Final Fantasy
Original VCD

Movie: * * *
* *

Starring: James Woods, Ming Na, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland
Directed by: Hironobu Sakaguchi
Subtitles: None (No subtitles)

Strange wraith-like aliens invade Earth and the remainders of humanity are forced to live cloistered in domed cities protected by an electronic barrier of sorts. Will a new scheme by the military to use a "super cannon" (aptly called "Zeus") in Earth orbit manage in destroying the alien creatures. Or will the plan merely backfire and result in Gaia, the Earth's spirit being permanently destroyed?

That last sentence gave it away, didn't it? The movie in question is Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within, a movie that caused some small controversy last year not for its technical ambitions (the computer-generated animation aims for complete photo-realism), but for its frankly New Age sentiments. Ultimately, Final Fantasy did poorly the box office, disproving that all computer-generated animated movies (Shrek, Toy Story, etc.) are always hits with the cinema going public. Maybe, along with Titan AE and The Iron Giant (both box office flops), it proved that people aren't quite ready for animated science fiction yet - no furry animal sidekicks is the problem I suspect . . .

Final Fantasy is neither the "cyberturd" its detractors claim it to be, nor the revolution in film-making as made out by an overanxious marketing department. It is a very watchable fast-paced action movie despite all the incomprehensible New Age babble. It remains a one of a kind however. On the one hand it is wildly overambitious in trying to make its computer-generated stars as realistic looking as possible, even adding small imperfections such as spots, wrinkles, etc. (Their looks are based on well-known stars such as Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock.) On the other hand, it borrows a lot from other movies - in particular the wise cracking marines of Aliens and the battle scenes from Starship Troopers.

Maybe Final Fantasy will find its audience - sci-fi and action movie junkies - on DVD and VCD now. It will be quite apt for a digitally generated movie to find its home on a digital medium.

First, some clarification: whereas DVD is a movie on a CD disk, VCD (Video CD) is, well, a movie on two CD disks. A predecessor of sorts to the DVD format, VCDs are very popular in the East, especially in countries such as Malaysia, China and so forth. VCDs are also relatively simple to produce. Anyone with some technical savvy and the right equipment (a PC with a normal writeable CD-ROM drive is required) can make them. Okay, they're more difficult to create than audio CDs, but they are relatively cheap to produce and can be played on most PCs and DVD players, which explains their popularity with pirates in these countries. In countries such as Malaysia for instance buying a VCD from a street vendor is about half as cheap as a movie theatre ticket!

Incidentally, my VCD copy of the movie I viewed for this review is the first "official" VCD I have ever viewed. Why bother with legal VCDs? Well, despite not breaking the law, quality is another issue. I have seen some very poor home-made VCDs lately, even some in which the movie is presented in the wrong aspect ratio: the image has been visibly stretched to make the two black lines at the top and bottom of the screen smaller! Not very good at all.

The Final Fantasy VCD I viewed is pan 'n' scan: so no black lines and the image has been correctly formatted to fit the entire TV screen without stretching or distorting it. (Purists need not fume: the movie was originally filmed in 1.85:1, which means that not too much of the picture has been lost.) The sound quality (Dolby Digital) is consistently good and clear throughout. (Boasting digital sound, VCD audio quality is usually better than that of VHS.)

To be honest the picture quality was a slight disappointment, but that is probably only because I have recently watched bits from the same movie on DVD lately. However, as far as VCDs go the quality is acceptable. At times the video artefacting (those little squares you see on moving digital images sometimes) are obvious and even distracting. Also, lines are less clear and distinct. This oddly has the effect of making the virtual characters look more human and real than they do on the DVD. As is usual, the movie comes with no extra features unlike the DVD, which is jam-packed with them. There are two trailers of upcoming VCD releases (namely Thirteen Ghosts and Bicentennial Man), both of which you can skip with the Next button on your DVD remote.

WORTH IT? VCD picture and sound quality isn't as good or impressive as that of DVD. To be honest I didn't initially like the format, but warmed to it in time - cost being the prime factor. If you order Final Fantasy on VCD it'll set you back $9.88 (all prices quoted exclude shipping and are in US dollars). The list price on is $19.95 for the DVD and $14.95 on VHS. Beginning to get the picture?

RECOMMENDATION: If you're a huge fan of this movie, then forking out double the VCD's price on the DVD is probably the better option. If you're a casual fan or haven't seen it yet, then the VCD will do just fine. VCD collectors would no doubt want to add Final Fantasy to their collection.


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