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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
(Single Disc)

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 106 minutes

Starring the voices of: Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Donald Sutherland, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Keith David

Written by: Al Reinert and Jeff Vintar

Directed by: Hironobu Sakaguchi
Co-Directed by: Motonori Sakakibara

 

Studio: Columbia/Tri-Star

Retail Price: $19.95

Features: Audio Commentary with Co-Director Moto Sakakibara, Sequence Supervisor Hiroyuki Hayashida, Sets and Props Lead Artist Tatsuro Maruyama and Phantom Supervisor Takoo Noguchi, Audio Commentary with Animation Director Andy Jones, Editor Chris S. Capp and Staging Director Tari Kunitake, Isolated Score with Audio Commentary by Composer Elliot Goldenthal, Boards/Blasts with Optional Audio Commentary and Optional Subtitle Factoids, Production Notes, Theatrical Trailers

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Closed Captions, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Scene Selections (28 Scenes)

Released: August 27th, 2002

 

 

It's always hard to translate something with a specific audience into a big screen movie. Video games, of course, are no exception. Every single one of them seem to suck in the story department, and it's amazing if they can actually stay true to the game. Also, they always tend to bomb at the box office. Why? Is it because they have small audience? Is it because they are so poorly made? Who knows. The summer of 2001 has brought us two video game films. "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" that despite terrible reviews, seemed to stay true to the game and a was a giant hit for Paramount. The other, "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" is based on the incredibly popular role-playing video game series that has spawned one franchise and is one of the most successful video game series of all time. A thing to note about the "Final Fantasy" movie though is that it is a groundbreaking feature film with some of the most realistic CGI animation you will ever see. The film has been in the making for a very long time and cost a bundle to produce. The film bombed at the box office and was one of the summer of 2001's biggest disappointments, and it did so bad it caused Square Pictures, who created the film, to close down. So how well does "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" stack up in the story department? Is it yet another movie where the effects are more impressive then the story but yet somehow it evens itself out? I'm a big fan of the game series myself as they do feature some incredible stories, music, graphics and gameplay. So let us see how the movie lives up to the games...

The film takes place in the year 2065, on earth, where aliens are about to take over the world completely and destroy mankind. It's up to Dr. Aki Ross to find eight spirits to hopefully secure a force to get rid of the aliens and save the planet. As she re-teams with her friend Gray Edwards and the Deep Eyes Squadron, Aki keeps having dreams. What do they mean? However, with all this, is the evil General Hein who has some different ideas to get rid of the aliens, even if it means taking the whole world with him.

It should be noted that "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" is not directly based one of the actual video game titles of the series. Basically, the only thing that makes this a "video game movie" is the fact that the company who makes the game, Square, is directly responsible for the film's production and the words "Final Fantasy" are in the title. Yes, you could probably just call this "Computer Animated Sci-Fi Movie" since there is real no direct link to the video game as far as characters, plots or music goes. That's right, without the name "Final Fantasy" there is no connection whatsoever, it really could have been just any theatrical film on the market (that could be argued, as there is a character named "Sid" in the movie, but in the games it's spelled "Cid" and that Sakaguci was always a driving force in the franchise). I found that to be bothersome personally, because they have been hyping this up as the film of the game series and making a big deal out of it when it really just could have been any movie out there. I guess it's to bring in an audience. Yes, I did know when walking in it wouldn't be based on any of the games, but at a much earlier time Square was planning to make "Final Fantasy X" a game that would be based on the movie to tie-in, but those plans were obviously scrapped to my major disappointment. That would have worked so much better for me, and I'm sure for a lot of other fans of the game series. It would have a direct feeling that it is based on an actual game. Of course, they would have had to GREATLY expand the plot from a near two hour film which I guess could be tricky to do, but I bet they could have done it. Oh well, that ends that.

I mentioned the computer animation earlier, and how groundbreaking the film is in that sense. Sure, there have been a few computer animated films before this, but nothing that resembles "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" at all. It took quite a few years to create, and the result is amazing. The animation is rendered beautifully and looks so realistic, it's pretty scary what they can now do in films these days. Just the backgrounds, the settings and actual characters have incredible textures and motions that make them come to life, it just blew my mind how amazing the movie visually looks. The colors, the movements in characters... just jaw-dropping to say the least. You have to experience this movie just for the animation, it gives off one fabulous effect (always go to a theater for the best experience). I'm sorry I can't really go much further into the animation, you just have to see it and experience it. Then and only then you'll know how I feel, the gorgeous visuals really can't be put into words. They must be checked out by yourself (in full motion) to have the full effect. Simply put, no other animated film can be compared to how "Final Fantasy" looks. While Square Pictures maybe dead, perhaps other animation studios will follow suit with more groundbreaking CGI.

The production values here are top-notch. The one who began the franchise in video games, Hironobu Sakaguchi, directs the movie and does a terrific job manipulating it all. This movie has great shots and is well edited to capture a ton of the visual experience it creates and wants you to check out in wonder. Elliot Goldenthal creates a moving, dramatic, intense and very memorable score that fits so well with the movie and its scenes. It goes hand in hand, and it's worth listening to on its own. His work is superb, and should not go unnoticed by Academy Award® voters. And giving the characters their heart and soul are the voice actors. The cast is top-notch, and everyone here is superb. The voices make it all seem even more real. Ming-Na makes a great Aki, while Woods as the notorious Hein is incredible. Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland and Ving Rhames are also superb and give it some depth with their acting. A lot of brilliance to found in here, in my opinion.

"Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" has so much going for it... incredible animation, great voice-acting, great shots, an incredible musical score and just a great experience. But all of it is ruined by one thing: the script. If they spent more time on creating a decent story, maybe something even closer to the game and something not so confusing and standard, this would have been a true classic. Alas, it's not. The script basically ruins it. A good deal of it plays like a standard science fiction story, complete with it's predictable and unoriginal character personas and corny subplots. It's not perfect, but it does have it's moments. It has some nice touches of dialogue and meaningful scenes that are beautiful, but some overuse of new age mentality, and with scenes and ideas that are never explained in full can be frustrating and hard to follow.

I still have hope in "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within." Perhaps it's more like a test of what future animated movies can be. Despite Square Pictures going out of business, I hope this does not stop other studios and production companies to use really advanced computer animation techniques to create a movie. While this movie is not for everyone, and fans of the game will be disappointed (yes, many still need to see it since none turned out for the movie! bwahahah), it's worth checking out to see how groundbreaking much of it is. Don't blink or you'll miss something... this movie is worth repeated viewings, and perhaps, may get better with them.

 

"Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" uses a transfer from the original digital files, making for quite an amazing visual experience and shows off what DVD was essentially born to do. Unfortunately, this transfer is not perfect and near reference quality. While it uses the digital files, this looked a little like a film transfer to be with a thin line of mist during some key scenes. I also noticed some muted background colors here and there, as well as noise and some artifacting. Other than those little annoyances, this transfer is solid. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film is spotless. No dirt, no blemishes, no scratches, no little annoyances popping up. Colors are well saturated, and give off a deep, daring bold look making the incredible animation come to pure life that will take anyone's breath away. Detail and black levels are great too. A great transfer worth showing off all around that really shows the incredible visuals of the movie.

 

"Final Fantasy" also includes a brilliant 5.1 mix in addition to it's stunning visual presentation. This track is rich in sound and doesn't seem to stop.Surrounds are well mixed and are very deep. Explosions, all sorts of vehicles moving and taking-off, guns firing all over the place and the phantoms themselves put you directly in the action. .1 LFE is astounding and will rattle the room you're in for sure. Dynamic range and fidelity are high and excellent. Goldenthal's beautiful score also sounds great here to give more life. There's also a good balance to everything, and no distortion in the sounds and nothing overpowers something else. Everyone's in for a treat more or less, this is an awesome mix. English closed captions, English subtitles, French subtitles and Dolby Surround tracks in English and French are also included.

 

A two-disc set that was quite extensive was released last year, and now it seems Columbia is going the Fox route with single disc editions. Thankfully, the first disc on the first release was well packed, but if you're a die-hard fan of the film or care for extras, you'll probably want to go for the original edition. First up are three commentaries (well, maybe less depending how you look at it). The first Audio Commentary with Co-Director Moto Sakakibara, Sequence Supervisor Hiroyuki Hayashida, Sets and Props Lead Artist Tatsuro Maruyama and Phantom Supervisor Takoo Noguchi is in Japanese. You can hear them and all. Since most Region 1 viewers aren't fluent in Japanese, Columbia/Tri-Star has provided a subtitle track in English and French for it. I guess you don't need to listen to the commentary, it can be more like a subtitle track. In anycase, this commentary is quite good and worth listening err reading if you want to know a lot of information and technical stuff on the making of he movie. It seems the men are watching the completed version for the first time. The commentary discusses origins of the project, how animated portions were accomplished and what they were going for in all this. This track is very technical, which, believe it or not, I did like since this movie is such an amazing achievement. Worth checking out to learn thoughts on creating such an amazing universe. There's even some nice, light-hearted joking in all this.

Next, the Audio Commentary with Animation Director Andy Jones, Editor Chris S. Capp and Staging Director Tari Kunitake is in pure English. It's however, very dry and a little boring. This track is also rather technical, but isn't as fun as the first. It's a bit bland. They point out scenes and shots they like and are amazed with, but don't give as much insight as one would hope for. For die-hards only.

And finally, the Isolated Score with Audio Commentary by Composer Elliot Goldenthal. The music, as mentioned, is great and I was thrilled to have an isolated score (in Dolby Surround glory) here as the music is rather breathtaking. I was even more thrilled to have Goldenthal make comments in-between. It's not a full commentary, but it's good enough for me. Goldenthal seems relaxed and provides very informative and insightful thoughts on creating the music. From taking suggestions from the director and then creating all his own. He shows how he accomplished things with sound to bring out emotions and all sorts of feelings in all this. While he does talk over the music at times, this is worth a listen for music fans alike. Very well done. I wish there were more isolated score tracks with commentary.

The Boards/Blasts is a very cool feature, even if other titles have had it. You watch the movie in rough form. This is a hybrid of sorts, where you see final film clips, storyboards, rough animation and more. It's interesting and fascinating to see the film go through development from original drawings, rough to final animation. Good for referencing. Optional Subtitled Factoids can be turned out to read and give more info, or you can listen to the optional Production Commentary with various crew members that are nicely edited.

Rounding the first disc off are the Theatrical Teaser and Theatrical Trailer in 1.85 anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital, plus trailers for "Men In Black," "Starship Troopers" and "Metropolis" (gotta love sci-fi movies and promoting them). Plus, a non-anamorphic widescreen trailer in 5.1 for the upcoming North American Playstation 2 release of "Final Fantasy X." There are also Production Notes.

 

Despite how groundbreaking the movie is and how much talent was involved, "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" proves you can have the best things in the world, but a story still matters. This DVD is superb, with a rocking presentation and a good deal of extras for a single disc release (and a cheaper price). If you want the movie, don't care for all the extras and want the film cheaper... then here you go.