Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (ファイナルファンタジー Fainaru Fantajī) is a 2001 CGI science-fantasy action-adventure film directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy franchise, starring Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, and James Woods. The movie was promoted the first film to utilize photo-realistic CGI animation, and took 4 years to make with a render farm of 960 workstations. One of the most hyped elements of the film was Sakaguchi's vision of of the protagonist, Aki Ross, as a "digital actress" who could be "hired out" (ie licensed) to play roles in other films.

The movie made only $85 million out of a $137 million budget, with total losses of $94 million ($130 million adjusted for inflation, making it the fifth-greatest box office bomb in history). The film's failure resulted in Hironobu Sakaguchi stepping down from his position as Executive Vice President at Square and probably also in his resignation a couple of years later, and the bankruptcy of the film's production company, Square Pictures, who made only one more film (a segment in The Animatrix anthology film, Final Flight of the Osiris) before shutting down in 2002. The catastrophic damage to Square's finances delayed the merger of Square and Enix as Enix were very nervous about Square's financial situation, and almost certainly led to a merger far more on Enix's terms, as Square suddenly needed the merger simply to survive.

The film's visual style would end up influencing other projects in the future, particularly the art style of the Mass Effect franchise.

Plot

The year is 2065, and the Earth is infested by aliens known simply as "Phantoms". The remaining humans live inside barrier cities that are protected with energy shields that prevent the Phantoms from entering them.

The movie is centered around the efforts of Dr. Aki Ross (Wen), her mentor, Dr. Sid (Sutherland), and a squad of soldiers called the "Deep Eyes", led by Gray Edwards (Baldwin), as they attempt to find "eight spirits" that can be used to help humanity take back the planet. They must also deal with General Douglas Hein (Woods), who seeks to use more violent means to eliminate the Phantoms by using a satellite cannon called the Zeus Cannon.

Bad Qualities

  1. While much of the CGI has been praised (to the point of being compared favorably to James Cameron’s Avatar), the character animation and designs have been criticized for falling into the uncanny valley, which threw off many audiences when the film came out in theaters.
  2. Has barely anything to do with the Final Fantasy games (aside from a few oblique references to the previous games). While the games take place in their own separate universes, they still share a lot of things in common, such as taking place in an imaginary world instead of Earth.
  3. The storyline suffered from several plotholes and continuity errors.
  4. Laughable dialogue. The rather abysmal voice acting doesn’t help matters.
  5. Forgettable characters.
  6. The only character who has a decent personal motivation for what he's doing is the villain.
  7. There is very little exploration of who any of the characters except Hein are as people: Aki in particular is just kind of there.
  8. Classic "Hollywood scientist" characters in the form of Aki and especially Sid. Neither has any evidence that what they're doing will actually accomplish anything, yet we're supposed to side with them and regard Hein's demand for, you know, proof, to be unreasonable. Even in the finale the best Sid can manage is saying that completing the waveform will do "something." Sid's "science" is actually based more on new-age religious beliefs than science.
  9. Sid sneaking the infected Aki into the last Barrier City without bothering to tell anyone kind of undermines his status as a good guy, given she's basically a live nuclear bomb held in check by a system who functionality is based on guesswork and which could fail at any time.
  10. General Hein has a severe case of "designated villain," since most of what he says is the most reasonable thing to conclude based on the known facts, but we're supposed to disagree with it because it's coming from a guy who has a sarcastic voice, slicked-back hair and dresses like a Nazi.
  11. The fact that the Phantoms are ghosts is kind of given away by calling them phantoms.
  12. The ending tries to sell the idea that the Phantoms should be forgiven for wiping out almost all life on Earth because they blew up their own planet and were angry and confused. It is unclear why this is supposed to be anyone's fault but their own.
  13. Most of the action scenes are either confusing or lack any kind of suspense and tension, while the non-action scenes wound up being tedious.
  14. How has nobody, in all of human history, discovered that there's a lake of glowing blue planet soul juice a few hundred feet below the surface of the planet?
  15. While Aki's fully-animated hair is impressive for the time, the animators fell into the trap of having her constantly nod and jerk her head around while she's talking so as to show off the hair animation as much as possible, which just ends up looking silly and unnatural.
  16. The downbeat and ambiguous ending, much as it is one of the few things about the film that is close to the tone of the series, certainly didn't help out a film that was promoted as a blockbuster action movie.
  17. This film is part of the reason why Final Fantasy Unlimted was cancelled during its run and had to be continued through manga.

Good Qualities

  1. The CGI still holds up pretty well.
  2. Elliot Goldenthal’s soundtrack, while nowhere near as memorable as Nobuo Uematsu’s own soundtracks to the games, is pretty good, and has enjoyed much better reception than the movie itself.
    1. The song "The Dream Within" performed by French singer Lara Fabian that plays over the credits is very beautiful. Parts of the soundtrack contain the melody of this song; particularly in the emotional parts, and each time they work well.

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