Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (Japan 2005)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/18/05
Director: Tetsuya Nomura
Music: Nobuo Uematsu

The ultimate geek fanboy film. Taking place two years after the events in "Final Fantasy VII," Cloud Strife and company are picking up the pieces of their shattered world and starting over. Unfortunately, in the wake of the destruction, a disease called Geostigma has been infecting the population, and Cloud suffers from it as well. But that's not the worst of it. The spirit of Sephiroth continues to plague the living, and his descendants are hell-bent on finding their "mother" in the form of Jenova's head. Apart from some personal issues that Cloud has to deal with and some very minor character development, the entire film is essentially a ninety minute long extended fight sequence.

The overall impact of the film is exhausting and overwhelming. As you would expect from Square, the film is visually astounding, and gushing with style and beauty. Several sequences are so photo-realistic that it's hard to convince yourself that they're not real. All of the characters have a much more realistic appearance than their super deformed FFVII counterparts, but their stylings still fall somewhere between human and anime. Their exagerrated looks complement their environment quite nicely, and Tifa Lockhart's beauty is to die for. The only complaint I have about the look of the film is that it sometimes has too much style and attitude for its own good, and the insane editing spoils a good portion of the film because you can't follow the action. While it can be frustrating to watch, it's not infuriating like some movies can be. Nobuo Uematsu's sweeping music score has "Final Fantasy" written all over it, and it defines the emotional impact of the film. The hyper-kinetic choreography and cinematography can be too much to deal with at times, but the film never fails to be exciting and engaging.

This is the film that FF fans have been waiting for, and after the huge commercial failure of "The Spirits Within" (2001), Square got smart by making a movie that was actually related to the "Final Fantasy" franchise. The movie is classic "Final Fantasy" all the way with its big swords, spiky hair, extravagant fashions, adolescent isolationism, emotional dysfunction, extreme violence, stylistically exagerrated combat, misplaced juvenile goofiness, fantasy wish fulfillment, heart-wrenching heroism, and naïve innocence. Unfortunately, therein lies its major flaw. This is clearly a film for the fans, and anyone going into it without prior knowledge of FFVII is going to be completely lost and disconnected. I was never a fan of FFVII, and as such, I had a very hard time following the film and all of its nods and winks were lost on me. Actually, I would have much rather seen a film version of "Final Fantasy VIII," which I thought was utterly brilliant. For better or worse, FFVII is generally credited with redefining the entire RPG genre, and is still considered the best of the series by many fans. From a marketing standpoint, it only makes sense to revisit the material.

But Square's marketing machine made a fatal mistake with their distribution of the film. Originally, "Advent Children" was supposed to be released simultaneously in Japan and America, but the American release was indefinitely postponed due to "localization problems." First of all, this means that they're dubbing the movie into English, which is completely unacceptable. Secondly, fans are not going sit around and wait for something that got taken away from them when they can get it from somewhere else. Sadly, the Japanese DVD doesn't contain subtitles, which means that black market fan subs are the only way for most Americans to enjoy the film. I'm all for buying legitimate goods, but if the corporate suits won't make the legitimate goods available, then what choice do people have? Square has effectively lost all of their U.S. sales to video pirates simply because they failed to give the fans what they want, and it's doubtful that there's much of a market outside of the core fan base. To make things worse, it's not even known WHEN the domestic release is going to come out and whether it's going to have the original Japanese content intact. These unknowns will drive even more people to seek out alternative providers, which means less domestic revenue for Square and the diminished likelihood of future "Final Fantasy" films being made. And that would be a damn shame.

More complaining about the American release: I really don't like to be a whiner, but Sony might as well rename this movie to "Final Fantasy: Bastard Children" considering the way they're treating it. After missing the first release date, a tentative US release date of November 29 was quietly announced. After patiently waiting a couple of months, that date was met with a magazine ad claiming "coming soon," featuring a broken URL and no release date information. Come on, people! Is it that hard to do something right? And missing the all-important Christmas season is just more proof that Sony couldn't care less about this property. (I've also got a beef with them because they've treated Iron Maiden's "Dance Of Death" DVD the same way)

Notes on the American release: FINALLY! Seven months after missing the original release date, Sony finally delivers the goods along with some extra bonus material. The audio and video production values are superb, but anyone with the slightest understanding of Japanese will notice that the translation is overly simpified and blatantly wrong in several places. Thankfully, it's not too distracting, since the action keeps you constantly on your toes. Overall, a nice package that gives me good reason to discard my "unofficial" copies of the film.