Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Theatrical poster for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi
Produced by Jun Aida
Akio Sakai
Chris Lee
Screenplay by Al Reinert
Jeff Vintar
Story by Hironobu Sakaguchi
Based on Final Fantasy 
by Hironobu Sakaguchi
Starring Ming-Na
Alec Baldwin
James Woods
Donald Sutherland
Ving Rhames
Steve Buscemi
Peri Gilpin
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Cinematography Moto Sakakibara
Edited by Christopher S. Capp
Production
company
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • July 2, 2001 (2001-07-02) (premiere)
  • July 13, 2001 (2001-07-13) (United States)
Running time 108 minutes[2]
Country United States[1]
Language English
Budget $137 million[2][3][4][5][6]
Box office $85,131,830[2]

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a 2001 American computer animated science fiction film directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series of role-playing video games. It was the first photorealistic computer-animated feature film and also holds the record for the most expensive video game-inspired film ever made.[7] It features the voices of Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Peri Gilpin and Steve Buscemi. The Spirits Within follows scientists Aki Ross and Doctor Sid in their efforts to free a post-apocalyptic Earth from a mysterious and deadly alien race known as the Phantoms, which has driven the remnants of humanity into "barrier cities". They must compete against General Hein, who wishes to use more violent means to end the conflict.

Square Pictures rendered the film using some of the most advanced processing capabilities available for film animating at the time. A render farm consisting of 960 workstations was tasked with rendering each of the film's 141,964 frames. It took a staff of 200 and about four years to complete the film. Square intended to make the character of Aki Ross into the world's first photorealistic computer-animated actress, with plans for appearances in multiple films in different roles.

The Spirits Within debuted to mixed critical reception, but was widely praised for the realism of the computer-animated characters. Due to rising costs, the film greatly exceeded its original budget towards the end of production, reaching a final cost of $137 million, of which it made back only $85 million at the box office.[2] The film has been called a box office bomb[8] and is blamed for the demise of Square Pictures.[9]

Plot[edit]

In the year 2065, a future Earth is infested by Phantoms, alien life forms capable of killing humans by physical contact. The remaining humans living in "barrier cities" all over the world are engaged in an ongoing struggle to free the planet. After being infected by a Phantom during one of her experiments, Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and her mentor, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), uncover a means of defeating the Phantoms by gathering eight spirit signatures that, when joined, can negate the Phantoms. Aki is searching for the sixth spirit in the ruins of New York City when she is cornered by Phantoms but is rescued by Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his squad "Deep Eyes", consisting of Ryan Whittaker (Ving Rhames), Neil Fleming (Steve Buscemi) and Jane Proudfoot (Peri Gilpin). It is revealed that Gray was once romantically involved with Aki.

Upon returning to her barrier city, Aki joins Sid and appears before the leadership council along with General Hein (James Woods), who is determined to use the powerful Zeus space cannon to destroy the Phantoms. Aki delays the use of the Zeus cannon by revealing she has been infected, and the collected spirit signatures are keeping her infection stable. This revelation convinces Hein that she is being controlled by the Phantoms. Aki and the Deep Eyes squad succeed in finding the seventh spirit as Aki's infection begins to worsen and she slips into unconsciousness.

Aki's dream reveals the Phantoms are the spirits of dead aliens brought to Earth on a fragment of their destroyed planet. Sid uses the seventh spirit to bring Aki's infection back under control, reviving her.

To scare the council into giving him clearance to fire the Zeus cannon, Hein lowers part of the barrier shield protecting the city. Though Hein intended that only a few Phantoms enter, his plan goes awry and legions of Phantoms invade the entire city. Aki, Sid and the Deep Eyes attempt to reach Aki's spaceship, their means of escape, but Ryan, Neil and Jane are killed by Phantoms. Sid finds the eighth spirit at the crater site of the alien asteroid's impact on Earth. Hein escapes and boards the Zeus space-station where he finally receives authorization to fire the cannon.

Sid lowers a shielded vehicle, with Aki and Gray, into the crater to locate the final spirit. Just before they can reach it, Hein fires the Zeus cannon into the crater not only destroying the eighth spirit but revealing the Phantom Gaia. Aki has a vision of the Phantom home planet, where she is able to receive the eighth spirit from the alien particles in herself. When Aki wakes, she and Gray combine it with the other seven. Hein continues to fire the Zeus cannon despite overheating warnings and unintentionally destroys the cannon and himself. Gray sacrifices himself as a medium needed to physically transmit the completed spirit into the alien Gaia. The Gaia is returned to normal as the Phantoms ascend into space, finally at peace. Aki is pulled from the crater holding Gray's body and looking into the newly liberated world.

Cast[edit]

Themes[edit]

Director Sakaguchi stated the theme he wanted to convey was "more of a complex idea of life and death and spirit", believing that the best way to portray this would be to set the film on Earth. By comparison, Final Fantasy video games are set in fictional worlds.[10] Dan Mayers from Sight & Sound stated the film followed the same theme typically found in Final Fantasy video games: "A party of heroes averts impending global holocaust by drawing on their individual skills, gaining knowledge through challenges and emerging victorious with new-found love and respect for themselves and their companions."[11]

Writing in the book Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams, Livia Monnet stated the film remediated "the notion of life in the neovitalistic, evolutionary biology of Lynn Margulis and in contemporary theories on artificial life", going on to state that the film's exploration of the gaia hypothesis raised interesting questions regarding the life and death process of both cinema and digital media, as well as contemporary life sciences, cybernetics, philosophy and science fiction. The concept of artificial life and resurrection was also discussed, and compared to similar themes in the 1914 book Locus Solus; the Phantoms in Final Fantasy:The Spirits Within were considered to be brought to life by various forces: by the alien planet's red gaia and then by human spiritual bio-etheric energy, and also by the animation software and the electricity powering the computers that were running the software.[3]

Production[edit]

Aki Ross's voice actor, Ming-Na Wen, was selected by Sakaguchi based on his decision that she fit Aki's personality.[12] Ming-Na, who found the role via her publicist,[13] said she felt like she had given birth with her voice to the character.[14] She noted the role was not without its difficulties; especially working without the presence and spontaneity of real actors.

"At first it was very lonely sitting in that booth and eerie to see (Aki's) lips move and my words coming out, but slowly I began to enjoy my time with Aki, and I became attuned to her."

Ming-Na, voice actor[15]

She gradually accustomed herself to this feeling, commenting that the voice-acting work did not take much time, as she would just go into the studio "once or twice a month for about four months" with no need for make-up and costuming sessions.[15] The workload was so light it did not interfere with her acting commitments in the television series ER.[15]

Square accumulated four SGI Origin 2000 series servers, four Onyx2 systems, and 167 Octane workstations for the film's production.[16] The basic film was rendered at a home-made render farm created by Square in Hawaii. It housed 960 Pentium III-933 MHz workstations. Animation was filmed using motion capture technology.[17] 1,327 scenes in total needed to be filmed to animate the digital characters.[18] The film consists of 141,964 frames, with each frame taking an average of 90 minutes to render.[18] By the end of production Square had a total of 15 terabytes of artwork for the film.[18] It is estimated that over the film's four-year production, approximately 200 people working on it put in a combined 120 years of work.[18]

From early on, it had been decided that The Spirits Within would be filmed entirely in English.[19] In order to keep the film in line with Hironobu Sakaguchi's vision as director, several script rewrites took place, most in the initial stages of production.[19] Sakaguchi stated he was pleased with the film's final cut, saying he would not have changed anything if given the chance.[19] The film had high cost overruns towards the end of filming. New funds had to be sourced to cover the increasing production costs while maintaining staff salaries.[19] The film's final cost of $137 million[2] blew out from an original budget rumored to be around $70 million.[17] $45 million alone was spent on the construction of Square's studio in Hawaii.[3]

Character design[edit]

A screenshot from the film showing Aki Ross, a young woman with black hair
Aki Ross was designed to be as realistic as possible; Square Pictures intended for the CGI character to be the world's first artificial actress to appear in multiple films in multiple roles.

Each character's base body model was built from more than 100,000 polygons,[20] plus more than 300,000 for clothing alone.[16] Each character's model bears 60,000 hairs, each of which were separately and fully animated and rendered.[14]

Aki's appearance was conceived by lead animator of the project, Roy Sato, who created several conceptual designs for Sakaguchi to consider, and then used the selected design as a guide for her character model.[21] During her development, he altered the model to appear more intelligent looking, shortening the hair, and removing makeup from what he perceived as a "supermodel" looking character in favor of an appearance that would "convince people that she's a scientist."[22] In an interview, Sato described actively trying to make her appear as realistic as possible, making her similar to himself in as many ways that he could in terms of animation, including elements of his personality through facial expressions.[21] Sato concluded that Aki ended up being similar to him in almost every way, with the exception that "she's a lot cuter".[21] The model for Aki was designed to closely follow human appearance, with Sakaguchi commenting in an interview "I think it's OK to look at Aki and be convinced that she's a human."[12]

Whilst Square ruled out any chance of a sequel to The Spirits Within before it was even completed, Sakaguchi intended to position Aki as being the "main star" for Square Pictures, using her in later games and films by Square, and including the flexibility of being able to modify aspects such as her age for such appearances.[12] Ming-Na stated that she would be willing if asked to continue voicing Aki.[15] Aki only made one appearance outside of the film; in 2002 she appeared in a demonstration video that Square Pictures made to present to the Wachowski Brothers before developing Final Flight of the Osiris for The Animatrix. The short film, appearing amongst the DVD's bonus content and featuring her with a slightly modified design, shows her acrobatically dueling a robot from the Matrix setting.[23] Shortly afterwards, Square Pictures was closed and absorbed into Square Co. and the company ceased use of the character, much to studio president Jun Aida's lament.[9]

While the near lifelike appearance of the characters in the film was acknowledged as a technological tour-de-force, some commentators felt the character renderings fell into the trap that many robotics scientists refer to as the "uncanny valley". This is a point where a robot or animated character becomes very realistic, but subtly different enough from reality to feel "creepy." John Mangan from The Age cited the film as an example of this phenomena."[24]

Soundtrack[edit]

Final Fantasy – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within by Elliot Goldenthal
Released July 3, 2001
Recorded Watford Coloseum, Watford
AIR Lyndhurst Hall, London
Genre Film music[25]
Length 56:35
Language English
Label Sony Classical
Producer Teese Gohl
Elliot Goldenthal chronology
Titus
(2000)
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
(2001)
Frida
(2002)

The soundtrack to the film was released on July 3, 2001 by Sony Music.[25] It was composed by Elliot Goldenthal, with the performing orchestra conducted by Belgian composer Dirk Brossé. Director Hironobu Sakaguchi opted for the acclaimed film composer instead of Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of the Final Fantasy games' soundtracks, a decision met with mixed opinion as Goldenthal was completely unknown to many of the game's fans.[26] The film's soundtrack was recorded in the United Kingdom at the Watford Coloseum and the London AIR Lyndhurst Hall. It was mixed at the Manhattan Center Studios in the United States.[27] In the liner notes to the album, Goldenthal describes the soundtrack as combining "orchestration techniques associated with the late 20th-century Polish avant-garde, as well as my own experiments from ALIEN 3, and 19th-century Straussian brass and string instrumentation."[28]

The album was met with extremely positive reviews. Neil Shurley from AllMusic, who gave the album 4 out of 5, stated the album would probably have been nominated for an Oscar if the film itself had been more popular.[25] Christopher Coleman from Tracksounds gave the soundtrack 10 out of 10, stating the feel of the album was "expansive and majestic".[26] A review from Filmtracks gave the album 4 out of 5, calling it "an easy album to recommend", adding "parts of it will blow you out of your seat."[29] Dan Goldwasser from Soundtrack.net also gave the film 4 out of 5, calling it a "must have".[30]

Sample of "The Phantom Plains" from the soundtrack album.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The album peaked at No. 19 on Billboard's Top Soundtracks list and No. 193 on the Billboard 200 on July 28, 2001.[31] The track "The Dream Within" was nominated for "Best Original Song Written for a Film" at the 2002 World Soundtrack Awards.[32]

Release[edit]

Box office[edit]

Before the film's release, there was already skepticism of its potential to be financially successful. Chris Taylor from Time magazine noted that video game adaptations had a poor track record when it came to the box office, also noting that it was Sakaguchi's first feature film.[17] The film was released in the United States on July 13, 2001; making $32 million in North America and going on to gross $85 million in worldwide box office receipts.[2] The film achieved average to poor results at the box office in most of Southeast Asia; however, it performed well in Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.[33]

"If the ambitious mix of East-West, movie-game and anime-action doesn't pay off, we may still remember this as the moment true CG actors were born."

Time magazine[17]

Critical reception[edit]

The Spirits Within holds a 44% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 143 reviews (63 positive, 80 negative), where the consensus is the film "raises the bar for computer animated movies, but the story is dull and emotionally removed."[34] Similarly it has a weighted score of 49/100 at Metacritic based on 28 professional reviews.[35]

Roger Ebert was a strong advocate of the film; he gave it 3½ stars out of 4, praising it as a "technical milestone" while conceding that its "nuts and bolts" story lacked "the intelligence and daring of, say, Steven Spielberg's A.I." He noted that while he did not once feel convinced Aki Ross was an actual human being she was "lifelike", stating her creators "dare us to admire their craft. If Aki is not as real as a human actress, she's about as human as a Playmate who has been retouched to glossy perfection."[36] He also expressed a desire for the film to succeed in hopes of seeing more films made in its image, though he was skeptical of its ability to be accepted.[37] Peter Bradshaw gave a more negative review, stating that while the animation was brilliant, the "solemnly realist human faces look shriekingly phoney precisely because they're almost there but not quite", concluding "The story is adequate, if familiar, but after half an hour relapses into cliche."[38]

Reception of Aki Ross[edit]

Maxim '​s featuring of Aki in their "Hot 100" list resulted in increased media attention towards the character

Entertainment Weekly named Aki an "it girl", stating that "Calling this action heroine a cartoon would be like calling a Rembrandt a doodle."[39] She was voted to be one of the sexiest women ever by Maxim and its readers, ranking 87th out of 100 and became the first fictional woman to ever make the list, additionally appearing on the issue's cover.[40] Her appearance has been received positively by critics,[41] with praise for the finer details of the character model such as the rendering of her hair.[42] Ruth La Ferla from The New York Times described her as having the "sinewy efficiency" of Alien franchise character Ellen Ripley and visual appeal of Julia Roberts' portrayal of Erin Brockovich.[40] The book Digital Shock: Confronting the New Reality by Herve Fischer described her as a virtual actress having a "beauty that is 'really' impressive", comparing her to video game character Lara Croft.[43] In contrast, Livia Monnet criticized her character as an example of the constantly kidnapped female in Japanese cinema, further "diluted" by her existence solely as a computer-generated character representing "an ideal, cinematic female character that has no real referent."[3] Writing in the book Action and Adventure Cinema, Yvonne Tasker described her as among the "least overtly eroticised" female characters in science fiction, though noted her as an example of the treatment of such characters as pin-up girls and "transformed [...] into an erotic fantasy machine."[44] Writing in the book Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality, Barbara Creed commented on the emphasis by her creators on making her appear real, though questioned the portrayal of her character, in particular if the presence of her unconsciousness in the film was intended as a means to have the character appear more human to viewers.[45]

Legacy and related media[edit]

The merger between Square and Enix, which had been under consideration since at least 2000 according to the then Enix chairman Yasuhiro Fukushima, was delayed because of the failure of the film and Enix' hesitation at merging with a company that had just lost a substantial amount of money.[46]

The film's CGI have been compared favourably with later CGI films such as James Cameron's Avatar (2009).[47][48] In 2011, BioWare art director Derek Watts cited The Spirits Within as a major influence on the successful Mass Effect series of action role-playing games.[49]

Surprisingly for a film loosely based on a video game series, there were never any plans for a game adaptation of the film itself. Sakaguchi indicated the reason for this was lack of powerful gaming hardware at the time, feeling the graphics in any game adaptation would be far too much of a step down from the graphics in the film itself.[19]

A novelization was written by Dean Wesley Smith and published by Pocket Books in June 2001.[50] The Making of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a companion book, was published by BradyGames in August 2001.[51] Edited by Steven L. Kent, the 240 page color book contains a foreword by director Sakaguchi and extensive information on all aspects of the film's creation, including concept art, storyboards, sets and props, layout, motion capture and animation, as well as a draft of the full script.[52]

Accolades[edit]

The film won the "Jury Prize" at the 2002 Japan Media Arts Festival.[3] It was nominated for "Best Sound Editing – Animated Feature Film, Domestic and Foreign" at the 49th Golden Reel Awards[53] as well as "Best Animated Feature" at the 5th Online Film Critics Society awards.[54] The film's trailer was nominated for the "Golden Fleece" award at the 3rd Golden Trailer Awards.[55]

Year Event Award Nominee Result
2002 Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing – Animated Feature Film Sound editing team Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards Golden Fleece Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within trailer Nominated
Japan Media Arts Festival Jury Prize Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Animated Feature Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Nominated
Saturn Awards Best DVD Special Edition Release Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within DVD Nominated
World Soundtrack Awards Best Original Song Written for a Film The Dream Within
(Elliot Goldenthal, Richard Rudolf, and Lara Fabian)
Nominated

Home media[edit]

The DVD version of the film was released on 23 October 2001, with the Blu-ray edition released on 7 August 2007.[56] Two weeks before it was released the DVD version was listed on Amazon.com as one of the most-anticipated releases, and it was expected to recuperate some of of the money lost on the films disappointing box-office performance.[57] Both versions[58] contained 2 full-length commentary tracks, as well as an isolated score with commentary. It also contained a version of the film in its basic CGI and sketch form, with the additional option of pop-up comments on the film. An easter egg on the DVD shows the cast of the film dancing to Michael Jackson's song Thriller. The DVD contained 15 featurettes, including 7 on character bios and 3 on vehicle comparisons, as well as an interactive "Making Of" featurette. Other features included Aki's dream viewable as a whole sequence, the film's original opening sequence, and intentional outtakes.[59][60] Peter Bracke from High-Def Digest stated the DVD was "so packed with extras it was almost overwhelming", stating that Sony went "all-out" on the extra features in a likely attempt to boost DVD sales and recover losses.[58] The DVD was nominated for "Best DVD Special Edition Release" at the 28th Saturn Awards.[61]

Aaron Beierle from DVD Talk gave a positive review of the DVD, rating it 4½ out of 5 stars for audio quality, video quality and special features.[59] Dustin Somner from Blu-ray.com gave the Blu-ray version 5 out of 5 stars for video quality and special features, and 4½ stars for audio quality.[60] Peter Bracke gave the Blu-ray version 4 out of 5 stars overall.[58]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]