Sony // 2001 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // August 9th, 2007
Unleash a new reality.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within remains a notable cinematic accomplishment because hey, no actors are used in the film! Well, that's not completely true, they do lend their voices to the project (and probably got a free trip to Square Studios' location in Hawaii in the process), which appears to be the first film that realistically renders characters and scenes via computer. And with the digital-to-digital process, big technical things should be expected for this disc, right?
Al Reinart (Apollo 13) has taken the game that Hironobu Sakaguchi produced for years, and made it into a story which Sakaguchi and Moto Sakakibara both directed. In it, Aki (Ming Na, Mulan) is a scientist who is trying to find out the secrets of aliens that are killing off a dwindling human population. Her mentor is Dr. Cid (Donald Sutherland, Space Cowboys), but she does most of her legwork with a small group of soldiers that are assigned to help her with this task. Aside from the aging scientist, you've got Jane (Peri Gilpin, Frasier), Ryan (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction), Neil (Steve Buscemi, Reservoir Dogs) and heading them all is Grey (Alec Baldwin, The Cooler). To complicate things further, Aki is also infected with some alien genes as well, and destroying them might cause her destruction in the process.
No actors? Yay! No unions, no longwinding production timeframes with actors who command large salaries and excessive takes! No posses, no hair and nail experts, and no production assistants who have to spend their time at craft services, sorting out the brown M & M's from the rest of the pile. There is a downside to all of that though, you might lose eccentricity, but you also lose subtlety and nuance that each individual brings to a performance. Sure, it's nice to construct a feature-length film with no people being filmed, but things come across as too generic. Take the case of Final Fantasy. The characters are well animated, however when it comes to dialogue and expression, everything seems to be unrealistic around the mouth. So there's no room for overemphasizing words or a quickening pace because it quite frankly doesn't get captured on computer the way that it does on film. Is it a fair critique of the film? Well, they hyped the artificial nature of it, so you tell me.
So not only does it have one strike against it in the way things are captured by the characters, but the story is nothing that you haven't seen in one of the other videogames that deals with similar sci-fi themes (though in this film, there is an interesting discussion along the lines spirituality, called GAIA). By combining that, along with the propensity for the animators to get so enamored with their own work that when it came to drawing a scene that it made the second act of the film move at a seismically slow pace, you get what basically amounts to a 90-minute cut scene for a video game. Come on Square Studios, dazzle me! Show me something! Because at the end of the day, the reason why people go back to Pixar films over and over (aside from the huge children/family block of cash there is to be made) is because the imagery lends itself to an emotional connection. From the characters to the backgrounds to just about everything else in Final Fantasy, you basically get what amounts to a child's trip at the museum. You can look, but don't touch, because chances are you might break it.
Technically speaking, the 1.85:1 MPEG-4 encoded transfer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and is quite the stunner. As is the case with all these newfangled animated films, because there's no film telecine to create to transfer back to disc, it's all digital. And it reproduces things excellently without large complaint. The PCM soundtrack is the bigger surprise, as the film is surprisingly active, providing ample opportunity for low end fidelity and surround activity. As a result, the experience is very enveloping and among a small few that could be considered reference-worthy if one felt the urge.
Sony appears to have ported over most of the extras from the old two disc set into this BD-50 for the world to enjoy. There are two commentaries; the first is with Sakakbara and other Japanese speaking members of the cast, and the only way I found to access this was to play the feature and have the subtitles for the track turned on, which I've never liked, but I understand that it's probably the only thing to do. The other track includes English speaking members of the crew, and interestingly enough, it sounds like the Japanese track participants had more fun on their track. Each track's participants discuss their roles in the film and discuss the challenges of animating things the way they desire. Both tracks seem to be a bit tech heavy, but if you like that kind of thing, it's well worth your time.
Moving on to the rest of the extras, the "Aki's Dream Reconstruction" is a 10-minute expanded look at the dream sequence, preserved with a 5.1 Dolby Digital track to boot. "On the Set with Aki" is a minute-long walk around the set with the animated main character as she "interacts" with the other members of the cast, animated or otherwise. "Compositing Builds" shows the process of animating a scene from beginning to end. It's set to techno music (as some of the other extras are). What did Ozzy say about that music, it's music to get your brains bashed in? There are some animated outtakes a la the Pixar films, and some explorations of the matte artwork for the backgrounds in the film. The original opening is just that, while "The Gray Project" is a short film with previsualization footage, test shots, animatics and the like. The making of documentary is the heaviest on the disc, and runs about half hour. The crewmembers speak into the lens of a handheld camera, discuss their intentions for what they wanted to do in the film and what their favorite scenes are. It shows a lot of the animated stuff, like motion capture, animation and other components of the process. Like some of the other features, it's very tech heavy, but it's also got branching audio and video segments during the piece which can be accessed via remote control. Wrapping up the set are some character profiles.
Sony has decided to drop the commentary/isolated score with composer Elliot Goldenthal, which was fine, but they've also dropped a production print/subtitled track that you can access on the standard def disc. The DVD-ROM material of the standard def version was also pulled, but it would be interesting to see more of this used in the future when Blu-ray (excuse me, next generation) media is utilized a bit more.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within might be a milestone in cinema any way you want to slice it, but the milestone overshadows the fact the story is a bit thin and the pacing is poor, not to mention the characters lack any real identifiable qualities, and not just because they're fake. Technically, the disc is fantastic, but the film doesn't hold you long enough to keep it in your growing high definition library.
Guilty as charged, send in the next case.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Animation Director, Staging Director and Editor Commentary Track
* Co-Director and Crew Commentary Track
* Character Profiles
* Vehicle Scale Comparison
* Making of Documentary
* Trailer Exploration Featurette
* "Aki's Dream" Reconstruction
* Original Opening
* On the Set with Aki
* "Compositing Builds" Featurette
* Matte Art Explorations
* "The Gray Project"
* Original DVD Verdict Review