Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is the first movie with the Final Fantasy name and the first attempt to make a photorealistic rendered 3D feature film. Released on July 11, 2001 by Columbia Pictures, it used a budget of $137 million, but only managed to gain $85 million worldwide making it one of the biggest box office bombs of all time, which delayed the merge between Square Co., Ltd. and Enix. Despite this, the film had received nominations for five different awards and the main character herself received considerable media coverage in the debuting year.
The story follows scientists Aki Ross and Doctor Sid in their efforts to free Earth from a deadly alien race known as the Phantoms, which has driven surviving humanity into barrier cities. They must compete against General Douglas Hein, who wishes to attack the aliens with the Zeus Space Cannon to end the conflict. The film shares with Final Fantasy VII a mystical version of the Gaia hypothesis, in which the source and destination of souls is a planet's lifeforce; the souls are visually represented in the film as they are in Final Fantasy X, Dissidia Final Fantasy, and even Vagrant Story as glowing lights.
The year is 2065 AD. The Earth is infested with alien spirits, and mankind faces total extinction. The story starts with Aki Ross on-board her ship, the Black Boa waking up from a dream about the Phantoms. After she records her dream, she lands in Old New York City, on a mission to find the 6th spirit. She continues looking until she runs into some Phantoms, and it appears that she is about to be killed until a squad known as Deep Eyes, led by an old acquaintance of hers, Captain Gray Edwards, arrives to save her life. Despite the captain indicating to her that she is under arrest, Aki runs and eventually finds the 6th spirit, which is a plant. Back at New York, Aki talks to her mentor, Dr. Sid; she thus confirms that the plant she found is indeed the 6th spirit. Sid shows Aki a diary he wrote when he was her age, and after she has read it, he burns it, stating that their ideas are unpopular among men.
Later, after waking up from another Phantom dream, Aki is drawn into a debate on whether to use the Zeus Cannon, a weapon that was designed to destroy the Phantoms. Sid argues against the use of the cannon, saying that the cannon would destroy "Gaia, the spirit of the planet". General Hein, leader of the armed forces, mocks this concept and asks for proof. Aki then shows him proof by revealing that she has been infected by the Phantoms, yet still remains alive.
Paranoid that Aki might be a spy for the Phantoms, the General orders Gray and Deep Eyes to guard Doctor Ross and report any suspicious behavior. If she acts in any way abnormal, she is to be arrested.
Dr. Ross, accompanied by the rest of the squad, then leaves the barrier city for the Tucson Wasteland, where she hopes to find the seventh spirit. After dropping energy buoys to distract the Phantoms, they descend and attempt to locate and retrieve the spirit. After a while, they find it - it is contained in the living tissues inside the backpack of a dead soldier; the organic matter within the pack had kept the spirit intact. After retrieving it, they discover that they are surrounded by Phantoms, who, apparently, have been attracted to the one located inside Dr. Ross. The squad is picked up, but the General's soldiers try to apprehend Dr. Ross. One is killed by a Phantom, and the team narrowly escapes.
General Hein, meanwhile, is desperate to gain clearance to fire the Zeus Cannon. He arrests the operators of New York's barrier and lowers the shields in a section of the city. Hein's plan is to sacrifice a small part of the population in order to convince the government that the Phantoms can breach the shields, allowing him to take necessary steps. His plan backfires, as the Phantoms are able to use plasma conduits to travel through the rest of the city. Aki and only a handful of her crew survive the resulting attack. Subsequently, Hein is floating in space, about to commit suicide, when a transmission comes in, saying that following the disaster, he is now authorized to use the Zeus cannon.
Aki and Dr. Sid devise a plan to destroy the Phantoms at their heart, the Phantom crater. The plan involves Aki and Gray being lowered into the crater inside a bio-etheric shield vehicle, and finding and removing the eighth spirit, which is a Phantom. The pair have just located the Phantom when suddenly a beam from the Zeus station crashes into the crater, killing the Phantoms on the surface, including the eighth spirit. The beam leaves the vehicle shield-less and exposed to the Phantoms, which now cover the crater in response to the attack. Gray leaves the vehicle to protect Aki from the Phantoms.
Meanwhile, Aki has her final vision in which a Phantom tells her that the spirit within her is in fact the 8th spirit. When Aki wakes up, she calls Gray in to use his energy pack battery to project the completed wave pattern of the eight spirits. As the projection begins, another Zeus beam penetrates the atmosphere, completely obliterating the bio-etheric shield vehicle, and triggering a massive reaction from the Phantom world's spirit, which resides in the crater. This attack, however, overloads the Zeus cannon, destroying it and killing General Hein.
With the vehicle destroyed, Gray sacrifices his own life to distribute Aki's wave, using his body to transmit it directly to the Phantom world spirit. The Phantoms transform into bright, floating orbs which return to space to transcend to the afterlife as they should have done when their world was destroyed, and the end scene is of Aki holding Gray's body and looking into the newly liberated world.
Concept and production
The movie's working title was simply "Gaia". During preproduction the script went through fifty incarnations. Early incarnations included a New York City divided in an "upper city" and "lower city", riot police, oxygen salesmen, and dispensing machines, and even French Foreign Legion desert troops and European biohazard soldiers. In one of the incarnations, there was a small child named Meg, who had a much larger part in the overall story. In the final version of the film it is mentioned that the fifth spirit was drawn from a terminally ill child. This is the only reference to Meg left in the final version.
The movie was created using a 3D CG tool called MAYA as well as original tools created in Honolulu. The total production time on the film was over four years. By the time the final shots were rendered some of the earlier ones had to be redone because they did not match anymore. Also, the software used to create them had become more advanced (and hence more detail was possible).
Before the film's release there was already skepticism of its potential to be financially successful; 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.
The film was released in the United States on July 11, 2001. In its first four weeks, the film made $32 million domestically, going on to gross $85 million in worldwide box office receipts. The film received mixed reviews; Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 45% rating, with the consensus that the film "raises the bar for computer animated movies, but the story is dull and emotionally removed". Fan reception remains mixed to this day; although many viewers and fans of the source series applaud Sakaguchi's efforts for attempting to create a movie, a common critique remains held to how far removed its own concepts and material was in comparison from the fantasy and otherworldly themes of its originating game series.
Entertainment Weekly named Aki Ross, the film's protagonist, an "It Girl", stating that "Calling this action heroine a cartoon would be like calling a Rembrandt a doodle." 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. Her appearance has been received positively by critics, with praise for the finer details of the character model such as the rendering of her hair. The New York Times described her as having the "sinewy efficiency" of Ellen Ripley and the visual appeal of Julia Roberts' portrayal of Erin Brockovich, she has also been compared to the video game character Lara Croft. Action and Adventure Cinema described her as among the "least overtly eroticised" female characters in science fiction.
The film was nominated for "Best Sound Editing - Animated Feature Film, Domestic and Foreign" at the Golden Reel Awards as well as "Best Animated Feature" by the Online Film Critics Society though it did not win either award.
The soundtrack to the film was released on July 3, 2001 by Sony Music Entertainment. 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 many of the game's fans were completely unaware of who Goldenthal was. Nevertheless Goldenthal's work was met with positive reviews and the album was nominated for a World Soundtrack Award.
A companion book, The Making of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was published by BradyGames in August 2001. Edited by Steven L. Kent, the 240 page color book contained a forward by director Sakaguchi and extensive information on all aspects of film's creation, including concept art, storyboards, sets and props, layout, motion capture, and animation.
The DVD was released in the US on October 23, 2001. The DVD was released in Japan on February 22, 2002, and came with an English and new Japanese audio track.
Characters and voice actors
I couldn't finish 'em. Looks like this's gonna get complicated.
|Character||Japanese Voice Actor||English Voice Actor|
|Aki Ross||Keiko Toda||Ming-Na Wen|
|Dr. Sid||Kiyoshi Kobayashi||Donald Sutherland|
|Gray Edwards||Rikiya Koyama||Alec Baldwin|
|Ryan Whittaker||Akio Ōtsuka||Ving Rhames|
|Jane Proudfoot||Jun Karasawa||Peri Gilpin|
|Neil Fleming||Atsushi Kodou||Steve Buscemi|
|General Douglas Hein||Tsutomu Isobe||James Woods|
|Major Elliot||Matt McKenzie|
|Council Member 1||Keith David|
|Council Member 2||Jean Simmons|
Space Station Technician
|BFW Soldier||John DiMaggio|
|Space Station Technicians||Alex Fernandez|
|Scan Technician||Dwight Schultz|
|Little Girl/The Fifth Spirit||Annie Wu|
- Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi
- Co-director: Moto Sakakibara
- Producer: Jun Aida, Chris Lee
- Scenario Writer: Hironobu Sakaguchi
- Original music composed by: Elliot Goldenthal
- Art Direction by: Moto Sakakibara
- Original Character Design by: Shukou Murase
- Lead Character Artist: Steven Eric Geisler
- The DVD includes some cast bloopers as well, though these can be attributed to the animators making intentionally goofy scenes (or in the case of the last one, the voice actors messing up and the animators running with it).
- Grey shoots through the hangar window and then knocks himself out as his attempt to jump through it fails.
- In the scene where Neil drives through the building and crashes, the main characters emerge with debris (pipes, tools, stop signs) through their heads, and yet they continue to act as if nothing has happened.
- In the Wasteland, Grey stumbles and accidentally shoots Aki. After realizing she is not moving, he nonchalantly sets his gun aside and starts running.
- Aki drives her spaceship into Grey during the shoot-out in the hangar.
- During the conference scene, Aki enters the room and smacks Sid upside the head.
- In the final scene where Aki is solemnly carrying a dead Grey out of the Crater, she happens to sneeze, which causes both her and the "dead body" to break out into laughter.
- For fun, the producers created a music video featuring the characters (led by Aki) performing the dance from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (1983).
- Before Elliot Goldenthal was brought in to compose the score, the film was temp-tracked from James Horner's score for Titanic (1997). Cues from the piece "A Promise Kept" were borrowed for the original opening sequence and can be found on the Special Edition DVD.
- With a budget of $137,000,000, the movie grossed $85,131,830 on the worldwide market, making a loss of $51,649,170 and leading to the "retirement" of Square Pictures in October 2001, however the studio would later go on to create an animated short film for The Animatrix. This was produced after test footage was created using the Aki model.
- Each movie frame has twice the resolution of a high-definition TV signal and contains 10 megabytes of data.
- When the movie was digitally-projected (Texas Instruments DLP), it became the first ever to include a "genuine" 8-channel Sony SDDS soundtrack. "Prototype" 8-channel soundtracks had been in use by SDDS since 1993, but the one for this movie is considered the first perfected standard of the format.
- All backgrounds are hand painted.
- During preproduction, the script went through fifty incarnations largely due to the conflicting tastes between the Japanese and Americans involved. In one of the incarnations there was a small child named Meg, who had a much larger part in the overall story. In the final version of the film the fifth spirit was drawn from a terminally ill child. This is the only reference to Meg left in the final version. Other characters that did not make the final cut include a boy named Daniel and a fifth member of the Deep Eyes Squad called Robert.
- This was Columbia Pictures' first theatrically-released animated feature since Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation (1986).
- A copy of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within appears on a video store shelf in the film, The Benchwarmers (2006).
- A movie poster of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within appears under a Zoolander movie poster in the film, World Trade Center (2006).
- There is an allusion to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in Life Is Strange, an episodic interactive drama graphic adventure video game developed by Dontnod Entertainment, and published by Square Enix. A character wants to watch the movie, and claims it to be one of the best sci-fi movies made.
- "Beyond Final Fantasy" feature included in the International and PAL versions of Final Fantasy X