Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
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. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within premiered in Los Angeles on July 2, 2001, and was theatrically released in the United States on July 11.
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 (Ming-Na Wen), her mentor, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), and a squad of soldiers called the "Deep Eyes", led by Gray Edwards (Alec 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 (James Woods), who seeks to use more violent means to eliminate the Phantoms by using a satellite cannon called the Zeus Cannon.
- While much of the CGI has been praised (to the point of being compared favorably to James Cameron’s Avatar), the character animations and designs have been criticized for falling into the uncanny valley, which threw off many audiences when the film came out in theaters.
- Despite the creator of Final Fantasy directing it, the film 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 on an imaginary world instead of Earth.
- The storyline suffers from several plotholes and continuity errors.
- Laughable dialogue. The rather abysmal voice acting doesn't help matters.
- Speaking of voice acting, Aki sounds as flat as possible, possibly their way of marketing her as a "virtual actress".
- Forgettable characters.
- The only character who has a decent personal motivation for what he's doing is the villain.
- There is very little exploration of who any of the characters except Hein are as people: Aki in particular is just... kind of there.
- 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.
- 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 living nuclear bomb held in check by a system who functionality is based on guesswork and which could fail at any time.
- 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.
- The fact that the Phantoms are ghosts is kind of given away by calling them "phantoms".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Not only did this movie cause Square Pictures to close down, it almost destroyed the original SquareSoft, and it made them reconsider negotiations with Enix for a merger between the two. Thankfully, due to the success of Final Fantasy X and the original Kingdom Hearts, SquareSoft was in a healthy position again and in 2003, they merged with Enix to form Square Enix.
- The CGI still holds up pretty well.
- 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.
- 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 they work well every time.
- Aki Ross is a at least likable.
- General Hein's line "WHERE IS THE PROOF?!" line is so bad it's hilarious.
- The film's aesthetic would later become a major inspiration for the Mass Effect videogame trilogy.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within received a mixed critical reception, but was widely praised for the realism of the computer-animated characters. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 45% based on 146 reviews, with an average rating of 5.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The movie raises the bar for computer animated movies, but the story is dull and emotionally removed.". Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned a score of 49 out of 100 based on 28 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
The film was a box office bomb, as it only grossed $85 million, as the cost to make it was 137 million, making it the most expensive film at that time. The failure at the box office not only disbanded Square Pictures, but almost destroyed SquareSoft as a whole, as it delayed the merger with Enix for the next two years and led to Sakaguchi leaving the company in shame and founded Mistwalker, where he still works to this day. Thankfully, with the success of Kingdom Hearts and receiveing money from Sony, SquareSoft will go on to merge with Enix in 2003 to become Square Enix, but since the departure of Sakaguchi following this, Final Fantasy hasn't been the same since then, as proof with multiple failures like the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy and developmental hells like Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which became XV ten years later.
- Two years after the release of this film, James Woods starred in a similar movie called Ark, voicing the character Jallak.