'Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete' walks into dangerous territory. Film adaptations of video games have grown pretty sketchy, and not just due to the proliferation of Uwe Boll's game inspired disasters. When dealing with source material that is widely considered the greatest video game of all time, it's fairly hard to do it justice and appease the fans who have been long clamoring for a video game sequel, movie spin off, or anything related to Square-Enix's 'Final Fantasy VII.'
The ending to 'Final Fantasy VII' was massively underwhelming, the obvious weakest link in the immersive storyline, and left far too much unresolved, a finale that led gamers to draw their own conclusions. After spending 60 to 100 hours with all the intricacies of the game, unlocking every spell, finding every weapon, battling random monster species to the point of extinction, whooping the ass of any boss in one hit with the legendary Knights of the Round Materia, and racing the series staple Chocobos until their feet would fall off, the brief ending cut scene was a slap in the face (and a mistake that later Final Fantasy games obviously improved upon, in my opinion).
Cue: the movie tie in. When 'Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within' was released, it was a major disappointment to most viewers, with a weak story, and a feel far too different from the games. The only thing it had going for it was the amazing animation. It seems that the lesson was learned, as the characters from the most heralded game in the series take their silver screen bows in 'Advent Children,' though the result is the same: gorgeous, life-like animation, with a cruddy story.
Two years have passed since the defeat of the "One Winged Angel," Sephiroth, and the world is still recovering. Survivors are becoming infected with a disease, called geostigma, that sucks the strength out of them. A sigma infected Cloud has moved on, away from his friends, his rusty Buster Sword piercing the hillside outside of Midgar. When a silver haired trio, led by the taunting Kadaj (whose obsession with Mother would make Oedipus proud), look to revive Sephiroth by using the legendary Jenova that conceived him, Cloud is again forced to fight in order to save the world.
My main question going into this release concerned the differences between the cut that was already put out on DVD twice, and the additional 26 minutes put into the film in the "Complete" cut. Would this different version introduce characters properly and act more like a standalone release? The answer, quite simply, is no. The additional scenes do fit in with the rest of the film nicely, and the film never gets too "slow," but this new cut hardly fixes any of the problems with the film.
If you didn't invest a few days of your life in the game, you just can't go into this movie and expect a coherent plot. Hell, even if you lived by the game, the plot is still pretty sketchy. The film focuses on a few of the main characters of the game, particularly Cloud and Tifa (and Marlene, to a point), but makes the mistake of having every significant character appear in the film, with nothing to do. Their appearances have no relevance other than to make audiences say, "Hey look, it's Red XIII! Oh neat, Yuffie!!! Oh....shit, they put Cait Sith in, too?! Why!?!?" These characters don't advance the plot, they parachute in (literally) mid-way through the film, with no introduction, and if you don't know who and what they are, you're going to be dumbfounded. Big time.
And that is the weakness of 'Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete,' the reliance on the source material to tell the tale, rather than creating a plot that could stand on its own. The tale of the geostigma would have actually made a compelling tale, as it is explained in a way that ties in perfectly to the legends from the game, concerning the lifestream. The theory that life goes back into the lifestream, to be born again was the perfect way to bring the story back, with Sephiroth's defeat only opening the door for his genetics to go back into the world and reform. The plague that his genes cause is a fantastic idea, really, but it isn't one that can be told properly in film. This entire project would have made an amazing video game, plain and simple.
And that's the problem. This isn't a movie. It's one long game cut scene. It panders to fans of the original, repeatedly, instead of trying to be its own story. This was the problem in the original cut, and it's still the problem in this new, expanded, "complete" cut, that is still a "complete" mess. I've held a spot in my heart for 'Final Fantasy VII' from the moment I played it until this day, with an especially strong sentiment towards the faction known as the Turks (who get a great amount of screen time here), but none of that means that any release that uses the 'Final Fantasy VII' name will be good. If anything, it will only suffer from sequelitis, and the fact that nothing will live up to the expectations of being related to possibly the greatest game of all time.
My stance going into 'Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete' was simple: Anything short of perfection would be a let down.
I know that sounds amateur, with a hint of fanboyism, but I felt that if any film had the capability of being drop dead gorgeous, it would be this one. The animation is top notch, further expanding upon the amazing designs from 'The Spirits Within.' So, it is with great disdain that I report what a let down this was. Perhaps I doomed myself, setting expectations so high that nothing could reach them. Or, perhaps, this disc just didn't bring the goods.
The entire film has a shimmering/aliasing problem, much like that found in 'Resident Evil: Degeneration,' and it draws the eye away from the details of the film. Hair has a staggered diagonal layer quality to it at times, that nowhere near resembles a single strand. It is especially bad in moments where the film acts like a swooping or panning camera, getting extremely jagged and quite ugly. I noticed a few bits of artifacting, as well, the most obvious occurring in a black smoke cloud from which the monsters were summoned. These shots are fast and kinetic, but the artifacts were obvious. My last gripe isn't the fault of the disc itself, as it only made one little nitpick a bit more obvious, as a shot of Cloud in the Sector 5 church appeared to be ripped straight from the late '90's video game, it was so dull and blocky.
That said, there are many positives to this release that may justify a purchase. The detail level for the film is on overdrive for nearly the duration, with an amazing three dimensional picture that can stretch for miles. The picture is clear, clothing patterns are detailed to the nth degree and they move realistically, while the stigma creates a fantastic layer on the skin of the infected. Detail doesn't smear or become a blur, despite the sometimes freakishly fast moving pace of the action. Colors are extremely sharp at times, though for the most part they're intentionally dull and realistic, something you'd expect from a city that is the center of a crumbling world. Facial features are defined to the point of realism, with lines, indents, freckles, bumps, anything that you can think of that adds character, all popping throughout the film. In short, there's plenty of good, and there's also plenty of bad, while the strengths of this film are on display, its Achilles heel is constantly evident as well.
'Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete' is presented with three lossless options, with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mixes in Japanese, English, and French. Since my first viewing of the film (when the DVD came out) was done with the English dub, I decided to take the native Japanese track for a spin.
There is an unusual bass presence to the film, one that feels somewhat subdued, passive, understated. It is soft, underlining the action scenes, rather than powerfully defining them. The bass does kick in randomly, especially near the end of the film, but I found its lack of full utilization a real head scratcher, as there were numerous sequences that should have had a tremendous rumble, with vehicles colliding, or the earth crumbling underfoot, but there was instead nothing. Gunshots (there are many spread out through the film) lack any real thump, or even a real volume spike.
That said, the film does sound pretty good overall. There is motion and full surround usage from the opening scene, where camera swooping changes the angles the sound are coming from. There is a constant score presence that is never drowned out by (and never drowns out) other activity, while dialogue is obviously prioritized. The soundtrack constantly calls back to the music from the game, though with an obvious bump in clarity. There is a healthy bit of atmosphere throughout, and the high end sounds superb, especially the scream as Sephiroth's Masamune cuts through the air. All in all, an engaging, though far from awe-inspiring, track.
The Blu-ray of 'Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete' marks the third North American release of the film, which has seen numerous features come and go. For this release, most of the existing features have gone the way of Aeris. The making of feature called "The Distance," as well as the Film Festival Footage, the "Last Order" tie-in cartoon from the Limited Edition are gone, too, as well as any of the printed material (book, postcards, script) from that release.
I've been a 'Final Fantasy' fan for most of my life, and I'd be ashamed to admit how many hours I've logged playing the games, from the Nintendo and Super Nintendo systems, through the Gameboy series, and onward to the more modern Playstation incarnations. My love for the series makes this film harder to swallow, as it's a great tie-in to the game series, but it's flat out abysmal when considered as a movie. With video that failed to meet my expectations, and slightly above average audio, this release doesn't register in the must-own stratosphere that I hoped it would reside in. This disc, and the film itself, are much more like Billy Ripken or Stephen Baldwin, rather than their legendary brothers.
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