Painstakingly designed, hyperrealistically detailed and utterly impenetrable to everyone except fans of the original computer game on which it's based, CGI-fabricated tale "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children" reps a soulless slab of Japanimation -- neither a final installment nor exceptionally fantastic -- with little crossover potential.

This review was updated on Oct. 17, 2005.

Painstakingly designed, hyperrealistically detailed and utterly impenetrable to everyone except fans of the original computer game on which it’s based, CGI-fabricated tale “Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children” reps a soulless slab of Japanimation — neither a final installment nor exceptionally fantastic — with little crossover potential. A cinematic spin-off of the seventh in a series of 12 PlayStation “Final Fantasy” games (basis for 2001’s “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,”) pic intersperses confusingly edited shoot-‘em-up segments with the usual anime futuristic guff about haunted warriors, evil multinationals, and New Age claptrap. Far East should deliver best results, with cult status possible in sell-through.

Bright red, wolf like creatures, whose significance is never explained, gambol through a mountainous landscape before pic cuts deadpan to a black title card stating “498 years earlier…”, striking a humorous note, perhaps unintentional, sadly lacking in the rest of film.

A voiceover and accompanying images explain how the Earth’s “lifeforce” rose up and wiped out a whole load of bad guys some time before. Many survivors, particularly the film’s posse of cutesy orphans, are suffering from a mark-leaving disease called Geostigma.

In the devastated city of Midgar, blond hero Cloud (voiced by Takahiro Sakurai) runs a delivery service in association with super babe Tifa (voiced by upcoming ingenue Ayumi Ito) and others. While out in the outlying badlands one day, he runs afoul of a gang of three silvery-haired biker boys led by Kadaj. Kadaj wants to be reunited with his mother (seemingly some genetic thingy called Jenova that produced a race of super warriors).

Luring the orphans in Cloud’s care to a ruined city, Kadaj feeds them water that cures their Geostigma, but also turns them temporarily evil.

These sci-fi narrative stylings are merely irritating filler between battle sequences in which the animators show off swish new textures like smoke that becomes corporeal and flashy lighting effects that bounce off the semi-mechanical monsters under the bad guys’ control.

Centerpiece is a huge ruckus in the city center which pits Cloud and Co. against the Kadaj cadre and a dragon-like beast wearing samurai armor.

In typical computer-game style, each battle is with a yet more ferocious foe until Cloud finally faces off against the supposedly super-nasty Sephiroth from earlier in the franchise’s story.

Much attention seems to have been lavished on hair design, with some shots seemingly contrived solely to show off how well the tech department has thought out how hairdos will be buffeted by g-forces while characters ride motorcycles or tumble through space.

Little attention, however, has been paid to designing the action so that it unfolds in a mappable environment, or to crafting a story accessible to those unfamiliar with the “Final Fantasy” backstory. Although skin texture is photorealistic, the characters’ faces, as is often the case in Japanese anime, have a limited range of expressions.

Hyperactive editing further frustrates general comprehension. Music by Nobuo Uematsu alternates between sparse piano noodlings, pop metal thrashings and cloying power ballads for the closing credits.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Japan

Production

A Sony Pictures release of a Square Enix Co. production. (International sales: Patrick Chen, Tokyo.) Produced by Yoshinori Kitase, Shinji Hashimoto. Directed by Tetsuya Nomura. Co-directed by Takeshi Nozue. Screenplay, Kazushige Nojima.

Crew

Camera (color), Nozue Takeshi; editor, Kenji Kijima; music, Nobuo Uematsu; art director, Yuusuke Naora; main character designer, Nomura; mechanic, creature designer, Takayuki Takeya; sound designer (Dolby Digital), Shojiro Nakaoka. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (non-competing), Aug. 30, 2005. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Takahiro Sakurai, Ayumi Ito, Shotaro Morikubo. (Japanese dialogue)

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