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John Wilson


Artificial Creation: Final Fantasy

When the film industry was in its infancy, the mere presence of "moving pictures" was enough to keep audiences spellbound. A pre-1900 viewer marveled at a film that simply showed a seashore: amazing, he said, how much the waves on the screen resembled real waves. The same was true of early animation, as Hugh Kenner observes in his wonderful book Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings:

Moviegoers had a passion. … for nothing more subtle than the sheer illusion of motion. It sufficed that on a wavery screen they saw—galloping horses! (And therein lay the germ of the Western.) Chuck Jones remembers when it was hilarious if an animated walker just hopped once in a while, an effect he's used himself in several films. A story? That could emerge from whatever some animator happened to think of next.

A similar logic seems to have been at work in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the first animated feature in which the protagonists are "played" by nearly lifelike digital actors. Is it enough simply to watch animated characters who look so uncannily real—and never mind the cobbled-together story, the excruciating dialogue? Not just the characters, for that matter, but also the ravaged streets of post-apocalypse New York, the lifting rockets, the dreamscapes with their preternatural clarity of detail, realer than real, like the great sci-fi cover art of Paul Lehr and John Berkey and Robert Andre. (And isn't the banality of the title and subtitle sufficient warning for those who wouldn't be satisfied by skin of almost human texture?) Maybe it is enough. But in any case there's another compelling reason to pay attention.

The front page of The New York Times for July 17 showed the interior of the first artificial heart. (In its June 23 issue, The Economist reports that "every part of the human body is being studied to see how it can be replicated artificially.") The cover of the August issue of Wired shows the wheelchair-bound writer John Hockenberry coming at you, ...

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