Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, April 25, 2006



What They Say
In the wake of the climactic events played out in SquareEnix's Playstation video game world of Final Fantasy VII, the ruins of Midgar stand as a testament to the sacrifices made in order to bring peace. However, as a mysterious illness rapidly spreads and old enemies astir, the solitary hero Cloud must once again step out of his self-imposed seclusion and stand against the dark forces converging on his world!

The Review!
Taking place two years after the end of the game by the same name, Advent Children deals with the aftereffects and repercussions of that final battle.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this film in its original language of Japanese which was done with a 5.1 mix. The audio mix for this movie is a real treat as it's very active along the forward soundstage but also has a lot of great moments of full directionality for dialogue, music, ambient sounds as well as the big action sequences. Some of the fight sequences are quite immersive while the music and ambient sounds help to flesh things out in a full way. Some of the music just has an almost overpowering effect with the subwoofer cranked up and the audio up a few notches. Listening to this on a set of TV speakers afterwards was like listening to a different movie, one without anywhere near as much punch.

Video:
Originally released in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The packaging indicates that this was mastered in high definition so I wouldn't be surprised to see a Blu-Ray HD release of this sometime in the next year. Watching this upconverted to 1080i on the new Toshiba HD DVD player makes me wonder just how much more Sony could possibly eke out of it because this is just a purely gorgeous transfer. The film simply looked clean throughout with great looking solid colors, incredible amounts of detail in all areas and no break-up or blocking visible anywhere.

Packaging:
Released in a single disc keepcase with a flippy hinge inside, the front cover has a good looking piece of artwork of Cloud on his bike with the blade out while the background has the softer image of Sephiroth mixing in with the grays and blues. While it's fairly drab and dour looking, it does have a good bit of moodiness to it that's reflective of the film. The back cover is a bit more colorful as it has an outdoor shot with a bit of sunlight but it's the numerous small screenshots where the variety comes in. The summary for the show is very minimal but this title sells itself just by its name so I'm not surprised it's kept short. The discs features and basic production information is easy to find and read while the technical information is in the standard grid with all the relevant information, something that's very useful considering the numerous subtitle choices. There is an insert with the release but it's just advertising for other Final Fantasy related items or anime related shows that Sony's released before.

Menu:
The menu layout is pretty simple with some of the grid-like designs from the show surrounding clips that play through them along with the choral music that defines Sephiroth's character. The navigation strip along the bottom is quick and easy to use and includes top level access for the single extra on the main disc. The disc did correctly read our players' language presets which was a real plus with its fast access times. The menu design isn't anything too striking but it's nicely in-theme and easy to navigate.

Extras:
This release came as a double disc set with a disc full of extras. The main feature has only one extra on it which is a 'reminiscence' piece that shows a lot of animation and story events from the video game, with Japanese text but subtitled in English. It's interesting to go back to that time when the CG animation was considered gorgeous cutting edge material. The second disc is filled with extras that will delight the hardcore fans. Similar to the main disc, there's a healthy selection of subtitles to choose from and most everything is in Japanese so you'll want to choose something. The deleted scenes section provides for eleven extended or recut scenes which have dialogue but tend to avoid sound effects and music. Some are brief, some expand a scene and others provide a bit more but overall they're mostly just pieces trimmed for time and a smoother presentation.

With the film showing in Venice for the yearly film festival there, footage used to show off the movie is included as an extra as well. It's a fascinating exercise in that they take the 101 minute movie and compress it down to twenty three minutes with credits " and one of the most fascinating end credits sequences I've scene at that. This cut of the film is obviously lacking in a lot of material but it's interesting to see how it's cut and worked over to give as much of the films core meaning screentime and still have something cohesive. Also included is a thirty six minute making of special that talks with a lot of the creative staff as well as the voice actors and goes into all aspects of the films creation. Trailers are included as well, from the first showings at the 2003 Tokyo Game Show up through the E3 2005 trailer that had the English narration. And to round things out, there's also the inclusion of various FF VII related game trailers.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Like many other people back in 1997, my first exposure to the Final Fantasy franchise came with the 30 minute or so demo of the Playstation game of Final Fantasy VII. At the time, the graphics were gorgeous, top of the line material and when the game came out it certainly occupied a lot of my time. As much fun as it was, it didn't carry over into the sequels at all and I've never actually returned to the franchise other than to see the flop of the Final Fantasy theatrical movie that nearly did Square under.

Advent Children takes place two years after the events of the game and it touches upon those events a bit as the film progresses. In the time since taking down the company that had a stranglehold on the planet in how it was manipulating its life energy, Cloud has moved on to become a delivery boy of sorts for his own business that he works with Tifa with. The two have taken in some orphans in that time but Cloud spends most of his time on the road or in the church where he keeps his remembrance of the one woman he failed horribly, Aerith. Tifa's been trying to get Cloud to open up more to her but he's still stuck in the past and can't quite make things work with each other. While the planet is seemingly recovering at least a little bit in the time since the Lifestream took action against Shinra, one of the things that's been introduced into the world is something called the Geostigma.

This disease seems to affect primarily kids as they get splotches along their bodies and it claims their lives after a relatively short battle. The disease is designed to kill and bring more of the life essence spread into humanity back into the Lifestream. At the same time, history seems to be repeating itself in the form of an avatar of Sephiroth's that's worked up a small group of followers. Kadaj has taken a couple under his wing and in the same tight black leather and powered with intriguing weapons, they take to their bikes and intend to hunt down Cloud who they consider their older brother in order to find their Mother. Mother is initially somewhat of a mystery but for anyone who follows the clues or played the game, it's clear that they're seeking out Jenova, the true villain of the game and the one that in a sense birthed all of this pain and suffering. The avatars of Sephiroth intend to finish what he couldn't and that road leads through Cloud and the numerous children with the Geostigma that they can warp to their cause.

In the first half of the film, we get a somewhat convoluted story that attempts to tell the key points of the game which directly affect things here while moving the new story forward. The cast is kept relatively small considering how many characters populate this particular universe but a lot of them do show up over the course of the film. Names are few and far between though outside of the core characters which makes it a bit difficult to connect with at times. The flashbacks to the previous events are well done for the most part but as is a common device, they're scattered throughout almost the entire film so those new to the franchise will be making some of the connections very late in the game.

Visually, the film is simply stunning. The motion capture approach isn't new and each time it gets applied seems to provide different but intriguing results. What we get here is a movie that at times is so close to being what could be considered real that it's hard to tell. There's an amazing amount of detail in the faces, clothing and backgrounds. Some of the close-ups of the faces are just startling to see how much is there and this is still just a film encoded at 480. The animators have done an incredible job here that in some ways tops what you get from the Hollywood CG films since this one, even in its most fantastical moments, has so much of what it does based in simple reality. From the clothes blowing in the wind, the detail of the leather or the layering of the hair, it's amazing.

As gorgeous as the animation is, some aspects of it were just plain unsettling. A lot of the action scenes are very well done, but when it comes to the one on one combat as opposed to bike chases and the like, it takes on such a hyper feel that it loses a lot of its realism. Now granted, it's basically a film extension of a video game and they're keeping true to the source material, but it just felt like a sharp shift from what it was doing before. In and of itself it wouldn't have been all that bad, but with the myriad number of quick cuts and edits, occasionally inserted flashbacks and so many movements looking like they were leapfrogs in how they jumped about, it almost made me laugh more than be wowed by what I was seeing.

The other problem that I really had with the film is that by the time it hit the halfway mark of about fifty minutes, it simply loses a lot of its steam. And that steam is lost at the time when it shifts from most of its storytelling attempts into one of straightforward action that just goes on and on until the end. Kadaj's summoning of the giant beast that attacks the city square as his pledges line around them is a massive action piece but it was also at that point that interest in what was going on. The first half introduces a lot of interesting material, material that I felt like you really had to know at least some of the game in order to appreciate, but it was things that I knew or could at least make the logical leap with. This isn't a film for those who don't have a familiarity with the franchise since I think that while they could make some of the leaps necessary for the story, a lot of the key elements would be lost.

In Summary:
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a visual and aural feast. This is the kind of film that should have been made several years ago and put into theaters here. But even then I think it would have been a critical failure simply due to the way the storytelling is executed here. The film is a big love song to fans of the original game and not something that stands alone. I don't think it can just be jumped into without any real knowledge beforehand without losing a lot of what makes this as powerful a piece as it is for those that it was made for. For that audience, this is almost a once in a life time kind of event and it's easy to see why it generated such hype and love from its fans. Being a casual fan, I can see that appeal but a lot of the weaknesses inherent in the film simply stand out too strongly to make it enjoyable. When I'm checking the countdown timer at the halfway mark and lost interest in the story, there's definitely trouble afoot.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,,French Subtitles,Spanish Subtitles,Portuguese Subtitles,Korean Subtitles,Thai Subtitles,Mandarin subtitles,Cantonese Subtitles,Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII Featurette (Story Digest of Original Game), The Distance: Making-of Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Venice Film Festival Footage, Sneak Peak of upcoming Final Fantasy VII games, Original Trailers.

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Toshiba HD-A1 Progressive Scan HD DVD player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
MSRP: 26.95
Running time: 101
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children