Who would have thought, after last year’s “”Battlefield Earth”” wrestled the designation of “”Worst Film Ever”” from 1987’s “”Ishtar”” that it would only hold the distinguished title for just over 14 months?
A tough act to top (or bottom), “”Earth”” massacred the traditional sci fi genre and practically buried John Travolta’s career under a pile of detestable dialogue. But that cinematic mess resembles George Lucas’ original “”Star Wars”” when compared to Hironobu Sakaguchi’s futuristic flop, “”Final Fantasy.”” Based on a popular video game series, the computer-animated “”Fantasy”” has already turned several heads with its eye-popping visual style that deftly creates palpable digital characters and lets them loose in dazzling alien worlds. Set in the year 2065, “”Fantasy”” follows Dr. Aki Ross (the voice of Ming-Na), a buff female scientist who’s plagued by recurring nightmares of a phantom invasion that decimated the Earth in 2031. Now Ross and her partner, Dr. Sid (the voice of Donald Sutherland), search the planet’s ruins for eight spirits, each of them contributing to a greater life force called “”Gaya”” that powers extraterrestrial entities. It’s on one of these recovery missions that Ross encounters Grey Edwards (the voice of Alec Baldwin), a muscle-bound acquaintance and potential love interest who tags along for the adventure. Only there is no adventure. Save for the film’s stunning visuals – and at times the film does indeed look fantastic – there is absolutely nothing else to extract from “”Final Fantasy.”” The life-like characters are artistic contradictions. Their designers go to great lengths to achieve authenticity. Characters have wrinkles, scars and facial blemishes, and Dr. Ross’ bouncy hair appears to have been recently shampooed and conditioned. But then the character’s mouths don’t match the dialogue, and the fantasy is ruined. My theory is that even digitally animated characters would hesitate to recite such pitiful dialogue, hence the glaring discrepancy. Packed with macho dialogue stolen directly from a 1980’s Stallone or Schwarzenegger vehicle, “”Fantasy”” hasn’t met a bit of bravado it didn’t cherish. It almost helps that most of the horrendous lines are uttered by the likes of James Woods and Baldwin, who’s gravely voice is tailored for such cheesy verses. All of this can be overlooked if “”Fantasy”” only made sense. It doesn’t. Approximately one hour into it, the film reaches the first of its three climaxes. This one involved our heroes escaping from what I think was a space station as the evil phantoms (who aren’t evil) plucked off the gun-totting team one by one. But Ross, Dr. Sid and Grey barely escaped, and I thought we were almost finished. We weren’t. A second, less-involving and jumbled mission began. Characters that were thought dead returned from nowhere without explanation, and the film plodded along for another excruciating 45 minutes. By this point my fantasy involved having the projector break or seeing the theater lights come back on. Neither happened. Watching “”Final Fantasy,”” you can’t help but wonder why the filmmakers spent so much time on the visuals and absoultely no time cleaning up the convoluted plot or ridiculous dialogue. Sure it’s cool that the entire film is animated, and the digital techniques look great, but was it necessary? The film does nothing extraordinary that would require it to be animated. In fact, it moves a good deal slower than any feature that uses human actors. I salivate to think what Ridley Scott or James Cameron could have done with “”Fantasy.”” The movie borrows crucial elements from Cameron classics like “”The Abyss,”” “”T2″” and “”Aliens”” anyway. Since “”Fantasy”” started as a game, it should come as no surprise that the feature length film feels like you’re watching a game. However, you’re not playing, so it’s not nearly as fun. But at least when you’re playing the game, you always have the option of turning the Playstation system off and walking away. Final Grade: D- Review by Sean O’Connell