Francesca, a trilingual FF7 fan gives her report of the Venice Film Festival (Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica 2005) world premier of the movie.
The following first person review was written by guest contributor Francesca Zambon. The review will contain spoilers, otherwise known as information best ignored if you want to be surprised when watching the movie. Read at your own risk.
Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica 2005
So here I am, ready to leave for Venice on the 29th of August, Monday. The ticket sales start tomorrow morning and I want to be there by the time the office opens. Since I study Japanese at the University there, Venice is a familiar place for me, but the upcoming Venice Film Festival adds an unusual, pleasant note to the atmosphere of the city I know so well. At sunset most of the tourists leave or go back to their hotels and I finally am left to appreciate its beauty to the fullest.
After a night of very little sleep, I finally decide that I might as well get up since it's 6:00am. The office opens at 8:00am and I will have all the time I need to take the vaporetto from the island of Giudecca, walk there and have breakfast at ease while I wait. The streets are strangely empty as I walk and the chilly morning air runs pleasantly on my skin. Nobody is there and while I am quietly sitting and waiting on a bench, I meet my senpai.
"I suppose you're going there", he tells me while smiling and pointing to the office's direction. I nod, smiling back and together we go to the door. We're the first in line. I thank God I met him because not only does the office open half an hour late but they also have problems with the ticket printer. We then chat about worries and expectations regarding the movie. We both expected many more people to be there and wondered how many of them have gone to the Lido ticket office intead. By the time we finish it's nearly 10:00am.
I spend the next two days in happy anticipation and then the time finally comes. I'm very excited and nervous. There is no doubt that visuals for the film are going to be great, we've all seen that in the trailers. What I'm really worried about is the plotline. I suspect it's going to be nothing but a big fanservice show of all the characters fighting in cool new outfits and I pray to the Gods that it is not so. Besides, there's no point in admiring good looking trailers when it's a bad movie, right?
I decide to put on my prettiest black dress for the premier. While my friend and I are traveling on the vaporetto, I try to explain Final Fantasy VII's storyline to him. He hasn't played the game yet and I suspect the movie will be utterly impossible to understand for those who don't know what happens in game.
We arrive, meet up with my other senpai and together we wait for the Sala Grande to open. The movie begins at 00:45am. There's a small Japanese troupe taking pictures but no major TV cameras or reporters. Only the Japanese seem interested in this... Finally, the Sala Grande opens and we all take our places while the movie staff parades on the red catwalk, shown on the screen. There are five people, among which I recognize Tetsuya Nomura, Takeshi Nozue (co-director), Yoshinori Kitase, Takahiro Sakurai (Cloud's voice actor) and Ayumi Ito (Tifa's voice actress). There's a brief interview in which they express their hope the public will like the movie and finally they enter the hall, welcomed by applause.
Contrary to our expectations the hall is by no means full – at least one quarter of the seats is empty, possibly because of the very late screening time and we feel somewhat sorry for the staff, coming from so far. It seems most of the audience are fans and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, with a lot of smiles. I notice only one cosplayer, a girl in a nice Kadaj outfit. The majority of the audience, however, seems to be composed of males, I suppose because they tend to make up most of the gaming populace.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
The picture opens to Red XIII and his cubs. In a faithful remake of the game's very last FMV (Full Motion Video) they look down upon an abandoned Midgar 500 years after the events that led to the final fight against Sephiroth in the Northern Crater. Then a brief flashback entitled Reminescence takes the stage. It's a sequence of images accompanied by Marlene's voiceover to refresh everyone's memories in anticipation of the upcoming events.
The movie's audio is in Japanese, with both Italian and English subtitles. The Italian ones being, in my opinion, more faithful to the original. Voiceovers are quite good, with actors carefully chosen to convey the characters' personalities. Reno and Cloud in my opinion being just perfect for their roles. The only voice leaving me slightly perplexed is Vincent's because of its very low pitch contrasting with his bishounen (pretty) appearance.
We soon find out that Tifa has a brand new Seventh Heaven bar to tend. The place also seems to be a refuge for children stricken by Geostigma. Despite Tifa taking incoming phone calls for his Strife Delivery Service which also operates from her bar, Cloud is no longer there. He currently lives in the church where Aerith used to grow flowers. Still haunted by the memory of her, he travels alone on his motorbike and secludes himself from company, unable to find peace.
Despite what little flashbacks there are, Advent Chidren is – just as I thought – completely impenetrable for those who did not play the game or didn't make any effort to grasp its extremely convoluted storyline. Advent Children simply cannot stand on its own because it was never meant to. This is no surprise for something that was originally conceived as a 20-minute long special only starring Cloud and Tifa for fans. It slowly slipped out of its creator's control until it became a full-fledged movie.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is definitely aimed at players. The overall impression is that of a big special: beautifully designed, painstakingly carried out and conceived with a lot of grandeur, but a special nonetheless. No explanation whatsoever is given as for who Cloud and the rest of the Final Fantasy VII team are, or for who Sephiroth is at that. This may be good for fans who don't want to see a lot of flashbacks regarding events they already know, but basically precludes understanding – and so probably enjoyment – for all the rest.
Luckily, it's an enjoyable special. Fanservice is not all there is to it. As the story unfolds I realize, being part of the designated audience, that I am thoroughly enjoying myself. The characters that receive the deepest degree of insight and development are, as it is to be expected, those of Cloud, Tifa and little Marlene. Since fights take up a lot of screen time, there hardly is room for more. All the other members of the AVALANCHE team make their appearance to help the blonde hero in his struggle, but I personally was hoping they would be on screen longer to do – and say – more.
Despite Cait Sith fighting along (but hitching a ride on Nanaki/Red XIII instead of his usual stuffed Moogle), for instance, former Shinra member Reeve, who guides the toy cat from a distance, remains no more than a voice speaking on Cloud's cell phone (and I believe I heard Cid curse only once!).
The two Turks, Reno and Rude, have quite the roles in the movie. They appear more than, say, Yuffie or Barret. Reno is somewhere between totally idiotic and totally cool, he constantly involves Rude (who vainly tries to maintain his cold professional appearance) in most of his jokes. (Man, I like Reno. A lot.)
The only notable exception for this is Vincent, whose appearance is really stunning. His tattered red cape looks like a spray of blood when we first see him. He reveals powers and knowledge we didn't even know he possessed in the game. However, Vincent does not reveal how he got a hold of either his new powers or his information, bringing up another one of the movie's most debatable points: the plotholes.
Many unanswered questions from Final Fantasy VII have their solutions found in Advent Children but many, even bigger ones are opened and left for the viewer to conjecture upon. We find out Rufus survived the Diamond Weapon blast, but we do not know how, nor why he doesn't look scarred except from the marks left by Geostigma. It is not revealed why Vincent seems to know everything that's going on long before Cloud himself does. We are told what the Silver Haired Men are – Sephiroth "larvae", amongst which Kadaj is bound to physically transform into him once the Reunion with Jenova is completed – but not where they come from or how they originated (as they have ages which point to around 20 years previous). We are left without a clue as to how the Turks got hold of Jenova's head, which had been ripped off and stolen by Sephiroth seven years previous and whose whereabouts in the meantime remain unknown. We don't know how Tseng (surprise, surprise!) - whom we thought had been left to die in the Temple of the Ancients - managed to survive Sephiroth/Jenova's stab and not be turned into the Black Materia along with Cait Sith no.1 and the rest of the Temple. This was the best surprise in the film for me, because I really never saw it coming.
While a small part of these gaps (notably, those about Vincent) are likely to be filled in the upcoming Playstation2 game Dirge of Cerberus, all the rest, as Nomura clearly stated, are not going to be dealt with in that title. With the gaps being so many, and so huge, I'm left wondering if they will receive some kind of explanation in Crisis Core (the upcoming PSP game of which not much is known yet), or if another title is going to be added to the so-called Compilation of Final Fantasy VII sooner or later. Speaking of which, Nomura does not deny the possibility of another movie in the future.
Graphics are, of course, at their very best. Despite the claim for realism, the characters' features are nonetheless slightly cartoonistic, with larger, shinier eyes than a real person has, and have some minor faults – try looking at the napes of their necks for instance. Facial expressions, though looking quite stiff in screenshots, work out fine once animated. Animations themselves are, as it is to be expected, extremely fluid and almost perfectly natural (despite fight sequences having exaggerated motions).
Visually stunning scenes and special effects abound, the best of them being shown, of course, in battles. Of these, the battle against the gigantic, raging Bahamut Sin summoned by Kadaj shows all of our heroes together, while the final showdown against Sephiroth is fought by Cloud alone. It's obviously the most spectacular, greatly conceived battle of the movie, with breathtaking special effects. This – and the few scenes in which we get to see, even for the briefest moment, Aerith's full face – is what is closest in the picture to fanservice, since it's what the most hardcore fans have been waiting for for years – a long, magnificent one-on-one battle to the death. Despite all the fighting scenes, violence in Advent Children is not graphic, and there is very little bloodshed to be seen.
There even are some small Easter Eggs for the viewer to find. There's a sign advertising WRO, the "World Reconstruction Organization" led by Reeve in Dirge of Cerberus and described by Kazushige Nojima in the On the Way to a Smile online novella, which explains the events between the Final Fantasy VII game and Advent Children. What seems to be Nomura's scribbles hanging on the walls of Tifa's room are supposedly drawings by Marlene, and they look like those found on the Final Fantasy VII (JP intl) extra disc. Nomura cleverly filled the movie with numerous metaphors and symbolic elements for the viewer to notice and single out, some of which only the fans can understand. One of them being the mysterious, brown-furred wolf that seems to follow Cloud from afar and in which some claimed to recognize as Zacks' spirit.
The soundtrack actually exceeded my expectations. Not only we get to hear the beautiful, heart-moving song that is on the official Japanese Advent Children main website, but many other themes familiar to the player have been thoroughly rearranged by Nobuo Uematsu and his musical team. Amongst those, one can recognize Tifa's and Aerith's themes, the classic Final Fantasy Prologue Theme (that is always played during the ending credits), at least two boss battle themes (one of which, if I remember correctly, is J.E.N.O.V.A.), and of course, the magnificent One Winged Angel, now in a fresh new heavy metal arrangement and sporting new lyrics. There is also a small, hilarious guest appearance by the Victory Fanfare theme.
The plot is smooth and quick. It can be followed easily by those who have a good amount of game knowledge. Scenes zoom by fast in the style of videoclips, but not so much as to be hard to understand. If the movie has a fault in this regard, it is that of looking like it was made out of many different, initially unrelated scenes sewn together as an afterthought, which is probably exactly the way it was conceived in the first place. There is a certain amount of twists and surprises, while even some comic relief, mostly provided by Reno and Rude. One unforgettable scene occurs when Reno steps on Rude's sunglasses after they both are knocked to the ground and he crushes them. Rude looks positively shocked for a second or two, then gets up nonchalantly, fumbles in his pocket and pulls out another perfectly identical pair.
Advent Children has an open ending. The only decisive change in the characters' attitudes towards each other is that of Cloud who eventually overcomes his feelings of guilt over Aerith' death, so that he can finally look forward to a whole new life of hope. As for our favorite ghost's role on the film, it is that of a sort of protective, caring spiritual guide that acts via the Lifestream. She is able to send her voice to Cloud's mind and even physically help him when the need arises. But she is dead, and mercifully stays so. In one of the final scenes, we can see her walking away with Zacks – towards the Promised Land, it seems, marking the definitive separation between them and the world of the living. Suggesting that a new peace of mind can now come to Cloud. He and the children have survived, and what once used to be Aerith' flower patch in the Church, is now turned into a sparkling pool of Lifestream which provides healing from Geostigma for everyone.
We cannot even say whether the protagonists have finally got rid of Jenova once and for all. But from the final words of Sephiroth before turning back into Kadaj ("I will never be just a memory..."), it seems like the final showdown of Sephiroth & Jenova versus The Rest Of The Planet could still not have taken place.
The end credits roll to a standing ovation and the lights go on. Despite whatever slight faults the movie might have, I feel fulfilled and we express our warm appreciation to the staff, including what seems to be a very sleepy Nomura. It's very late by now and he's probably already seen every single scene to death, but he's still smiling. Then suddenly the lights go out again and we realize there is still something to see: a bonus clip in which Cloud rides his motorbike through beautiful natural landscapes (showing Final Fantasy VII locations), accompanied by the notes of a song with lyrics which Nomura himself wrote.
"I'm not alone anymore" Cloud says. From the sound of that, we realize that he finally considers Tifa and the others as his family now, and that he's probably going home to them.
Now it's really over. We finally get up and after another standing ovation, we leave the Sala Grande. At one of the two exits the Japanese troupe is standing and taking shots, but unfortunately I choose the other path.
So what's my judgment for the movie overall? From a fan's point of view, definitely positive. Advent Children lived up to my expectations. I was always extremely careful not to hype the movie too much for myself. Despite being a HUGE fan of the series, I kept myself from expecting too much. With the soundtrack being even better than I thought (not that I was thinking Uematsu would fail us just yet...) and the graphics really deserving to be shown on wide screen, I can't help but feel sorry for those, the large majority it seems, who will only be able to see it on a television.
The plotline was well conceived – at least for a 100-minute long movie – and left little room for boredom, despite some passages that bear little originality. One of such passages being Aerith sending Cloud back from death by telling him there's no room for him in the Lifestream. Scenes like these which everyone has seen in movies and stories elsewhere already. There was even one almost Dragonballesque moment, where Cloud is flying through Bahamut Sin's blast encased in an energy shell. I must warn fans to not expect too much development. It's a very short movie and there is not as much room to grow in, whereas the videogame dialogue and interactions can span the length of a book.
Heading home, my friends and I walk back to the vaporetto while chattering about what we've just witnessed. It seems both my senpai – who had been fans for a much longer time than I – liked Advent Children quite a lot, and they are the types of people who never let fandom obliterate their critical senses. In other words, had they thought that the movie plain sucked, they wouldn't have hesitated a second to say so, but they seem almost as happy I am with the movie. Good sign. "Rufus was really cool with all those bandages" one of them jokes. "After all the bandage Rei Ayanami craze, I can see the bandage Rufus fandom coming!" We all laugh out loud.
When I finally get home it's 5:00am in the morning and the friend who is letting me stay in her room (who is a fan as well) is awake. We agreed that before I leave, that I write her a note saying whether the film would be good or not but she wastes no time and asks me right away. "Go see it, I liked it." I happily say, and then I go to bed nursing my "Advent Children feet" - I had been walking a lot and my high-heeled shoes are so nasty.
The following day I go to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum to meet my professor. She is my graduation thesis supervisor and she works there in the press office. Being the extremely nice and talkative person she is, and knowing that my thesis subject, Yoshitaka Amano, is a Final Fantasy image illustrator, she is happy to chat with me about the movie.
"I put the bill on my thesis expenses", I say while laughing. "Even though it actually had little to do with him!"
"See," she answers smiling casually like it was nothing, "Harrison Ford has just left, he was here for the Film Festival and he wanted to see the museum!" Then she looks at one of the Amano Final Fantasy VII pictures I put in my thesis. The one of Cloud and Red XIII. "This is coming out beautifully! The picture quality is amazing." she praises. This is definitely my week!
Now I'm back home in Vicenza and having a whole world of fun. I spend most of my time online answering questions about the premier and I've even been asked to write a report for a nice videogame and culture site run mostly by girls. How could I refuse? As the days go by, I feel like I want to see Advent Children again. Tomorrow night there's another screening in Mestre. Maybe I could...
Author: Francesca "KoShiatar" Zambon
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Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children