathered aboard the airship, because those scenes don't take themselves seriously. That's really what this movie needed: someone at the helm willing to channel the spirit of a Go Nagai or Jun Kawagoe or Yasuhiro Imagawa and just make the non-action sequences consist of something like "yeah, I'm a guy with a cool transforming motorcycle and a big sword and I'm totally going to **** up anyone who gets in my way, like THOSE GUYS RIGHT OVER THERE." But alas, that's not what the brooding angst junkies which constitute the core FF7 fanbase want to see. They want to see Cloud and Vincent being emo, and they REALLY want to see Sephiroth and Aerith do stuff even though they're dead because this is SERIOUS BUSINESS to them. And uh, I guess they also want to see annoying kids because there's a good bit of those to be found too. On those notes, this film certainly delivers, so while it's not exactly of the jiggly Gainax variety, it's not unfair to say that fanservice runs rampant in this movie. Pity I'm not much of a fan.
Bottom line: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children entertained me, but it's completely forgettable and is not what I would consider a good movie. I don't plan to go out of my way to watch it ever again. Two stars out of four for the fights alone.