|Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within|
|Written by Christopher Joseph|
|Monday, 01 October 2007|
Created over the course of more than four years, and costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $140,000,000, “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” was touted as the first motion picture to use computer-generated animation with photo-realistic characters, sure to revolutionize the modern filmmaking landscape. The industry was buzzing with the idea of removing actors/actresses from the production equation, but that buzz never quite caught on with the movie-going public and the result was an $11,408,853 opening weekend. The film went on to gross just $32,131,830 domestically, and while that doesn’t account for home-video or overseas revenues, “Final Fantasy” was by all accounts, the very definition of a box-office bomb.
Production company Square Pictures produced just one more picture, “Final Flight of the Osiris,” a similarly CGI-driven short made for the Animatrix series, before closing its doors on movies and concentrating solely on video games. While “Final Fantasy” may have failed to catch on at the box-office, it is by no means a creative failure. Even after six years, and hundreds of CGI-laden features, the film is an achievement of stunning visual beauty with a subtle earth-conscious message that possibly came a few years to soon. Falling somewhere between animation and live action, “Final Fantasy” takes on its own unique visual quality, sometimes striking in its life-like appearance, but mostly managing to drop your jaw with imaginative landscapes and imagery.
The story is set in the year 2065, where a meteorite has struck the earth and unleashed an army of “phantoms,” alien spirit-like creatures resembling something between a dragon and a microscopic image of a nasty insect. Survivors live inside protective energy shields amongst the ruins of a few scattered cities around the world. Small groups of “Deep Eyes,” a sort of futuristic Marine Corps, are the only ones to venture out amongst the ruins to fight off the creatures. The phantoms have the ability to infect humans, but mostly just take their spirit by simply moving right through them.
The film’s protagonist, Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na) accompanied by her mentor Dr. Cid (Donald Sutherland); lead a group of Deep Eyes to various locations searching for the “eight spirit-waves” which they believe is their only hope against the phantoms. These spirits can come from an array of sources such as a tiny plant somehow managing to survive in the rubble of New York City or the life force of a terminally ill little girl. Aki and Dr. Cid’s theories are strongly opposed by military leader, General Hein (James Woods) who believes their approach is a bunch of ancient spiritual mumbo-jumbo. His proposal is to blast the crater, the heart of the alien infection, from outer space with the Death-Star like Zeus Canon.
Aki and her team attempt to warn the council of the possible damage that could be done to the earth, its planetary soul, and its surviving inhabitants without sounding like spiritual kooks. General Hein plays on this and emphasizes the need to not only act on proven physical technology, but to act now while the humans are still alive. Having only acquired seven of the eight spirits, Aki and Dr. Cid must race to find the final spirit before the council approves General Hein’s plan.
There are some wonderful action sequences, but like most popular anime, the movie also concentrates on philosophical and spiritual themes. As a result, the climax is sure to disappoint those looking for an all out, destroy-all-aliens finale. This didn’t bother me so much as I felt that the film had a lot of heart and subtlety even if some of it got lost in the high-tech jargon used throughout the movie. Overlaying pretty images on top of post-apocalyptic landscapes, the film takes on a poetic feel at times, creating its own unique tone not seen in anything before.
Where the CGI of “Final Fantasy” suffers is its inability to recreate the wide range of facial expressions used to convey the depth of human emotions. Voice actors do a decent enough job for being stuck in a sound booth, but the character’s expressions hardly ever match the intensity or subtlety of what’s going on. Not only does this take you out of the story at times, but that very lack of emotion on a semi-real looking character also takes on a slightly creepy effect. Picture a CGI version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The story is interesting enough to hold the average attention, but in the end, feels a bit lacking. With a running time of 106 minutes, you get the sense that maybe a storyline from the original script got left behind.
Coming to Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, “Final Fantasy” is without a doubt, some of the best Blu-Ray demo material to date. When the bright, neon-colored aliens swim across the more muted landscapes of once bustling cities, it is truly something to behold. This is exactly what high-definition was made for. The direct digital-to-digital transfer shows no signs of age, and sports so much detail, you’ll find yourself counting the flowing hairs on Aki’s head. Blacks are deep and rich with detail with no visible noise whatsoever. If you’re looking to show off your new TV, put on the first 15 minutes of this flick, sit back, and enjoy.
Equally as impressive is the uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track, sure to put a smile on the face of all those with high-end home theater equipment. Rear-surround channels get a ton of action while the subwoofer pumps out plenty of wall-shaking bass. Dynamic range is excellent, and I never heard even the slightest hint of distortion. Simply put, this is a top-notch audio/video package.
The plethora of special features from the standard DVD has all been ported over, although unfortunately they’re still in standard definition 480p/i. The amount of features is a tad exhausting since they repeatedly cover the CGI and effects process. The main highlight is an interactive documentary titled, “The Making of Final Fantasy” which offers the viewer the option to access different content by selecting a pop-up icon. As for the rest, you need to be a serious CGI enthusiast to endure and enjoy.
Box-office flop aside, “Final Fantasy” is a good movie. It’s definitely not a great film due to its thin storyline, but spectacular visuals and a near flawless audio track make this one I can definitely recommend as a rental to the casual Blu-ray viewer. For anime fans and home-theater enthusiasts looking to add to their library of reference material, go ahead and make the purchase.