Anime Film Review: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a science fiction film by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy role-playing games. This film was the first attempt to make a photorealistic rendered 3D feature film, and was released to theaters in the United States on July 11, 2001.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Directed by: Hironobu Sakaguchi and Motonori Sakakibara
Written by: Al Reinert and Jeff Vintar
Starring: Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Donald Sutherland, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, and Peri Gilpin
Run Time: 106 minutes
Rated: PG-13

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is only vaguely related to the Final Fantasy games.  Dr. Sid’s Gaia theory (a lifeforce within the planet to which the spirits belong) is reminiscent of the Lifestream/Mako in Final Fantasy VII. Also, Dr. Sid continues the tradition of having a character named “Cid” in the Final Fantasy games; however, his name is spelled “Sid” instead of “Cid.”

While this film technically is not “anime,” other animation for the Final Fantasy franchise has been done as anime. Having this connection to Final Fantasy, I feel justified in reviewing it.

The film is set in the year 2065, and the main character is a scientist named Aki Ross. She has been recording dreams she’s had about the Phantoms, a mysterious alien race that took over the Earth after they crash-landed on the planet. At the start of the film, Aki is on a mission to find the sixth spirit, and her search takes her to Old New York City. She runs into some Phantoms, and a military squad known as Deep Eyes arrives on the scene and saves her. Even though Aki is informed she is under arrest, she runs off to find the sixth spirit; the sixth spirit turns out to be a plant. After Aki gets the spirit, Deep Eyes takes her to a transport.

It turns out the captain of Deep Eyes is Gray Edwards, an old acquaintance of Aki’s. When the group returns to a “barrier city,” everyone except Aki is scanned for Phantom contamination. Gray is found to be infected, and Aki saves his life by performing bio laser surgery.

Aki also meets up with her colleague, Dr. Sid, and they determine the plant Aki found is indeed the sixth spirit. During their meeting, Dr. Sid tells Aki they must destroy all of their notes and anything about their research that can be used against them because their ideas are unpopular.

Aki and Dr. Sid attend a Council debate, where General Hein is trying to make an argument that the Zeus cannon (a weapon that was designed to destroy the phantoms) should be used. Dr. Sid argues against using the weapon, because it would destroy Gaia, the spirit of the planet. Hein mocks Dr. Sid and asks for proof. As proof, Aki reveals that she has been infected by the Phantoms, but is still alive due to a procedure that Dr. Sid carried out on her.

The film then goes on to show Hein trying to access the Zeus cannon and use it himself, while Aki and Deep Eyes search for the seventh spirit. The two stories intersect, and ultimately build up to the climax of the film.

Even though Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within may not fit in with the majority of the Final Fantasy franchise, I still thought the film presented a rather solid story. The film has pacifist themes, and military solutions tend to be either futile or are only temporarily effective. In addition, the film is also very pro-environment.

The 3D animation in this film is very well done; there were times I had to remind myself the characters on the screen were animated, not real people.

When the film was released on home video in North America, there was a two-disc DVD set and a Blu-ray Disc.

When it comes to the two-disc DVD release of the film, the first disc contains the film, theatrical trailers, and production notes.

The second disc includes two Easter eggs: one is for a storyboard of a scene that’s not in the film, while the other shows what appears to be a physical bust of Aki that is digitized.

The documentary on the DVD runs for about half an hour, and it talks about the animation, an explanation of the Gaia theory, the process for the 3D animation, the audio, and the music. Also, there are spots in the documentary where an icon will appear in the upper right-hand corner; if you select that, you will be taken to additional material on the topic that’s not included in the actual documentary.

There are “character files” for Aki, Gray, Dr. Sid, Hein, Ryan, Jane, and Neil. For each one, there is footage of the character with a robotic-sounding female voice-over who provides information on the character, as well as the lead animator and voice actor for that character. The “vehicle scale comparisons” is in the same style as the “character files,” but instead covers the following vehicles: Bandit, Black Boa, and Quatro.

The “Final Fantasy Shuffle” allows you to re-edit the conference scene and to learn background information from the animators; however, I couldn’t quite figure out the point of this feature. It appears you can only re-organize the footage from the film, since there are no alternate angles to choose from.

“Trailer Explorations” talks about putting together the teaser and the trailer for the film. “The Gray Project” is a five-and-a-half minute piece which shows some footage that was put together as they were figuring out the designs for the characters. “More Boards/Blasts” has storyboards, footage from the film, and animatics mixed together. “Matte Art Explorations” shows the various mattes the animators used. “Joke Outtakes” is a series of “bloopers” that runs for almost two minutes. “Compositing Builds” shows the details of all the animation elements for one scene in the film.

The original opening that is included is very different from the scene that opened the film. Aki’s dream is different, Aki’s design is different, and she also already knows what the reason for her dreams is. Personally, I think the opening scene in the actual film is much better than this. “Aki’s Dream” takes all the footage of Aki’s dreams and puts them together into one continuous piece.

“DVD-ROM Content” explains the DVD-ROM content on the DVD. Also, there’s a hidden video of the characters from the film dancing to an instrumental of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

When it comes to the Blu-ray release, the packaging is rather “bare bones.” There is no booklet or insert with information about the film itself included; instead, all you get is an insert playing up other titles that Columbia Pictures has released on DVD.

As for the video quality, I have to admit that I didn’t see a lot of difference when I compared it to the DVD copy of this film I had viewed. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s a bad picture quality on the Blu-ray; all it means is that I personally didn’t see any significant differences. According to the box, the main feature is 1920 x 1080p full resolution high definition picture with uncompressed PCM audio.

When it comes to the bonus features, it appears that all of the extras included on the two-disc DVD pressing are also here, including the two Easter eggs; it appears that nothing new was added. The bonus features include documentaries, “character files,” “vehicle scale comparisons,” “trailer explorations,” “The Gray Project,” “matte art explorations,” and more.

If you enjoy Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and haven’t added it to your home video collection yet, it might be worth it. If you have the capability to watch Blu-rays, then I would suggest acquiring the Blu-ray pressing. If you already own the two-disc DVD set and have the ability to upgrade to Blu-ray, then it might be worth considering; the main advantage of the Blu-ray would come in regards to getting the film and bonus features all on one disc.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within two-disc DVD set that I checked out from Blockbuster and after watching a copy of the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Blu-ray that my husband and I purchased.

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