Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within


   The more recent Final Fantasy games have featured such heavy use of CG video that some have wondered why Squaresoft doesn't just make movies rather than videogames: now, with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Square has taken the next logical step and done just that. The result is more or less what would happen if all the FMV from any one game was viewed in sequence--it's beautifully done, but lacks the emotional support provided by spending dozens of hours with the characters.

 Never has a bad hair day
Aki Ross

   Final Fantasy is without a doubt one of the most visually stunning CG films to date. The characters and environments are so lifelike that one wonders during certain scenes just what the benefits are in going with CG rather than human actors--until the bizarre, ethereal phantoms appear. By far the film's most impressive effect, the hostile creatures are the most fantastic thing about the movie, which is otherwise almost too realistic-looking, despite its futuristic setting.

   The graphics are so good that they go a long way toward making up for the shortcomings of the rest of the movie; however, they can't carry the movie by themselves. As might be expected, the story is straight out of an RPG, and plays more than anything else like a variation on Final Fantasy VII. Unfortunately, what Final Fantasy: TSW manages to drive home is how character-dependent RPG stories really are, and it emphasizes this point by negative counterexample.

   Where the games are free to devote however much time or space they wish to fleshing out a particular character, Final Fantasy: TSW has only 108 minutes to handle seven principal players and still keep the story moving. As a result, only Aki and General Hein have any particular motivation for their actions. All four members of Deep Eyes have almost nothing in the way of personality: Gray is one of the blankest leading men ever in a film, Ryan fares even worse due to his status as a background character, and Jane and Neil are both defined solely by their occasional wisecracks and banter. No mention of why they joined the squad, no mention of other interests besides vaporizing monsters, not so much as a last name. The fairly good voice acting compensates somewhat for this, although Ming Na's Aki actually goes some ways toward making the character less interesting.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space

   As for the plot, the "collect eight spirits" mechanism has a high potential for embarassment, but the movie actually pulls it off fairly well. There are, however, a few holes. Aki and Sid need eight specific spirits, but neither knows what they're looking for until it shows up on radar--so how was the radar programmed to find it in the first place? Viewers can easily guess at the answers to this and other questions, but they're the sort of thing that the movie should have made clear.

   While Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has its share of shortcomings, the visual splendor and Final Fantasy feel make it a pretty good film for fans and newcomers alike. Square Pictures already has plans for more films, and it's a good bet that the awkwardness found here will develop into a more sure-footed and imaginative approach in future productions.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Producer Square Honolulu
Distributor Columbia Pictures
Genre Action / Sci-Fi
Running Time 108 minutes
Platform Movie
Release Date  Fall 2001
E3: The Spirits Within Impressions
2 movie stills
7 character mugshots
5 promotional lobby posters and banner / First and second poster designs / Aki pinup