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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
DVD disk
10.10.2004 By: The Shootin Surgeon
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within order
Hironobu Sakaguchi, Motonori Sakakibara

Donald Sutherland


star Printer-Friendly version
Set in the year 2065 AD, Earth has been run over by Alien Phantoms and life as we know it, has virtually disappeared. A beautiful adventurer, Dr. Aki Ross seeks to collect Spirits of Life in order to battle the demons. With the aid of her mentor, she seeks the dangerous troops while what’s left of Earth’s human army seeks to blow the demons away.
I don’t like computer animation. I don’t like to see it, I don’t like to hear about it and like most civilized humans...I don’t like Jar-Jar. But even a cynic has to admit that this is a truly impressive visual achievement. The biggest compliment that you can make to these filmmakers is that the few mistakes in animation really stick out. They stick out so much because during the rest of the film, you tend to forget that those aren’t real actors you’re looking at. From the really hot main character to the jellyfish-like demons, you get lost in this strange new world and lose your grip on your everyday sci-fi flick.

Another great achievement is that it doesn’t rely solely on this new medium to sell the movie. This is an actual film with a plot, some great visuals, some entertaining characters and a pretty darn good cast of voices. It doesn’t debase itself into yet another showcase for computer animation (Mr. Lucas? Hello?), although it does demonstrate its power in the hands of people who know what to do with it. In other words, this isn’t computer animation turned into a film, but rather a film, which happens to be computer-animated.

The central character, Aki (Ming-Na) is herself “infected” by the Phantoms but her mentor has found a way of containing the spread by negating it with positive energy “spirit” wave stored in her chest plate. She needs to collect three more spirits in order to activate the waves that may free Earth from its captor. Unfortunately, the Council, influenced by General Hein (Woods) has other ideas and plans to fire the humongous Zeus cannon at the Alien Meteor orbiting the earth. Aki and a handful of renegade soldiers must reach the last spirit before Hein can lead the Council into all-out war with the Phantoms. Fun stuff.
I certainly hope you have some time on your hands if you plan to take full advantage of the offerings on this DVD. You can access all of them through an attractive but slow animated menu:

DISC #1:

Three feature-length commentary tracks: Co-Director Moto Sakakibara, Sequence Supervisor Hiroyuki Hayashida, Sets & Props lead artist Tatsuro Maruyama & Phantom Supervisor Takoo Nogushi:

Aside from having really hard-to-spell names, the four guys are hilarious as hell! The track is in Japanese with English subtitles but these guys sound drunk in any language. There was obviously some sake available the day they recorded this. Since the film was four years in the making, it’s fun to hear them stumble through recollections of what happened where and when and to just hear the humorously jab at each other. The content itself is pretty technical so you tire of it fast but it’s worth a listen just to hear these dudes have a blast. In case you’ve never drank with a Japanese guy, take it from me, they have nothing to envy the Irish.

Animation Director Andy Jones, Editor Chris C. Capp & Staging Director Tani Kunitake: Once again, a lot of technical and software jargon, which you can expect. These guys offer a little bit more insight on plotlines and story concepts than the four lushes above, but the track’s not as entertaining, probably because they’re not as heavily intoxicated.

Isolated score with commentary track by Composer Elliot Goldenthal: Not really one of my favourite types of features… The score is supposed to emphasize the mood of the movie, so when you hear it on its own, it’s sometimes clumsy and pretty irrelevant. Although it works great within the film, I don’t really care much to hear the composer chat about what instrument he used at each point. It’s probably interesting for someone more musical than I am, but when they talk about instruments I don’t even know, it just doesn’t click. Probably a useful reference if there’s a part of the score you really like, but doesn’t really have much to stand on its own.

Boards / Blasts: This is actually pretty cool. You can follow the entire feature through the storyboards and “blasts”. I didn’t really know what was meant by blasts but I figured it out to be some sort of computer animation “rough cut”. A neat little feature, you can also watch it along with feature-length commentary or you can watch it with little pop-up snippets of information regarding anything from the software used for a certain scene to the zodiac sign of a character.

Trailers: Standard fare, including two trailers for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, as well as trailers for the Video Game Final Fantasy X and the films "Men In Black", "Starship Troopers" and "Metropolis".

DISC #2 :

Original Interactive Documentary: The Making of Final Fantasy (30 mins): This detailed documentary chronicles the different aspects of making such a film, focusing obviously on the daunting technical challenge of getting the whole thing off the ground. Within the documentary, you can access at the click of a button, some “information pods” in which you link out to smaller featurettes, most of them displaying a different little technical aspect of the film. It’s pretty neat but the pods don’t really contain anything that will blow you away and they sort of cut the flow of the documentary.

Character files (10 mins): This neat little feature allows you access to information regarding the characters in the film. You also get a little bit of background on the actor providing the voice. In all, seven of the characters are profiled, that’s most of the people in the film.

Vehicle Scale Comparison (5 mins): This is pretty similar to the feature above but profiles 3 of the different vehicles used by the characters in the movie. This may mean something to the video game enthusiasts but to me, it was just a few concept drawings and tidbits of information. The girl who narrates these has a really sexy voice though..

Final Fantasy Shuffler: This cool feature allows you to re-edit a scene in the movie. You can shuffle the different clips and skip some in order to re-arrange the scene to your liking and play it back for viewing. Although the functions are pretty limited, it adds to the whole interactive thing and is pretty fun to tinker around with for a few minutes.

Trailer Exploration (5 mins): Quickie feature focuses on a Japanese dude explaining the importance of the movie trailer and discussing the reasoning behind the selection of the scenes and the way you present the movie to people who have never heard of it.

The Gray Project (5 mins): No voices, just a jumble of what seems like test shots for animation to see what the characters may look like. After watching the movie, these “primitive” attempts lose their glory. You can skip this one.

More Boards / Blasts (2 mins): Like the above feature-length presentation of the boards and blasts, this is another scene, presented with different boards / blasts. Repetitive, yet you can’t help but watch….

Matte Art Exploration (6 mins): Cheerfully hosted by some Swedish dude who likes ABBA, this clip discussed various technical aspects of Matte Painting, which is one of the technologies used to create the visuals of the movie. This will definitely be interesting for anyone who knows about that kind of thing, but for your average computer-idiot like myself, it goes right over your head. Nonetheless, the guy is funny and it does help you understand the tremendous teamwork that goes in a movie like this.

Joke Outtakes (2 mins): This feature is just too short. It just shows some outtakes created when Japanese animators decide to have some fun. Sort of like movie outtakes, they just show things that can go wrong during a filming. Pretty funny stuff.

Compositing Builds (7 mins): Strictly some technical fleshing of the characters played out to some funky music. I didn’t like it, I didn’t get it, I won’t re-watch it.

Opening Scene (5 mins): Alternate opening to the movie, it’s not as good as the one they used and seems to give away most of the plot in 5 short minutes. Some spoilers if you watch it before you get down to the movie.

Aki’s dream (9 mins): This is the entire sequence of Aki’s dream, which is played out in parts at various times in the movie. Watching it played out all together is pretty cool. Did I mention Aki is one hot little digital number? It doesn’t hurt…

“Thriller” video (2 mins): Cool little feature shows the film’s characters dancing to the beat of that weirdo Michael Jackson’s classic vid clip. If, like me, you are sad enough to have the hots for a computer-animated chick, here’s a good chance to watch her shake her ass a bit.
Fun, innovative movie served up on a giant DVD, this one packs a pretty good punch. Although some of the features are best left to animation enthusiasts, the total package is definitely worth a look and with no need to be an enthusiast of the video game, it can be enjoyed by anyone.
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