Judge Adam Arseneau can breed Golden Chocobos like a pro.
"Stay in my memories where you belong."
"I will never be a memory."
Movie adaptations of video game franchises are nothing new in this day and age, but Square Enix's Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a bit of an oddity: a direct sequel to a video game that happens to be in movie form. The cinematic continuation of Square Enix's breakthrough game for the Playstation, Final Fantasy VII, Advent Children returns to the world of Midgar to visit with Cloud and his band of compatriots for a continuation of their adventures two years after the events in the video game ended.
After massive Internet buzz, delays, and fanfare, Advent Children has finally been released to ravenous North American fans, but it goes without saying that newcomers to the franchise can start furrowing their brows in confusion now and save themselves the rush.
Also, be warned: if you have not played Final Fantasy VII, there may be some mild spoilers in this review. You know…video game spoilers.
Facts of the Case
Through the planet and all life forms flows the life stream, an interconnected network of energy that powers the planet and gives life to the world. Its energy is equal to that of every living organism on the planet and when we die, we return to the life stream. The Shin-Ra Corporation developed a way of harnessing this energy and converts it into electricity, draining the planet of its finite supply of energy and accelerating its destruction.
It has been two years since ex-SOLDIER Cloud Strife became a reluctant hero in Final Fantasy VII, having defeated both the Shin-Ra Corporation and the malevolent Sephiroth, who had also had visions of destroying the planet. Thousands of years ago, remnants of an alien life crashed into the planet and the organism—named Jenova—had been pivotal in Sephiroth's machinations for destruction and annihilation of all life. Together, his friends defeated Sephiroth and crippled the mako generation capabilities of Shin-Ra, and now Cloud has all but retired from the heroic life, working as a motorcycle delivery boy.
However, things are not all well in the world. The loss of energy generation has been chaotic for the city of Midgar, its inhabitants living in turmoil and strife. Worse, a mysterious illness is sweeping through the land, named "geostigma," which turns the body black and causes great pain. Cloud has become all but a recluse, refusing to answer phone calls from his friends, spending his time wandering through the desolate and barren landscape, and dwelling over events from the past—and the people he failed to protect.
Suddenly, Cloud is attacked by three young strangers, who call Cloud their "big brother" and keep asking about the location of their "mother." Before Cloud can determine their motivations, the men disappear. He is then approached by the now-defunct remnants of the Shin-Ra Corporation, who wish to aid in the recovery of the planet, having been so instrumental in putting things in their current state. Cloud is skeptical, but Rufus Shinra has information about the three young men and their enigmatic leader: Kadaj.
It seems that Kadaj's quest for his "mother," the events of two years past with Jenova and Sephiroth, and the geostigma plague are all related, and Cloud and friends are about to be thrown right into the middle of it. Kadaj is planning a Reunion of sorts, and it seems the Planet itself will be the victim in the final act…
When you hold a copy of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children in your hands, either to purchase or rent, there is an assumption being made on the part of the filmmakers that you have selected this fine title out of some large understanding—nay, appreciation—of the video game universe its characters inhabit. I spent many an evening chasing around Jenova and Sephiroth through the lands of Midgar, eating away hour after hour of prime teenage life when I could have been having sex with girls. Well, I got to do that, too, so I guess I lucked out. The point is, anyone who has a degree in nerdism with a minor in dorkology will take to this film like a fish into water…but unless you have spent serious time playing Final Fantasy VII, you will be royally screwed.
I mean, royally. Seriously, don't even bother. The divide between a person who has played the video game and a person who has not is massively vast in scope, like the grandest of Grand Canyons. If the uninitiated try and watch Advent Children, it will be like trying to learn a foreign language in six minutes…not only absolutely incomprehensible, but utterly impossible. The filmmakers have made so many assumptions about the viewer's knowledge of characters, locations, and a good 60 hours of plot from a video game that came out ten years ago, that a newcomer has absolutely no chance in figuring out what the hell is going on. No chance whatsoever.
Even for people experienced in the canon, the plot is still a bit of an issue. After it was leaked on the Internet and translated by ravenous fans, many complained of the erratic storyline of Advent Children, which fails to make any kind of sense whatsoever. Riddled with deux ex machina plot points that spring out of nowhere, inane dialogue, and obscure game references that may confound even the experienced Final Fantasy player, Advent Children leaves the brain reeling in desperation, trying to understand what the hell is going on. After three viewings and a brush-up with the video game, I felt I finally had a solid grasp on the subtle intricacies of the plot, but I had to seriously, seriously do my homework to truly understand all the ins and outs to Advent Children. That is a lot of effort to ask from your audience.
The inescapable fact is that Advent Children has been created like a video game, not like a film. Like a never-ending cut scene, it lives by different behavioral rules than we have come to expect from a film; it does not need to pay the same attention to explaining itself or having continuity from one sequence to another. One can argue that as a film, Advent Children fails to take these fundamental elements into account—like creating a story that its audience can actually follow—but all Advent Children sets out to do is absolutely blow your senses away; in this sense, the film is a magnificent success.
The action sequences are so kinetic and over-the-top that that border on the orgasmic. Characters leap and dive on-screen at a frenzied pace, pulling off some of the most ludicrously jaw-dropping action sequences you will ever see in any medium, ever, like a three-on-one sword fight performed on motorcycles at high speed, with each antagonist leaping into the air from motorbike to motorbike. It is actually too much to take at times, the pace so insane that the eye simply fails to keep up with the action on-screen. The synapses firing in your brain simply start rejecting the information being passed to it, like water overflowing from a sink. You find yourself laughing out loud at the utter absurdity of it. Simply put, you have never seen anything like the action in Advent Children. It is awesome in the literal sense of the word, in that it fills you with awe.
As for the animation itself, it is kind of frightening. Rendered entirely in CGI, the shocking advancements in computer animation technology are mind-blowing, even compared to Square Enix's previous Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within film. The fanatical attention paid to each individual hair strand, the complex and varying skin tones, and the small loose movements of each hand as it hangs casually at a character's side borders on the unnatural. It looks so good at times that it appears utterly surreal, completely and utterly impossible for humans to be doing the things they are doing. You have to remind yourself at times that the characters on-screen are entirely imaginary. If this kind of technology keeps progressing at its current rate, the possibilities for filmmaking are staggering.
Sony has a mixed track record adapting Asian cinema to the North American market, but Advent Children is nothing short of a technical tour-de-force. I have never scored a film a perfect rating for visual presentation before because I do not believe in them. There is always room for improvement, after all. That being said, I cannot see a single reason not to give a perfect rating to the presentation here. Truly, I cannot fathom a single way one could improve the visual performance on DVD for this film. When the next-generation of high-definition formats finally achieves mainstream status, Advent Children and its entirely-digital source material will send children screaming into the streets, but in the meantime, the DVD version will do just nicely. The film has a steely gray color palate full of silvers and blacks, but when the colors jump out, they jump out with vibrancy and dramatic effect. Black levels are moderate and the transfer is detailed to the point of being creepy. This is a presentation that pushes the format to the limit of current DVD technology and will appear stunning even on the largest and most cutting-edge of home theaters.
The audio is no less fantastic, with forceful and dynamic 5.1 Surround presentations in both English and Japanese. Both sound virtually identical, with balanced bass response and magnificent rear channel utilization. Each punch, kick, sword clang, and explosion is perfectly reproduced exactly where it should be. The score is a full orchestral affair, most of the pieces being modern recreations of the classic themes from the Final Fantasy VII video game (including the still awesome Sephiroth end theme) and all sound amazing. It is nice to see a quality English dub included with some Hollywood voice acting talent like Rachel Leigh Cook, Christy Carlson Romano, and Mena Suvari, but it gets fairly stiff and unnatural at times and cannot be recommended over the Japanese language track. This DVD comes with an unnatural amount of language subtitle selections, which more than makes up for the fact that they are large and yellow.
The first disc contains the theatrical film and a single supplementary extra, but an absolutely critical one. For many, it has been a good solid six or seven years since we have last seen Cloud and company. Rather than digging through our closets looking for our old PlayStation and spending a good 60 hours or so prepping with the video game, you can watch a featurette called "Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII Story Digest" that essentially compresses the plot of the video game down into 25 minutes, composed entirely of in-game footage and subtitling. I highly suggest starting with this feature before watching Advent Children, as it helps smooth over a lot of the memory issues. However, for those who have not played the game in the past, the featurette is far too compressed and brief to be any real use and might end up confusing people more.
The second disc is a treasure trove of nerdy extras. Included are 12 deleted scenes, a compilation of trailers from upcoming Final Fantasy VII-related games and anime, the 25-minute edit shown of Advent Children at the Venice Film Festival, a 35-minute Japanese "making of" documentary, and some theatrical trailers. Definitely a nice offering of extra materials, especially the "making of" documentary, which goes into the fantastic process required to craft such a detailed CGI film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It cannot be stressed enough how disorienting this film will be to anyone who has not wasted entire days of their life playing the PlayStation game of the same name. However, even for people who have played the video game may find themselves scratching their heads in confusion after watching Advent Children. It will take repeated viewings and a lot of research.
The people who can enjoy this kind of film are the kind who can turn off their brain and simply ride the film out like a surfboard, refusing to point out the absurdity of the on-screen action, the enigmatic and oblique dialogue, and the erratic and downright obtuse plot points. It is a continuation of a video game with the interaction completely stripped away, like watching only the cut scenes in a game you cannot control. At times, this will make the film frustrating for video game fans.
A lot of people will demand their films to actually be sensible. Those people will hate Advent Children with the fire of a thousand burning suns.
This is a tough one. Because the film is absolutely incomprehensible to anyone not familiar with the material, we automatically exclude a large swath of the population from consideration who might otherwise enjoy the film for its visual splendor. But even die-hard nerds and fans of Square Enix's role-playing games may walk away with mixed feelings over Advent Children. A dense, overly complicated plot, ambiguous dialogue, and erratic pacing sour an experience that many fans have been waiting for almost a decade to experience.
That being said, for anyone who can approach the film with nothing more than wide-eyed amazement at the stunning CGI graphics and a childlike sense of nostalgia for seeing beloved characters animated gloriously on the big screen, Advent Children is a kick-ass experience for the senses unlike anything you have ever seen. Combine that with one of the most solid DVD presentations around and you can't lose.
Though it may be of limited appeal to the masses, this film is far too cool to ever be rendered a "guilty" verdict.
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Scales of Justice
• "Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII" Story Digest
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