Review: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children hits Blu-ray with 20 minutes of new footage

The Final Fantasy series of videogames hit pop-culture critical mass in 1997 with Final Fantasy VII, an exceptionally engaging PlayStation RPG built around a series of lavishly detailed, highly theatrical CG cutscenes. Gamers loved the game's iconic characters, its mixture of angst and hope and its classic depiction of misguided good struggling against calculated evil.

A film version seemed inevitable, and we got one in 2001's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The movie looked great, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the games (particularly not the still-popular FFVII), and it bombed extremely hard.

The big-budget film's total lack of connection to FFVII never made sense to me, because it seemed painfully obvious that fans really wanted more of Cloud vs. Sephiroth, more of the good stuff that made the game so replayable. Fortunately, cooler heads eventually prevailed, and three years back a creative team headed by FFVII art director Tetsuya Nomura convened and came up with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (Sony Pictures, $38.96), a persistently watchable followup to the original game's story.

To the film's credit, it takes some risks in re-establishing the characters and storyline from the original media. Cloud Strife saved the world from certain destruction in the game, but he doesn't live the life of a pampered hero; Midgar, the world's blighted capital, still lies in ruins, with the old residents setting up shop and getting on with their lives around the edges. Cloud operates a courier business with his old flame, Tifa Lockheart, but keeping busy and even taking care of a couple of adopted children doesn't do much to improve his dour mood or dispel his disillusionment. But then the children of the city start coming down with a mysterious illness, and Cloud and company are harried by three strange men sporting long black coats and wearing pallid complexions and silvery hair. Yep, these villains are connected to Sephiroth, and it looks like they're trying to finish the world-shattering work he began in the original game.

If you haven't played Final Fantasy VII or don't remember it all that well, don't sweat it. Director Nomura, who also helped craft big videogame hits like Kingdom Hearts and The World Ends With You, is a character designer by trade, and in this film—his directorial debut—he readily places style and visual impact well ahead of plot development. Much of the time his approach works just fine; the movie is tied together by a series of big action set pieces, and every single one of them is mouth-watering to look at.

On the other hand, the film's story does surprisingly little in the way of tying up loose ends from the game, and there isn't much under the hood of its "bad guys try to resurrect evil from the old days" framework. Most of all, this is a movie about Cloud and Tifa and Sephiroth and maybe Aerith, Cloud's lost love interest from the game. But there's a point in the film where Nomura remembers that there were a good half-dozen supporting characters in the game, and they all come piling back in without rhyme or reason.

This movie was a major hit upon its initial U.S. release in 2006. The reason we're getting it again, under the title Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete, is because Nomura and company actually went back to the drawing board for the high-definition version, adding more than 20 minutes of new footage, re-rendering key scenes and even re-recording some dialogue. The Blu-ray release is rounded off with a featurette about Denzel, one of Cloud's adopted kids, and a nifty trailer for the much-anticipated Final Fantasy XIII.

In the final analysis, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete is a big treat for fans of the original game, and for anyone raring to see fantastic battles rendered in CG animation. However, like most treats, it's sugary and not that interesting once you've had a few big bites. Still, the movie bears watching, especially in sparkling 1080p; I watched Advent Children for the third and fourth times in preparing this review, and I would not hesitate to watch it again in spite of its flaws.

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