Science fiction films set in the aftermath of an earthly apocalypse often fail to fully imagine the future, which is not the case with "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within." There's an eerie feeling imparted from the get-go: Both the computer-generated humans and the environment they inhabit fall somewhere between animation and live action, creating an ultra-vivid alternate reality. In both tone and style, "The Spirits Within" resembles Japanese anime (even echoing familiar themes of ecology versus technology), and director Hironobu Sakaguchi pushes computer animation beyond safe, kid-friendly fare.
Where it falters is on the script level. Screenwriters Al Reinert ("Apollo 13") and Jeff Vintar have distilled so many familiar science-fiction plot lines that nothing exists thematically to rival the groundbreaking visuals. They also fail to fully explain the film's philosophical construct (which concerns the eternal energy of all living things).
Decades after a meteor hits the earth and unleashes an unquenchable army of ghostly alien creatures (who kill by sucking out their victim's life force), the remaining humans live in a series of protected environments, where an internal battle is brewing: General Hein (voice of James Woods) wants to utilize his massive arsenal to destroy the invaders, while scientists Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) believe in healing the planet by rounding up a series of powerful "spirits" (the precise nature of which remains elusive).
Every frame of "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" is inventive and stunning, but the film takes too long in establishing the specific rules of its world, many of which are quickly reversed when the action heats up. The film's greatest success is in portraying the fully realized heroine, Aki, whose dreams seek unity between humans and aliens, and may contain nothing short of a new collective unconscious.