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From the Vault #6: FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN (2001)

From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.

This one is from May 3rd, 2014…

All the way through Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, despite being impressed by the revolutionary photo-realistic animation on show, my prevailing thought was simply… why aren’t they just making this film with *real* people?

Maybe that’s missing the point of Hironobu Sakaguchi’s endeavour in bringing his legendary & critically acclaimed futurepunk fantasy series of video games to the big screen, but on the other hand it employs major Hollywood actors to play these computer generated parts, and indeed the story is about as generic blockbuster as it’s possible to get. Very little about The Spirits Within couldn’t have been achieved with real actors on real sets in actual environments, rendering the whole point of this a little… well, moot.

Ultimately though, that’s not at all the reason this Final Fantasy is a creative failure in the same way it was a huge box-office bomb that sank its production company and upheld the ‘curse’ of video game adaptations.

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The Abyss (1989)

James Cameron is an unusual director, in many ways, and The Abyss underscores this quite keenly. Despite the fact Cameron has made some of the biggest motion pictures of the last almost four decades, you consistently still feel the pull of his Roger Corman-training, his B-picture origins on movies such as Pirahna after spending years as a Corman student, helping put together his beloved but schlocky contributions to cinematic history.

Cameron took plenty of those lessons, those touchstones, and threw them into his movies across the 1980’s & 1990’s with such arrogant bravura, such relentless chutzpah, that he crafted movies which by all accounts probably shouldn’t have been as critically successful as they were. The Terminator in 1984 is a B-movie with the style, smarts and cutting wit to rise above its origins, while Aliens saw Cameron perhaps at his egotistical directorial best, remarkably for only his third picture. The Abyss feels like his first attempt to make a film which can’t be defined, clearly, as a James Cameron movie, and it’s probably why it’s amongst the worst of his efforts.