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Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Reviewed by Niv Shpigel

I would like to apologize in advance for the statement I'm about to make: I did not like 'Final Fantasy VII'. I couldn't stand its gameplay or even the combat system so, unfortunately, the whole FF hype passed right over my head.

So now half of you are shouting with bulging veins, "How on Earth did they let that IDIOT review this film?!", sending protest emails to the editors to ban me for life; and I'll have to avoid angry comments and virtual attacks on my PC.

Relax! If you hadn't gone crazy and started throwing shoes at the screen, you would have realized that I'm going somewhere here!

Once in a great while a video game is released and thanks to the quality of its original storyline, its depth, the way it is presented, and the amount of effort invested in all the small details, there is only one way to define it: A masterpiece; and Final Fantasy VII is one of those games.

It's important to highlight this point before discussing the film: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children takes all the things that make FF more than just a video game and presents it in a different media. In this way it manages to draw a different kind of audience to it (that’s me...), not just the hardcore fans. And it does it well in many aspects.

A paradise for the fans

The storyline takes place two years after the events of FFVII. Cloud Strife - an Ex-'Soldier' with improved genes has grown tired of fighting and is now a contemplative and solitary delivery boy for 'Strife Delivery Service' which is located in the '7th Heaven' – Tifa Lockheart's renewed bar.

The Japanese girl with the funny name is also running an orphanage in the place for children infected with Geostigma, a disease that pits the body's own defense system against itself leading to slow self-destruction.

The couple are taking care of Marlene (Barret's little girl; Barret being the huge warrior with the green cube attached to his arm) who is now traveling the world trying to find an alternative energy source instead of the 'Makoo'. Wait a minute! Hold everything!!! If Marlene is Barret's child and that six year old is a resident of the orphanage, something is seriously screwed up in Japan!

Anyway, a short while after Cloud neglected his nostalgic over-sized sword, three new enemies emerge: Kadaj, Yazoo and Luz. Kadaj, whose gender is difficult to discern even when speaking, is leading Yazoo and Luz to find 'Mother' – the source of the 'Soldiers' genes. The trio are striving towards the 'Soldiers' reunion and the revival of the legendary soldier 'Sephiroth' – The very very bad guy.

Cloud is forced to do what he hates the most (and what we like him to do the most) in an excellent chase sequence where he reveals an arsenal of yet another dozen over-sized swords in all different shapes, and stashed in his (get a load of this) bike. Now that’s something that the regular pizza delivery service boy would like to get his hands on…

The gang is reunited with most of the old familiar and loved characters from the game (including a blue talking cat with a crown on its head that constantly sits on an orange tiger. I swear to god.), along with some new ones about which I will avoid going into detail (I'm sure that those of you who are unfamiliar with the story are now very confused… Makoo…? Tifa…? GeoWTF?.)

The whole reunited bunch attempts to prevent the trio from finding 'Mommy'.

Enough plot!! Let's talk real stuff!

Like any animated film, the first thing we care about is: The animation! And since I am a big CG animation fan I just can't hold it in any longer.

I'm sorry to disappoint all of you, but there is no CG animation in AC. Seriously. The production crew decided that in order to create realism, the best way to make the Final Fantasy world come alive is to cast real living and breathing Anime (Japanese animation) characters and actually film them in the locations.

You're probably asking yourself, "What, really?" Well, what do you think? Of course not!! (Duh! What's wrong with you?). I was merely exaggerating!

AC is without a doubt the film with the best CG animation you have ever seen. The reason for that is a combination of three very important components: Details, realistic movement and a fertile imagination. I will elaborate: The amount of detailing is amazing! You can see every hair on the characters' heads, the skin texture gets to the level of the tiniest wrinkle, and you can actually see the fabric strings of the clothing. The movements are all motion-captured and therefore completely authentic. All the object's reactions to the characters' movements (fabric, hair, explosions, cats on tigers) look as realistic as can be.

Now while these first couple of things are as great as they are, if you don’t present interesting and creative images and ideas on screen, the film will not be very impressive. In this aspect AC is not the most impressive film I've seen (but only because 'Ghost in the Shell 2' was released earlier). Without making any comparisons, the locations and sets are spectacular. A lot of creativity stands behind all the designs – great character design, breathtaking views, interesting locations (a nature scene in a glowing white forest, a dark urban feel in the ruined city) and the most awesome clothing design ever (check out Vincent)!

Fans will be excited to see all their favorite characters, locations and items renewed and polished. No more twelve year old kids holding massive two geometric part items as weapons. Remember that green cube? It has finally become an impressive powerful machinegun. Did I mention there's a blue talking cat on an orange tiger?

I have to warn you, if you are an amateur animator you might want to keep clear of this film. The makers are well aware of their skills, and there are many shots that look as if their only purpose was a childish "Look what we can do!".

The voice actors are young but experienced in the field, and you might (but probably won't) recognize some of them from other sources in the industry. Most of both the American and the Japanese crew acted as the same characters in everything that is related to FF in the previous years (Kingdom Hearts, Crisis Core, Dirge of Cerebrus and so on…). Takahiro Sakurai and Ayumy Ito are the Japanese Cloud and Tifa, while the American crew includes Steve Burton and the amazing Rachael Leigh Cook.

The movie is recommended in both versions. Both crews did a fine job, but not anything to be too excited about. All the voices fit very well and there is no exaggeration-for-illustration (you won't get to hear all the typical Anime sighing in fighting sequences). While the English version might be easier to understand, the Japanese version holds all the original little phrasing and pronunciations that get lost in translation. Don’t forget that the text was originally written in Japanese.

The score was specially written for the film, and it is a typical action movie score with some great surprises. It fits well, and sometimes even captures the game's atmosphere. It changes from the usual rhythmic tunes to a heavy rock opera (Symphony X style) to the calm-corny-annoying tunes of FF in the sentimental scenes and to a heavy classical epic with a metallic touch for the grand battles. Once in a while it will really surprise: The best fighting scene (which is set in a pastoral flowery church) is accompanied by a fast jazz-prog piano tune, which sounds really great on its own.

Put all the above aside for a moment, this is a well made film! In the film-making aspect I mean. Tetsuya Nomura who was a character designer for FFVII, took the director's wand and I tell you, that guy knows the job.

The film is full of great shots and lots of camera movement is fitted to every scene (yes, I know, they weren’t really filming the thing…). The fighting sequences are strengthened by fast camera movements and slippery different-angled shots. There are transitions from close-ups to wide shots and to extreme close-ups (to capture an expression) along with transitions from regular speed to slow-motion and to fast forward to point out the power of the hits.

The fighting scenes are well choreographed and presented with great motion-capture. Realism is not the strong suit in the film, and the characters will jump higher and higher, fly, make other characters fly (violently and non-) and move faster than the eye can see. But even when the characters break all rules of physics, with gravitation in the spotlight, somehow you get the feeling that it is logical that they could do this. The typical exaggeration in FF and Anime in general does not cross to the point of ridiculous.

The DVD version contains two DVDs: One with the feature film, and one with bonus features that contains a 30 minute making-of, out-takes, all of the film's trailers and teasers and a 25 minutes shortened, re-edited version of the film that carries the word STENCH on it ('what, really?').

The trouble with the Japanese is that they can't make an interesting making-of. They also can't record an interesting commentary track (which this film lacks), their trailers are too long and repetitive while their score is worse. It also takes nine years to learn how to speak their language and they are not familiar with the concept – orphan.

However, they are very strong in the creativity field, and that’s why the 2nd DVD also contains the reason for its existence: A very good 25 minute episode of traditional Anime (2D) called 'The Last Order', which gives us more of the character's doings, along with Zack who is not in the original film. By the way, there is a flashback sequence in the film at the end of the episode, and seeing it suddenly in CG is extremely cool.

There is no doubt that unlike the previous Final Fantasy film that was released (and once I start verbally crapping on it, it's hard to make me stop) this film is really made for the fans. You will find yourself constantly smiling and excited from all the references to the game; the film is full of those. You will get to see some of the original cinematics from the game upgraded and presented in the film's graphics, flashbacks, special moves, characters, locations and even sounds - all taken from the game and presented in perfect timing. It will bring that nostalgic feeling from the game experience back in 1997 and put you in paradise for a little more than an hour and a half.

Does it get to the level of quality as the game? Well, you can't expect to recreate what took more than 40 hours in a 100 minute film. The best thing about Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is that it is a source of attraction for a varied audience. Whether you are a fan of the series, an action-movies buff, crazy about CG animation or heavy into Anime you will find this movie highly enjoyable.

That, and a Cat… on a Tiger…

Get it!! Fans of the game – get it twice!!!

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