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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a computer animated science fiction film by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy series of role-playing games. It was released on July 11, 2001, in the United Statesmarker by Columbia Pictures.

The story follows scientists Aki Ross and Doctor Sid in their efforts to free Earth from a mysterious and deadly alien race known as the Phantoms, which has driven surviving humanity into "barrier cities". They must compete against General Hein, who wishes to use more violent means to end the conflict.

The film was the first attempt to make a photorealistic rendered 3D feature film.

Plot

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is set on a future Earth infested by Phantoms, alien life forms. The remaining humans live in "barrier cities" all over the world and are engaged in an ongoing struggle to free the planet. Two scientists, Aki Ross and her mentor, Dr. Sid, are searching for eight life forms which they believe possess spirits capable, when joined, of defeating the Phantoms. Meanwhile, a general named Hein is determined to use a powerful space cannon to destroy the Phantoms, though Aki and Sid believe the cannon may destroy the Earth.

Aki was infected by a Phantom during one of her experiments, but with the help of the first five spirits, she was able to contain the infection temporarily. Searching for the Sixth Spirit in the ruins of New York Citymarker, Aki is cornered by Phantoms, but is rescued by a team led by Gray Edwards who was once romantically involved with Aki.

When they return, Aki and Sid appear before a leadership council along with Gen. Hein where they debate the use of the space cannon. Aki wins more time but only by revealing that she has been infected, convincing Hein that she is being controlled by the Phantoms. He has three men placed with her as she and Gray's squad travel to find the Seventh Spirit. They succeed in finding it, but are attacked by Phantoms in the process and they realize that the Phantoms are attracted to Aki. Hein's men attempt to arrest Aki but in the ensuing struggle and attacks by phantoms, they are killed. Meanwhile Aki's infection worsens and she falls unconscious.

Gray's squad takes Aki to Sid's lab where Sid helps Gray to join Aki's dream. In the dream, they witness a war on an alien planet. The war ends when terrible explosions rip the planet apart and Aki realizes that the Phantoms are the spirits of the dead aliens brought to Earth on a fragment of their planet. They awake as Sid uses the Seventh Spirit to bring the infection back under control.

Meanwhile, Hein uses the incident with the Seventh Spirit to gain access to Sid and Aki's personal possessions and sees the images of the aliens in Aki's dream recorder. With this evidence, he has Sid, Aki and Gray's squad arrested.

In an attempt to ensure that the council will give him clearance to fire the space cannon, Gen. Hein takes control of the barrier shielding the city from the Phantoms and lowers it until they start to enter. Though Hein intended that only a few of the Phantoms enter, his plan backfires, as the Phantoms use plasma conduits to invade the entire city.

With the city under an evacuation order, Sid, Aki and Gray's squad are released from detention. They attempt to flee the city but only Sid, Aki and Gray escape with their lives in Aki's spaceship. Sid scans for the Eighth Spirit and finds it at the crater where the fragment of the alien planet collided with the Earth. Meanwhile, Hein escapes as well and, guilt-ridden and suicidal, boards the space cannon where he finally receives authorization to fire it, lying to the surviving council members as to the reason the Phantoms were able to invade the city.

Sid lowers Aki and Gray into the crater in a shielded vehicle so they can locate the Eighth Spirit and combine it with the others. They are about to succeed when Hein fires the space cannon into the crater, not only causing the Phantoms to mutate and grow larger, but causing the Eighth Spirit to disappear.

Aki has another vision of the Phantom home planet where she receives the Eighth Spirit. When she wakes, she and Gray combine it with the other seven and use the shield on their vehicle as a projector for them. When a Phantom touches the shield, it begins a chain reaction which neutralizes all of the Phantoms.

Meanwhile, Hein disables the cannon's safety mechanism and fires it again, destroying the cannon and everyone aboard it. The beam hits the Earth's spirit, or Gaia, the existence of which was long a pet theory of Dr. Sid. Gaia is damaged and angered, just as the spirit of the alien planet was damaged and angered when that planet was destroyed.

Aki still has the eight spirits though and, with the vehicle destroyed, Gray sacrifices his own life to transmit them directly to Gaia. Gaia is returned to normal as the destructive energy is beamed back into space. The movie ends with Aki being pulled from the crater holding Gray's body and looking into the newly liberated world.

Place within Final Fantasy series

While the film does carry the name Final Fantasy, it is only vaguely thematically related to Square Co.'s popular Final Fantasy series of games - It is worth noting that this follows the traditions of the game series, as each numerical entry features an entirely different cast and setting, with only thematic elements and the 'Final Fantasy' branding connecting the titles. However, Dr. Sid's Gaia Theory, relating to a lifeforce within the planet to which spirits belong, is highly reminiscent of the Lifestream/Mako in Final Fantasy VII or its prequel Final Fanatsy VII - Crisis Core. The plot, characters, and storyline were all created specifically for the movie although the character of Dr. Sid does continue the games' tradition of having a character named Cid appear in most Final Fantasy games, despite the Doctor's name being spelled with an untraditional "S".

Themes

The film has and had several pacifist themes, as well as a general pro-environment attitude. Since the phantoms are the end result of an alien war in which the combatants literally tore their planet apart, they represent the unsettling self-destructiveness of endless warfare on an entire ecosystem and not just the inhabitants. Similarly, military solutions in the film tend to be futile or only temporarily effective—often exacerbating the situations until a non-violent, spiritual alternative is discovered.

Cast

Character Voice actor Credit status
Aki Ross Ming-Na Credited
Doctor Sid Donald Sutherland
General Hein James Woods
Gray Edwards Alec Baldwin
Ryan Whittaker Ving Rhames
Neil Fleming Steve Buscemi
Jane Proudfoot Peri Gilpin
Major Elliot Matt McKenzie
Council Member 1 Keith David
Council Member 2 Jean Simmons
BCR Soldier/Space Station Technician John DeMita Uncredited
BFW Soldier John DiMaggio
Space Station Technicians Alex Fernandez

David Rasner

Dwight Schultz
Little Girl/The Fifth Spirit Annie Wu


Production

Square accumulated four SGI Origin 2000 series servers, four Onyx2 systems, and 167 Octane workstations. The basic movie was rendered at a home-made render farm which consisted of 960 Pentium III-933MHz workstations. The render farm was made by Square Pictures located in Hawaii. The film had cost overruns during the end of production.

Prior to the film's release, Square had indicated plans for the Aki Ross "synthetic actress" to appear in other films, possibly even interacting with live actors. A sample of what this might have looked like can be seen on the introduction to the second DVD in the Special Edition release, which shows Aki "breaking character" after filming a scene and walking through the studio, interacting with both CGI and real people. Chris Lee, the producer of Final Fantasy, defended his use of animation, stating that live actors often cannot physically accomplish what computer characters easily can, citing his experience from making Starship Troopers and Godzilla. Lee also noted that the difference between the CGI and live action footage can be jarring for viewers when the film requires heavy use of computer effects in almost every scene.

The model used for the characters were of high detail: each of 60,000 hairs was separately and fully animated and rendered, at a render farm consisting of 960 Pentium III-933MHz workstations that took 1.5 hours to render each frame. The Aki model is estimated to be made up of around 400,000 polygons, as are the other main characters of the movie.

Aki Ross's voice actor, actress Ming-Na, says she feels like she "has given birth with [her] voice to a character" and that it was a little "eerie". She added that it was difficult to work without the presence and spontaneity of real actors; however, she gradually accustomed herself to this feeling, and noted 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. She continued to play in the television series ER during the works on Final Fantasy.

The story for the film was written by director Hironobu Sakaguchi. Al Rienert worked on multiple screenplays during the early years of production, until the studio brought in Jeff Vintar as a three-week "script doctor." He re-shaped the screenplay with Sakaguchi into a workable film script. It was Vintar's draft that landed the high-profile voice cast, including Alec Baldwin, James Woods, and Donald Sutherland. Unfortunately, the screenplay tinkering continued through the long years of production, with new drafts by voice director Jack Fletcher (who would receive an "additional dialogue by" credit), closely overseen by the non-English speaking Sakaguchi, resulting in a confusing final product that sounds translated from the Japanese. As several Japanese film critics took great joy in pointing out, the film-makers clearly believed they knew more about English than the English-speaking screenwriters.

Merchandise

Novelization

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was novelized by Dean Wesley Smith. The Making of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was also made available, which was edited by Steven L. Kent.

Soundtrack

Elliot Goldenthal's score for the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a typical Goldenthalian sci-fi affair with epic, sweeping, anthemic themes and many moments are (as Goldenthal acknowledges in the liner notes) similar in style and texture to his work on the Alien³ score: modernist, dark, and percussion-heavy. The orchestra for the movie was conducted by Belgian composer Dirk Brossé. The film's director Hironobu Sakaguchi opted for the acclaimed film composer instead of Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of the games' soundtracks, a decision met with mixed opinion as many of the game's fans were completely unaware of who Goldenthal was.

Goldenthal discuss the soundtrack in the album's liner notes.

Reception

The film received mixed reviews and despite aggressive promotion by Sony, it became a huge box office bomb. With a budget of $137 million (including marketing costs) the film made $85 million worldwide, meaning total losses were approximately $94 million (the studio typically receives half the box office gross). 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.

Roger Ebert was a strong advocate of the film; he gave the film 3 1/2 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 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.

See also



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