Guest Author - Lesley Aeschliman
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a science fiction film by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy role-playing games. This film was the first attempt to make a photorealistic rendered 3D feature film, and was released to theaters in the United States on July 11, 2001. While this film technically is not "anime," other animation for the Final Fantasy franchise has been done as anime. Having this connection to Final Fantasy, I feel justified in including it in the anime section.
In the year 2065, scientist Aki Ross has been having dreams about the Phantoms, a mysterious alien race that took over the Earth after they crash-landed on the planet. Aki has been recording her dreams. She lands her ship in Old New York City, and is on a mission to find the sixth spirit. She runs into some Phantoms, and a military squad known as Deep Eyes arrives and saves her. Even though the captain says she is under arrest, Aki runs off and finds the sixth spirit (which is a plant). Deep Eyes and Aki are surrounded by the Phantoms, and they get to higher ground and escape on a transport.
On the transport, the captain accuses Aki of acting irresponsibly. When the captain removes his helmet, he reveals himself to be Captain Gray Edwards, an old acquaintance of Aki. When they return to one of the "barrier cities" where the remnants of humanity live, everyone except Aki is scanned for Phantom contamination. Gray is found to be infected, and Aki is able to save his life by performing bio laser surgery. Dr. Sid arrives just then, and escorts Aki away.
Aki and Dr. Sid determine the plant is indeed the sixth spirit they've been looking for. Dr. Sid shows Aki a diary he kept when he was her age; after she finishes reading it, he burns it. Dr. Sid says they must destroy all notes and anything about their research that can be used against them, because their ideas are unpopular.
After having another dream about the Phantoms, Aki attends a Council debate with Dr. Sid. General Hein is trying to convince the Council to use the Zeus cannon, a weapon under the command of the Council that was designed to destroy the Phantoms. Dr. Sid argues against it, saying the cannon would destroy "Gaia" (the spirit of the planet). Hein mocks Dr. Sid, and asks for proof. Aki reveals she has been infected by the Phantoms, but is still alive because of a procedure Dr. Sid carried out on her. The Council adjourns without making a decision, and Hein has to make his own plans about getting access to the Zeus cannon.
Aki and Gray begin to reconcile, and they work at trying to locate the seventh spirit. At the same time, Hein asks Gray and Deep Eyes to guard Aki and to report any suspicious activities. If Aki acts abnormal in any way, she is to be arrested. When Aki goes out to look for the seventh spirit, Hein also sends some men with the group to keep an eye on things. After Aki finds the seventh spirit, nearby Phantoms end up being attracted to the Phantom inside Aki and approach the group. As this is going on, Hein finds the dreams Aki has been recording on her ship. Hein uses the images to arrest Aki, Dr. Sid, and the members of Deep Eyes. They must find a way to escape and save the Earth before Hein uses the Zeus cannon and potentially destroy the planet.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is only vaguely related to the Final Fantasy games. Dr. Sid's Gaia theory (a lifeforce within the planet to which the spirits belong) is reminiscent of the Lifestream/Mako in Final Fantasy VII. Also, Dr. Sid continues the tradition of having a character named "Cid" in the Final Fantasy games (although his name is spelled "Sid" instead of "Cid").
The DVD I watched for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a two-disc set. The first disc contains the film, theatrical trailers, and production notes. The second disc includes two Easter eggs: one is for a storyboard of a scene that's not in the film, while the other shows what appears to be a physical bust of Aki that is digitized. The documentary on the DVD runs for about half an hour, and it talks about the animation, an explanation of the Gaia theory, the process for the 3D animation, the audio, and the music. Also, there are spots in the documentary where an icon will appear in the upper right-hand corner. If you select that, you will be taken to additional material on the topic that's not included in the actual documentary.
There are "character files" for Aki, Gray, Dr. Sid, Hein, Ryan, Jane, and Neil. For each one, there is footage of the character with a robotic-sounding female voice-over who provides information on the character, as well as the lead animator and voice actor for that character. The "vehicle scale comparisons" is in the same style as the "character files," but instead covers the following vehicles: Bandit, Black Boa, and Quatro. The "Final Fantasy Shuffle" allows you to re-edit the conference scene and to learn background information from the animators. However, I couldn't quite figure out the point of this feature. It appears you can only re-organize the footage from the film; there are no alternate angles to choose from.
"Trailer Explorations" talks about putting together the teaser and the trailer for the film. "The Gray Project" is a five-and-a-half minute piece which shows some footage that was put together as they were figuring out the designs for the characters. "More Boards/Blasts" has storyboards, footage from the film, and animatics mixed together. "Matte Art Explorations" shows the various mattes the animators used. "Joke Outtakes" are a series of "bloopers" that runs for almost two minutes. "Compositing Builds" shows the details of all the animation elements for one scene in the film.
The original opening that is included is very different from the scene that opened the film. Aki's dream is different, Aki's design is different, and she also already knows what her reason for the dreams are. Personally, I think the opening scene in the actual film is much better than this. "Aki's Dream" takes all the footage of Aki's dreams and puts them together into one continuous piece. "DVD-ROM Content" explains the DVD-ROM content on the DVD. Also, there's a hidden video of the characters from the film dancing to an instrumental of Michael Jackson’s "Thriller."
The 3D animation in this film is very well done; there were times I had to remind myself the characters on the screen were animated, not real people. The film has pacifist themes, and military solutions tend to be either futile or are only temporarily effective. The film is also very pro-environment. The film tells a decent story, and is worth adding to your DVD collection if you enjoy this kind of a science fiction story.
In order to write this review, my husband and I checked out a copy of this DVD from Blockbuster.