FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN
Reviewed November 5th, 2001 by Brian White
The Final Fantasy video game series is very popular, and a staple of the original Sony Playstation’s lineup. Games from the series also appeared on the Super Nintendo and on the Gameboy. Cut-scenes (cinematics between game play) that featured incredible computer animation were often included in the games. Somebody obviously was watching this footage, and decided to turn Final Fantasy into the first feature-length film to feature computer generated characters that were supposed to look like real people.
Creating computer-generated characters that are engaging enough to make the audience care about their plight is a bold task for the filmmakers to have taken on. They came very close. Is the intention to make things look as real as possible, or to create a style? While you won’t walk out of the theater fooled that you were watching real characters, the animation is awe-inspiring nonetheless. Instead of saying, “hey, that looks fake!” you’ll find yourself commenting on how real certain aspects of the film look.
Final Fantasy is very stylish, and there is some beautiful imagery on screen. The film also contains some great science fiction. Final Fantasy is a dark looking film, possibly because the chosen lighting makes the computer graphics appear more real. There is an eerie effect in the tone of the film’s look and it suits the subject matter quite well.
Certainly, this film will start to show its age almost immediately. The textures for soft clothing are not as realistic as those for leather or armor; and the motion capture, though sometimes fantastic, isn’t overly realistic in many places. Basically put, the characters mostly move like real people, but there is a long way to go before this effect is made perfect. Of particular concern are the facial expressions during speech. This criticism might appear to be nit-picky, but the nature of the computer animation draws the viewer’s eye to the mistakes. On a more positive note, I found skin textures and hair to look quite believable.
Why haven’t I discussed the story? Because it doesn’t really matter. There’s this business about a spirit behind planets, or something, and that lives in us. It’s a spookier version of the Force. The lead character is on some sort of spiritual journey throughout the film. There are also a bunch of hardened soldiers blasting the crap out of aliens. I found myself remembering Starship Troopers while watching the film in that there is a narrative, but it seems only a tool to get us from one cool sequence to another. There is a sense of “we’re showing this because we can pull off the effect”-ness to most of the film. I was more impressed by the spiritual thesis behind the film when I heard the video game originator, Hironobu Yakaguchi, discuss it in the documentary.
Final Fantasy features some great voice acting. Ming Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Donald Sutherland and James Woods lend their voices to characters. Bad voice acting could have seriously destroyed this film. The characters sound quite believable.
How does the disc look? Quite incredible, actually. This is a direct digital transfer: no film grain or blemishes here. There is also no bumpiness that is usually noticeable when film is transferred to DVD. Like Toy Story, Bug’s Life and Shrek, this DVD is one of the best-looking DVDs you can own. It is not a colorful as those movies, but it is impressive nonetheless. The 1.85:1, anamorphic transfer is stunning.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is VERY active and dynamic. You’re going to have to bolt down your subwoofer for most of this flick, and I swear you’ll jump when you’re surrounds kick in during a certain scene. The fright expressed by the audience with which I auditioned this disc earned Final Fantasy a high mark for audio.
Extras? On disc one, you get two feature-length commentaries with various filmmakers and directors. They are all quite proud of their technical achievement and it shows. There is also an isolated score, and a storyboard feature. Disc two contains a very technical documentary that demonstrates how all of the magic was made. I found the documentary ruined by an annoying feature that allows you to view a little featurette every now and then (of course I could have ignored the pop-ups). You hit Enter when an icon pops up. I found that this destroyed the flow of the documentary, and the special feature stuff could have been included in the documentary itself. You can also listen to filmmaker commentary during the documentary. A featurette about the characters, trailers, and a re-editing feature are also included on disc two. If you like this movie there’s a lot here.
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