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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within(2001)
The year is 2065 AD. The Earth is infested with alien spirits, and mankind faces total extinction. Led by a strange dream and guided by her mentor, Dr. Sid, scientist Aki Ross struggles to collect eight spirits in the hope of creating a force powerful enough to destroy the alien presence and pure enough to protect the planet. With the aid of the Deep Eyes Squadron, Aki must save the Earth from its darkest hate and unleash the final spirit. Final Fantasy is the groundbreaking new CGI film from the creators of the Final Fantasy Video Game Franchise.
For more about Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Blu-ray release, see Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on April 19, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Directors: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Motonori Sakakibara
Writers: Al Reinert, Jeff Vintar
Starring: Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Donald Sutherland
» See full cast & crew
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Blu-ray Review
The first Final Fantasy film is pure eye-candy on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, April 19, 2009
It's hard to believe Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within hit theaters eight years ago; and it's even more surprising that realistic computer generated imagery (CGI) has not advanced very far beyond the capabilities on display in this film. I remember anxiously waiting to see The Spirits Within when it was originally released, and feeling somewhat letdown when I walked out of the theater. It wasn't disappointment in the film or the animation, but more a matter of not meeting my expectations as a video game enthusiast. I've played a number of "Final Fantasy" games on various gaming platforms over the years, so I approached this film with the hope that it would follow a familiar plotline from the games. Sadly, the inclusion of "Final Fantasy" in the title is really just a placeholder to indicate this is a creation of Square's animation studio. Although the film failed to meet box-office expectations, I've grown to appreciate it more and more on repeat viewings, especially now that we can view the stunning animation in high-definition.
Earth has been plagued by the presence of alien "ghosts" that possess the ability to remove the soul of humans they come into contact with (and render the body instantly dead). Aki and Dr. Sid are scientists that believe in the taboo idea that the Earth contains a spirit known as Gaia, and seek to obtain eight individual spirits that they believe hold the key to containing the alien ghosts. In fact, Aki's body appears to hold the primary key to combining the eight spirits, which have worked in unison to contain the alien virus that has grown inside her. On the other side of the coin, we have the military, who want to bring about the ghost's destruction by reigning heavy artillery down on the location where the alien meteor struck the Earth 30 years prior (and is believed to be the source of the alien ghosts). Earth's grand council has agreed to grant Dr. Sid and Aki additional time to search for the two remaining spirits, but the sinister General Hein intends to use a weapon known as the Zeus Cannon to wipe out the ghosts. Fearing for the fate of Earth's Gaia if the Zeus Cannon is unleashed, Dr. Sid and Aki enlist the aide of her prior boyfriend (a military captain), and his squad of soldiers. Will Aki be able to solve the mystery of the alien ghosts in time, or will the military recklessly destroy Earth's lifeforce?
From a plot standpoint, The Spirits Within offers an intellectual sci-fi tale that doesn't play to the lowest common denominator. Like I said earlier, the first time I saw the film, I certainly wasn't enamored with the story, but now that I've seen it more than five times, I can appreciate the themes in the plot on a greater level. There are still some plot holes that are glossed over (such as why certain items or things are "spirits"), but those few elements won't diminish the experience if you let yourself become immersed in the onscreen action.
The animation is simply stunning, with an unprecedented level of detail. Facial models and character movement still don't come close to approaching real life, but I also don't find the animation at all jarring. I'm still amazed at the precision of facial textures on close-ups of Aki, or the intricate stubble on the face of Captain Ross. I wonder how many years we have until filmmakers will be able to create realistic CG renderings of actors that passed away years ago. It's not too hard to picture a film coming out in the future that features a young Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn.
If I had one complaint with the film, it would be the pacing. There are several sequences that seem unnecessary, and drag the film down. Perhaps the runtime could have been shortened a little bit, but it starts to feel like the plot can't sustain the full 105 minutes. I'm sure many people would disagree with my assessment on the pacing, and this comes down to a matter of personal preference, but if it weren't for the rich visuals, I may have found myself nodding off during one or two extended slow scenes in the film.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p, and encoded using the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 30 MBPS), The Spirits Within is brought to Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures. This direct digital-to-digital transfer is truly demo-worthy. Watching a film like this will remind you why you made the jump from DVD to Blu-ray, and I can't imagine The Spirits Within ever looking better than this. Detail has a 3-dimensional quality that causes most scenes to jump right off the screen. This 3-D quality wouldn't be possible without perfectly rendered contrast, well-defined black levels, and superb color saturation. One of the greatest strengths of the animation, is the use of lighting effects (watch for the headlights on the buggy, or the flashlight effects on the helmets of the soldiers), and without perfect contrast, those scenes would not look nearly this good. If you want to impress your friends, toss in this disc to show off your new Blu-ray player.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Considering The Spirits Within was an early release to the Blu-ray format, Sony Pictures utilized the Linear PCM 5.1 lossless format. Similar to the video quality, the lossless track is everything we could hope for in an action-heavy, science fiction film. It's actually rare to go through a single scene without hearing your surrounds come alive to create an excellent level of depth. Vehicle scenes are a highlight, since the engine effects pan throughout the soundstage in perfect unison with the onscreen action. Additionally, your subwoofer will get a substantial workout during Aki's dream sequences, as you feel the rumble of the approaching alien hordes. I did notice one problem with the audio track, which came precisely at the hour mark. There were two short blips in the track (almost like a tick tock) that were clearly not part of the source material. I played the scene three times, and each time the exact same thing happened. This could just be an error on my disc, but I thought I should mention it in case anyone else has the same experience. Aside from that one problem, this is reference quality audio, and I doubt fans will find anything to be disappointed with.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Subtitle Commentary Tracks: To begin, we're given the option of watching the main feature with subtitle (English or French) tracks that feature different people involved in the production of the film. It took me a long time to figure this out since the title implies the subtitles would play during the "Special Features", and not the main feature, but once I finally went to watch the film with the audio commentary tracks, I found the subtitle commentary tracks were there as well (so you can essentially read and listen to 2 commentary tracks at the same time).
Audio Commentary Tracks: The first track is with the animation director, staging director, and editor; while the second feature-length track is with the co-director and several crew members. I didn't watch the film again with each commentary all the way through, but did watch enough to arrive at a decision that I favor the first commentary track, due to a greater attention to technical aspects of the film.
Aki's Dream Reconstruction (1080p, Dolby 5.1, 9:02 min.): Aki's dream segments from the film are joined into one fluid dream sequence. It didn't appear there was any additional footage not shown in the film, but it was still interesting to watch the the dream in one extended take.
On the set with Aki (1080p, Dolby 2.0, 55 sec.): This brief scene blends CGI and live action, with Aki stepping out of a scene, and walking over to a computer to look at herself in the scene.
Compositing Builds (1080p, Dolby 2.0, 7:46 min.): Several scenes are broken down by layers of CGI to demonstrate how much effort went into designing the complex world of Final Fantasy.
Joke Outtakes (1080p, Dolby 2.0, 1:51 min.): This is a surprisingly funny collection of crudely rendered sequences that put a comedic spin on scenes from the movie. It's brief, but well worth your time.
Matte Art Explorations (480p, Dolby 2.0, 6:13 min.): A computer animator that worked on Final Fantasy discusses the use of handpainted backgrounds as a backdrop for the CGI seen in the film. It's amazing how 3-dimensional some of the handpainted artwork looks.
Original Opening (480p, Dolby 2.0, 4:54 min.): This alternate take on the opening sequence of the film is interesting, since it could have changed the whole tone and pace of the film. Essentially we are let in on information regarding the "ghosts", and nearly given a complete plot summary as the sequence plays out. I'm pleased the filmmakers went with the final intro and scrapped this one.
The Gray Project (480p, Dolby 2.0, 5:37 min.): In order to get the project under way, the animators had to demonstrate they could animate life-like human models in a realistic fashion. This feature shows several examples of the rough animation that became known as The "Gray" Project.
Interactive Documentary: The Making of Final Fantasy (1080p, Dolby 2.0, 30:49 min.): This documentary offers a lengthy discussion of the film's themes, animation process, voice-work, and many other aspects of the production. During the documentary, you have the option to press buttons on your remote to take you into other video sequences that delve more in-depth into the subject matter of the main documentary. This is easily one of the best making-of documentaries I've seen to date on Blu-ray (and keep in mind the runtime is far longer than 30 minutes if you factor in the additional sequences that can be chosen on the fly).
Character Profiles (1080p, Dolby 2.0, various length): 7 characters from the film are given their own 2-3 minute background story, while clips from the film are shown. At the end of each segment the, main animator and voice-actor for the character are introduced, followed by some unnecessary vital stats (I think we can figure out who is male or female in the film).
Vehicle Scale Comparisons (1080p, Dolby 2.0, various length): 3 vehicles from the film are described in real-world terms (size, weight, speed, etc.), and compared to vehicles we are accustomed to in our present day society.
Trailer Explorations (1080p, Dolby 2.0, 4:50 min.): The creator of the trailer used for the film is interviewed, and describes the effort that went into conveying the appeal of Final Fantasy to a wide audience.
Trailers: The theatrical and teaser trailer for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within are included, as well as trailers for other Blu-ray releases from Sony Pictures.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you couldn't tell by now, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a film I'd highly recommend. If you love science fiction or animation, you'll find a lot to like about this film, and should not hesitate in adding it to your collection. If you're already a fan, and own the film on DVD, you'll be blown away by the technical merits of this Blu-ray, and should add this to the top of your upgrade list. Here's hoping Sony treats their upcoming release of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children with the same level of care they've shown on this release.
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