If you're reading this review then I'm going to assume that you have played a Final Fantasy game at some point in your life. Most likely it was Final Fantasy VII back in 1997. But if you haven't played it, I apologize because the statute of limitations regarding plot spoilers has expired after nearly ten years. I'm going to discuss events that happened in the game because frankly, you can't really comprehend or appreciate Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children without knowing all of the facts. This film by Square-Enix is fan service in its truest form and intended solely for the enjoyment of said audience. So if you are not a video game aficionado you are going to need some prior knowledge about Final Fantasy VII in order to understand what's going on in Advent Children. If you've already dedicated your life to the game, then you can skip this part.
The first attempt at a movie was the disappointing Final Fantasy: Spirits Within. After that, Square really couldn't afford to shoot itself in the foot again. Then Advent Children was delayed several times before it was released in America. Why? I think it had something to do with putting English dubbing together as well as some bonus content, but that's just pure speculation on my part. Fortunately the long wait is over and this movie is pretty much everything that the fans have been anticipating.
The world of Final Fantasy VII is one that is full of magic, technology, and science. The two are constantly at war with each other and many times it seems as if technology and the planet have it out for each other. In the metropolis of Midgar a company known as Shin-Ra has found a way to harness Mako Energy and turn it into power. The Mako is a green glowing force otherwise known as the Lifestream, which is basically the life force of the planet and all the creatures that live on it. When you die you are returned to it and its circulation keeps everything going. Try to think of it as a circle of life kind of thing. Anyways, Shin-Ra finds out about a mystical place known as the Promised Land which is lousy with Mako but there's a catch. Only a Cetra (Ancient) can find it and the last of their kind is a girl named Aerith who isn't exactly willing to help the conglomerate.
From this point all sorts of stuff happens, but I'll try to keep it brief. A guy named Cloud shows up claiming to be a member of SOLDIER (an agent of Shin-Ra) and a slew of other characters are introduced throughout the game such as Tifa, Barret, Cid, Yuffie, Cait Sith, Red XIII, and Vincent. They all fight for the good of the planet, but standing in their way is a guy named Sephiroth and an ancient organism classified as Jenova. This is where the plot gets a little convoluted because it turns out that Sephiroth carries Jenova's genes and Cloud is actually a product of them; an experiment in some form of cloning, if you will.
As the game progresses Sephiroth works towards summoning a meteor to destroy the planet by using Black Materia. The Materia element is a byproduct of the Lifestream and Mako so it grants its user special powers. Anyway, the team of heroes comes together to crush Sephiroth's devious plan but not before Aerith is murdered by him in cold blood. To make a long story short the group is able to pull it together and put a stop to Sephiroth once and for all . . . or so it would have seemed.
Advent Children takes place two years after the events featured in Final Fantasy VII. The great evil of Sephiroth has been replaced by an illness known as Geostigma that is infecting the world and its youth. Not much is known about the disease only that there is no cure. So as you can imagine things are pretty bleak. The city that was once great lies in shambles and the once powerful Shin-Ra company is no more. Yes, this is a different Midgar than we last saw and the inhabitants have taken to living on the outskirts of the crushed capital.
The first familiar face we see is Tifa who has reopened the 7th Heaven Bar and is running a delivery service with Cloud. They have also taken in some children such as Barret's daughter Marlene as well as a kid named Denzel and operate something of an orphanage. She gives Cloud a call on his cell phone (insert shameless plug for Panasonic here) and he starts to head over to see Reno (from the Turks – a division of Shin-Ra) to see what he wants. Cloud still has a fetish for bikes, but his new one is more akin to what was featured in Akira though it also acts as a storage facility for his collection of swords. On his way to see Reno he gets intercepted by three silver-haired guys (Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz) who are yammering on about their "mother" and keep calling Cloud "big brother".
The three are obviously related to Sephiroth in someway though it doesn't become clear until later in the film what that relationship is. At this point you'll notice is that they have the same type of Mako energy inside of them that Cloud does due to the nature of their eyes. They also possess special powers such as the ability to summon shadow creatures and can even match Cloud in melee combat. For some reason though Cloud seems weaker than the last time we saw him and it would appear that he has become infected by Geostigma as well. At any rate we learn that Kadaj and company are indeed trying to bring about the Jenova Reunion that Sephiroth talked about in Final Fantasy VII. In order to accomplish the Reunion they have to capture the children that are inflicted with the stigma and locate Jenova's head.
A series of events intertwines Cloud and Tifa's goals with Shin-Ra's. The president of the company, Rufus Shinra, is still very much alive, but he wants to atone for his sins and repay the world for the chaos that his organization caused. This all leads to a tumultuous series of confrontations with Kadaj and the gang, including a battle with a familiar monster. However, one of the biggest conflicts in this movie doesn't have a single thing to do with over the top action.
If you played the game then you know that Cloud had a fragile state of mind, but since Aerith's death he has become even more withdrawn and a shadow of his former self. Through a series of flashbacks and hallucinations we see exactly what's going on in that brain of his. In order to beat Kadaj and save the day, he has to defeat the demons of his past and overcome his personal agony. This was a sub-plot that really sold Advent Children for me. The main story seemed to be just a means to an end to pull together the phenomenal action sequences. Fans of Final Fantasy VII will definitely revel at the amount of character development that takes place for Cloud. Even something as subtle as showing that Cloud lives in Aerith's church, where she grew flowers, speaks volumes at the torment he is feeling because of her loss.
As far as the other characters go, Tifa also gets a decent amount of screen time and some personal development. Vincent gets his share of the spotlight as well. But I have my own suspicions that his stint in the film was merely a precursor to the upcoming game, Dirge of Cerberus. The rest of the group however, seems to be mere plot devices as they are only brought in for a couple of sequences. It's understandable why they were left to the wayside though because using them for more of the film would have clouded the plot. Square was much better off focusing on the core (and most popular) set of characters instead of porting over a "the gang's all here" setting.
Despite the main people there are also some minor characters that tie everything together. Reno and Rufus are back as I already mentioned, but Rude, Elena, and Tseng from the Turks make an appearance as well. Also through the series of flashbacks that Cloud experiences you'll see some redesigned elements from key moments in the game. All of this yet again reinforces the fact that this project was put together with fans of Final Fantasy VII in mind.
In the end I was thoroughly entertained by Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The core plot may be a little lighter than I was hoping for, but it's decent enough and fleshed out thanks to the turmoil that Cloud goes through. As a stand alone feature the movie is sorely lacking. If you do not have any prior knowledge of or experience with Final Fantasy VII you will most likely be lost right from the get-go. For fans of the game though this films is just about everything that you have been hoping for. Oh, and at the end of the movie if you stick around after the credits there is some bonus footage worth checking out.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is presented with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and believe me when I tell you that it looks absolutely gorgeous. In the gaming world Square Enix is regarded as one of the leading developers when it comes to visual presentation. This movie is no different and the image quality is absolutely stunning. There are a couple of moments where some aliasing and artifacts are apparent but don't let that get you down; this entirely digital world is crisp, clear, and beautiful from start to finish. At times I found it hard to believe that I was indeed watching a digital production because the images were so realistic.
The art direction for this film, much to the delight of fans, is loosely based upon Tetsuya Nomura's original designs. Advent Children also has some very strong ties to the world of anime. The characters all jump around and react like ninja once the action gets started. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good part is that it makes the action more intense and gives the movie a unique sense of style.
However, because the designs are more realistic this time around it comes across as a little too cartoon-like at times. For instance in one battle Cloud jumps literally half of a mile into the air and hovers while he relentlessly hacks away at a monster with his sword. You'll also see the characters do various limit breaks from the game such as "Finishing Touch" and "Climhazzard". The fan in me loved to see these moments unfold, but my movie-goer felt that these bits were a little tacky and over the top. It felt like I was watching a high-tech version of Dragon BallZ rather than Final Fantasy. Overall though, this is an amazing looking film that received a marvelous transfer.
One of the factors in the delayed release of Advent Children was most likely the time that it took to assemble an English dubbing track. Fortunately the wait was well worth it since the 5.1 Dolby Digital English selection offers an impressive caliber of voice talent. Steve Burton (Cloud), George Newbern (Sephiroth), Rachael Leigh Cook (Tifa), and Steve Staley (Kadaj) come together with a great supporting cast to make a fantastic dub. I typically listen to my anime/foreign films in the original language so for me to give praise to the English team says something about the quality. The Japanese language track is very good as well with voice work of equal caliber.
On the technical side of things Advent Children blew me away. My system hasn't had a work out like this in a long time and from start to finish the movie made great use of every channel. The design of the soundstage was very intelligent with all of the right directions kicking in at the appropriate moments. The volume pitch was spot on as well and I didn't notice any flaw during my multiple viewings. I watched the film in Japanese and then English and found both tracks to be equally acceptable in terms of audio output. A slew of subtitles are available as well with English, Spanish, French, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Portuguese, and Thai all getting some loving.
To further solidify the connection between the two projects, the soundtrack carries familiar tunes as well. Nobuo Uematsu's fantastic scores from the game get some playtime here as well. Tracks such as the game's opening theme to Sephiroth's theme "One Winged Angel" and even the Battle Victory tune make their appearance here. Sometimes it fits with the atmosphere of the movie and sometimes it doesn't, but either way the music is just as great in Advent Children as it was in Final Fantasy VII.
Another factor in the delay of the American release was undoubtedly the desire to include some fine bonus material. In the two disc collection here the second one has the meat of the supplemental features, but the first disc has something packed in with the movie that is pretty important to watch.
Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII is only extra that is located on the DVD with the movie. It clocks in at just about twenty four minutes and is basically a video montage of events from the game that play a pivotal role in Advent Children. From the very beginning of the game with the assault against Shin-Ra to Aerith's death scene and final confrontation with Sephiroth; it's all here. Well, Cloud's cross-dressing stint isn't featured in the video collection, but I guess that's not really "that" important to the movie. This feature serves as a great refresher for those of us that haven't played the game in ages. But isn't really helpful to viewers that didn't experience Final Fantasy VII.
A collection of eleven Deleted Scenes are featured prominently on the second disc but to be fair they don't offer much value. In most cases the dialogue for the scenes was the only change while in others there was some animation that was never finalized. These bits are presented in Japanese with subtitles, but they all lack sound effects and music. I don't understand why these were cut or changed so some explanation or a commentary would have been nice. In most cases the deleted scenes clocked in at less than ten seconds so as you can presume, the changes weren't that important.
Next up is The Venice Film Festival which is kind of a condensed version of the film that was used to show at the event. The entire film gets essentially bottled up in twenty four minutes of clips and it highlights a lot of the key moments. On its own it's nothing more than an gratuitously extended trailer of sorts, but it's kind of neat to check it out and see what the creators thought were the shining moments.
Speaking of trailers, there is also a collection of them on the second disc from the teasers featured at the three day Tokyo Game Show and Jump Festa back in 2003 to the 2004 and 2005 gaming conventions. It's understandable why gamers everywhere were on the edge of their seats with anticipation based upon these trailers. The anticipation builds as you watch the trailers for the upcoming additions to the Final Fantasy VII universe.
The biggest and most informative feature on this release is Distance: The Making of Advent Children. This particular feature goes over just about ever minute detail about the development of the film. Fans of the original game will appreciate that they even talk about the creation of that and where they drew their inspiration from. There is a discussion about the musical direction, the crafting of the software used to make the world, the evolution of the story, and what it was like to work on it. This was the best supplemental feature included in the set and really the only one that carried a lot of weight.
So there you have it. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is pretty much the film that fans all over the world have been waiting for. The action is intense, the world is rich, and the characters are back in all their glory. The core story could have been a little stronger in my opinion, but the attention paid to Cloud's development more than makes up for what the plot was lacking.
This is without a doubt the best movie based on a videogame that I have ever seen and the production values are through the roof in nearly every regard. The video quality is astounding, the audio is superb, and the extras are defiantly worth checking out. Fans of Final Fantasy VII owe it to themselves to pick this DVD up, while the uninitiated probably shouldn't bother. The movie relies on the fact that you have played the game and if you haven't the Reminiscence feature can only help you so much.
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