[box cover]

Final Fantasy: Special Edition

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the video game-inspired Final Fantasy is proof of just the opposite. For all its stunning beauty and incredible technical achievement — it boasts the first practically photo-realistic human characters in an animated movie — Final Fantasy isn't a very good movie. The often-confusing plot and shallow characters are all the more disappointing when contrasted to the film's sheer artistry, from the intricate backgrounds to the way heroine Aki Ross's digital hair brushes against her well-textured digital cheek, or the graceful (if threatening) undulations of the alien Phantoms' limbs and tentacles. Set in the year 2065, 34 years after the mysterious, spirit-sucking Phantoms have crash-landed on Earth and turned it into a barren wasteland, Final Fantasy trots out a New Age-y, spirituality-centered plot about Gaia, the essence of the Earth. Encouraged and aided by her mentor, Dr. Sid (voiced by Donald Sutherland), Aki (Ming-Na), is searching for the eight specific spirits that will complete an energy wave humans can use to essentially negate the Phantoms and save Gaia. Aki's quest is made all the more urgent by the fact that she's battling a Phantom infection herself; if she doesn't find the spirits in time, she'll die. She's accompanied by ex-flame Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his elite, Phantom-fighting Deep Eye Squad; their opposition comes in the form of ultra-hawk General Hein (an over-the-top James Woods), who scoffs at the Gaia theory in favor of his Death Star-like Zeus Cannon. It's a race against time to save the Earth that gets mired in touchy feely exposition; director/creator Hironobu Sakaguchi would have done better to let audiences focus on his animators' breathtaking accomplishments than on trying to understand the murky plot. That said, Final Fantasy makes a big splash on Columbia TriStar's two-disc special edition DVD. The first platter offers three commentaries (two focus on the animation and technical side of things, the other, by composer Elliot Goldenthal accompanies the isolated score), storyboard-to-film "blasts" with optional commentary, trailers, and DVD-ROM content — plus the movie itself, of course, which is presented in a gorgeous 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer with crystal clear DD 5.1 audio (English 2.0 and French 5.1 are also available, as are English and French subtitles). Disc Two spotlights a "making-of" documentary with pop-up "information pods" that elaborate on the subjects covered in the feature, plus in-depth character files, vehicle stats, four production featurettes, another storyboard "blast," two minutes of joke outtakes, the film's original opening, an uninterrupted version of Aki's dream, a "Thriller" music video parody, and the Final Fantasy Shuffler, which lets you re-edit the conference room scene. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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