'Final Fantasy' uploading from game to pic to sequel

HONOLULU — Director Hironobu Sakaguchi plans to begin production on a second film based on the videogame franchise “Final Fantasy” immediately upon completion of “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” next year.

The creator of the vidgame series that has generated sales of more than 30 million units worldwide is directing Square Pictures’ first big-budget computer-generated film version of the game.

Pic, to be distributed by Columbia in mid-July, has been in development for four years at Square’s studio in Honolulu.

The second film should take only about two-thirds of the production time as the team of 20 computer scientists and engineers and 150 digital artists have developed proprietary software and techniques that can be used again, according to producer Jun Aida.

Few movie adaptations of videogames have had much success, but Sakaguchi said the movie versions of “Final Fantasy” will provide completely new experiences.

Although there will be action sequences featuring spaceships and aliens, Sakaguchi has placed great emphasis on the film’s emotional context. A love story develops between the lead character, the scientist Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na of “ER”) and special forces team leader Captain Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) in the year 2065 when Earth has been ravaged by war. Ving Rhames, James Woods, Steve Buscemi and Peri Gilpin also provide voices for the first pic.

Sakaguchi plans on pushing the envelope of computer animation even further with his second film. Square hopes its CG films will establish the Japanese company in Hollywood as the premiere digital animation studio.

(Gaudiosi is a reporter for Variety sister publication Video Business.)

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