Well, we all knew it would happen eventually. Realistic looking computer generated actors starring in a movie. No trailers, no demands. It costs 140 million dollars to make them and their world in "Final Fantasy", though. So, I don't think you'll be seeing any indie flicks with computer generated actors for a while. Yet, for all of the visionary technical work done for this picture, the screenplay does sort of stick to a more primitive storyline, taking from several other sci-fi pictures, most noticably Luc Besson's "The Fifth Element" (this is sort of "The Eighth Element", I guess).
I've said before that visual effects can't make up for a generic story. I've just been proven wrong. Brought to life by a team of a couple of hundred animators, the barren cities are visually astounding - a shot of a flare raining down in the darkness of an early sequence is visually stunning. The story is that humans (the few survivors left) live in domed cities, surrounded by force fields. The fields protect against alien "phantoms" that had landed on Earth years earlier, killing off much of the world's population. How they were able to construct these domes that quickly is a question that came to mind, but oh well. Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na, who also voiced "Mulan" and whose character looks like Piper Perabo from "Coyote Ugly") is attempting, along with Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) to find the remaining 3 of the eight "spirits" of the Earth that, when combined, will form a wave that will take out the aliens.
Elsewhere, General Hein (James Woods) is under the belief that the Zeus Cannon, a weapon under development, will be able to simply wipe out the aliens by shooting it directly into the crater where the alien meteor landed. The weapon may be too powerful though, and destroy the planet. Aided by ex-flame Captain Grey (Alec Baldwin) and her crew, the group attempts to save the planet in their own way before Hein is able to use the Zeus. Aki has several dreams about the alien planet and although she can't tell what they mean, she knows that they will lead her to the answer.
Are the animated characters convincing? Well, you can certainly tell that they are animated, but at least they have smooth, realistic movements and quite a bit of subtle detail. The animation is certainly leaps and bounds beyond anything previously seen - but there are some little faults; occasionally, the mouth movements while the characters are talking aren't quite in sync. The "phantoms", who take on all different shapes, are a bit too convincingly presented, especially when they take the spirit from a human character. The film is rated PG-13 and rightly so. Although older children might be okay, the youngest children will definitely have nightmares if they watch this picture.
The actors who provide the vocals do a mixed job of it; Baldwin does another spin off of his gruff "Pearl Harbor" character like he did for the animated character in "Cats and Dogs". Ming-Na brings genuine emotion to some occasionally slightly hokey "spiritual" dialogue, as does Sutherland. Steve Buscemi brings some needed humor to his scenes, as well. In a film like this one where there character development is minimal, it's really necessary for actors to bring as much as possible to make us care about their characters.
I definitely wouldn't call "Final Fantasy" a classic of cinema, but it's a picture that signals an introduction (as did "Shrek", to a lesser extent) of what animation can become. If it wasn't for the screenplay though, "classic" might be a term within the picture's reach. Worth catching on the big-screen for the visuals and will very likely serve as demo material once it hits DVD.