I would like to start this article off by talking about the diversity of people I saw on Monday: how people from all walks of life, young and old, male, female, all turned up to see Advent Children on the big screen. I'd like to, but I can't, because the vast majority of the people in line to see it were exactly what one would expect: Teenaged and young adults, nearly all male, a good deal of which who wore either Final Fantasy, anime or equally nerdy clothing. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
So what is all this about? On Monday, April 4, 2006, Square Enix and Sony Pictures hosted a premiere event-slash-screening in Hollywood for their (finally) soon to be released movie sequel to the best-selling Final Fantasy game of all time: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Not only was this to be the one and only time it will be shown in U.S. theaters, the screening was being done at the Arclight Cinemas Cinerama Dome. To say the dome and its screen are massive is an understatement. Oh, and tickets were free.
As the only attending member of RPGFan, I arrived at the theater around 1:15. This will give you an idea how many people turned out for the event. They had begun hanging out tickets at noon, and by the time I arrived, they were out. The screening was at 7PM. Part of the reason, as we learned inside, was that the line began forming at 2AM the previous night. There was, however, room for 'stand by' - so if come seven, there were unclaimed tickets, we'd get in. As the fifth non-ticket holder, I felt my chances were good. Unfortunately that meant sitting on the sidewalk of Ivar St. - sometimes in light rain - for almost six hours to find out. I was tempted to simply go in the theater and see another movie to pass time, but I didn't want to lose my place. I was so thankful I had my DS and Tetris DS on hand, otherwise I'd have been staring at the mural on the side of Amoeba Music all day. Of course, being able to truly see the DS screen in the daytime, even while overcast, was a struggle.
Not that I was the only one: I lost count of how many Game Boy Advances and DSes I saw in that line. I didn't, however, lose count of PSPs - there were two, so take that as you will. A couple of enterprising - and no doubt bored - guys in front of me took a trip to a local Rite Aid while their friends waited, and bought a few folding chairs and a CD boombox to ease the wait. Plus, hey, 3 chairs for $10 is a hell of a deal. Um, anyway. Sometime between the halfway mark and the point where time lost all meaning, a Ford truck sporting Monster Energy graphics stopped at the curb of the now one-block-long line and started handing out Monsters. Apparently this wasn't even part of the event or planned; The driver just saw a large group of people and asked if we all wanted some free drinks. Now THAT is good advertising. The guy behind me in line then made a joke to his friends about how he could open the can with his tooth since it's... super sharp or something. All of a sudden I'm sprayed with energy drink as he bites into the side of the can and sucks the contained liquid in a very vampire-esque fashion.
Are you tired of hearing about my time in line? You might wanna skip down then. Around 6:30 people were being let in while some of us stood by patiently. By now we were around the front of the building and could see the lights and cameras of the press. I couldn't tell you what celebrities arrived outside of some of the movie's cast and production staff, but there were plenty of limos: one of the last being something that's probably not commonplace outside of California, but something we're used to - A Hummer H2 limo. Each limousine that passed elicited "Who's that!?" from someone in line. When the H2 passed, someone chimed in, "It's Cloud!" and a bunch of people played along and got excited. When the first of us got tickets, a few people sung the FFVII victory theme and held their tickets in the air. It's always refreshing to see fans who aren't afraid to make fun of... themselves, really. 'Cause let's face it, in every fandom there are some scary people. Speaking of scary, the man who seemed to be in charge of security? Think of Agent Smith from The Matrix, but with Neo's coat. A 6' plus man with slicked back hair, an earpiece for covert communication and a steely gaze that would make children cry, it's no wonder nobody got out of hand.
The following paragraph is where those of you who skipped the rest of my questionable writing will want to start.
Let me start by saying the Dome theater is gigantic. Huge. Massive. I knew it had seating for up to 800 people, but it's something you have to see for yourself (which is why I didn't take photos), and has a screen that makes an IMAX screen look small. The presentation started a little late, but the woman hosting it was very professional and courteous about it. I'm not actually sure if she works for Square Enix or Sony Pictures, but I'd imagine the former. She talked a bit about the movie, and mentioned that Final Fantasy VII is still the best-selling game in the series with sales surpassing 9 million units worldwide. After this, the curtains opened and we were treated with two brand-new Square Enix trailers before the movie.
First was Kingdom Hearts II, which got huge applause at just the first scene, which only escalated as it went on. Like most people, I've yet to finish the game myself, let alone make a significant dent in it, so I was surprised at how freely they revealed things in this trailer for a game that's only been out for about five days. I've thankfully forgotten most of it, but I don't think one could create a more spoiler-laden trailer if they tried. It was beautiful, exciting and moving. Whenever a Final Fantasy character popped up, the crowd cheered - you can imagine which characters got the loudest. Impressive as it was... wow, spoilers.
Second was another never-before-seen trailer, this time for Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII. There's still clearly work to be done on the localization, since all the speech was still in Japanese and subtitled. The FMV cutscenes shown impressively matched Advent Children not only in design, but in quality. Gameplay footage was sandwiched between an FMV opening and ending, and while the game looks 'cool', nothing shown has me convinced it can compete with other action-based games, let alone the one we just saw a trailer for, which oozes with so much style, anything pales in comparison. Fun to watch though, and it looks like if not for the gameplay, it will be worth playing for the story.
So how was the movie? I'm sure a good deal of you have already seen it in some fashion by now, be it a DVD import or... other means. For the rest of you, I personally think the movie is very good. I'm a Final Fantasy fan, but not obsessive about most of them, let alone FFVII, so there's not much bias in there. Is it as rich and epic as the game that came before it? Of course not. You can't typically expect a 90 minute film to even come close to a 40+ hour RPG in terms of depth and scope - that's not even a quality issue, it's simply a matter of time. The real question is, is it worth seeing for more than the visuals? And I say yes. The focus is on a smaller cast now, but it's an interesting story and especially in terms of Cloud's journey, one I remained interested in. But if you can't get into it, yes, it is pretty. I have never seen CGI of this caliber, as the production values are outstanding. To compete with Advent Children visually... that'll be awhile. While this sounds like PR spiel, there actually are a number of shots that when you first see them, look astoundingly real, as if someone just took a camera and sat it down in Midgar.
Acting. Good. Opinions will vary wildly on the dub as they always do, but I've seen plenty of dubs, and this one was quality. Steve Burton is once again the voice of Cloud, following his portrayal of the spiky one in Kingdom Hearts, and couldn't have been better cast. Rachael Leigh Cook, or as I like to call her, the most gorgeous woman alive, voices Tifa - who by the way, officially, yes, is "tee-fa" and not "tiff-a" as some people think. Mena Suvari plays... someone (you should know by now), and I feel better she does so better than some people think. I really can't say much about the actors without saying who they play, and if you know nothing about the movie, that could be spoiler territory, which I won't get into. In short, every voice fits their character very well and with one exception was so close to how I imagined them speaking anyway, it felt natural. That exception is Vincent, who spoke deeper and more gravely than I thought, but once I got used to it, I just wanted him to talk more, since he sounds great.
And then it was over and we went home. No, not really. Four people on the production staff were invited to the stage to say a few words. Unfortunately, they were introduced and came up separately so I don't even know who was who, save for director and character designer Tetsuya Nomura. Each of them had their own words to say that were translated by our host to English, but the gist of all of it was along the lines of "We all worked hard on this movie, and are proud to present it to you in English." They all seemed impressed, if not humbled by the following in this country, and thanked everyone for being there. The acting trio mentioned above was also on stage to say a few words. Steve Burton took the mic and talked about how honored he was to have the part of Cloud, a character that is simply 'awesome' to him, and beloved by so many fans. He went on to thank his manager and his father for helping him get into acting in the first place. Rachael was second, and echoed some of Steve's thoughts, but also said something I'll never forget. She said she felt lucky to have been a part of something like this. That she so appreciates and loves the movie on an artistic level. She talked about how she was amazed at the fan following and reaction to their work, and closed by saying, "Tonight, I'm the fan." (And if I didn't love her already, that would have done it.) It's easy to see where that comes from: Not only at the closing credits (both sets), but at most key moments, and even just the movie's logo on screen resulted in a great deal of cheering. Mena Suvari finished and well, basically said what Steve said about honor.
The final part of the event was a prize giveaway. Under ten seats were pieces of paper with checkmarks or stars on them, which entitled that person to a prize bag. The eight checkmark people walked away with an AC calendar from Japan, a brochure for the Japanese premiere signed by Tetsuya Nomura and a selection of Logitech PSP accessories. The two big winners got these things, along with an actual PSP and selection of games. You could nearly feel the jealousy in the air from the non-winners down in front, but everyone had a good time. And if anyone WAS sad about missing out, that feeling went away when we left the building, as all attendees got a gift bag that contained a mini-poster for the movie, and the complete Japanese import soundtrack, which I own, but is a hell of a thing to give out to people at a free screening.
After braving the sea of people grabbing their bags and leaving, I saw something I thought I'd have seen already but surprisingly hadn't: Cosplay. I was all ready to count the people dressed as Cloud and Sephiroth in the line but saw not one person in costume. Here, at the end of the night, there was a girl dressed as Rikku. Final Fantasy X-2 Rikku. And I'm sorry guys, but I didn't get a photo.
So was the evening worth missing half a day at work and sitting on the sidewalk for five hours in Hollywood where no less than 40 people on the street rolled down their windows and asked, "Hey, what are you guys in line for?" only to look puzzled when told? Yes. Even if the movie hadn't been good, seeing it in a room full of fans - who by the way, WERE from all walks of life, in contrast to what the line appeared like outside - was an amazing experience. If it truly does end up being the only time the movie will be shown in English in a theater too, then I'm glad I got to be a part of it. Plus you know, Rachael.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children will be in stores April 25th on both the PSP's UMD format and a special edition 2-disc DVD set.