Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a science fiction movie by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy series of video games. It was released on July 11, 2001 in the United States and was the first movie to feature realistic computer-generated humans.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is set on an alien-infested Earth in the year 2065. The remaining humans live in "barrier cities" all over the world and attempt to free their planet from the Phantoms, an alien race. The only hope for the planet comes from the scientist Aki Ross and her mentor, Dr. Sid, who have a plan to destroy the Phantoms without damaging the planet, but a general named Hein is determined to use the Zeus space cannon to destroy the Phantoms—even if it means destroying the Earth in the process.
While the film does carry the name "Final Fantasy," it is only thematically related to any of Squaresoft's popular Final Fantasy series of games. The plot, characters, and storyline were all created specifically for the film, although the character of Dr. Sid does continue the games' tradition of having a character of that name appear in most "Final Fantasy" games.
The film was neither a critical nor a popular success in the West. Its plot is typically Japanese in the way it melds science and spirituality, and it seemed to be best received by regular viewers of anime, who had more experience with Asian conventions of storytelling. In some aspects, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was no more nor less than a big-budget anime movie.
The use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in the film was criticised as a gimmick by people like animation historian Jerry Beck and producer Steve Oedekerk, who argued that simulating live actors is too expensive and that CGI should be limited to special effects only. But Chris Lee, the producer of Final Fantasy, countered that live actors often can't physically accomplish what computer characters easily can, citing his experience from making Starship Troopers and Godzilla. (An early scene in the film, in which Aki floats weightless in an orbital spacecraft, illustrates his point. Such scenes are trivial to shoot when your actress has no weight to begin with.) 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.
Final Fantasy quickly became a benchmark of CGI graphics realism to which performance of computer graphics hardware and quality of images in computer games is compared. Later in 2001 nVidia released a technology demo for GeForce 3, rendering several scenes from the movie in real-time (compared with 1.5 hours per frame for the movie), albeit at only 10 fps and with lower quality (simpler model with noticeable polygons, clipping problems, less realistic skin and textile with no/poor shaders - "plastic" look, unrealistic lighting, poor specular highlighting and very limited self-shadowing).
Poor box office performance (USD$32 million in the US), combined with the astronomical cost of production (USD$137 million), essentially bankrupted Square Pictures, the Square Co., Ltd. spin-off that produced it, although Square Pictures did survive long enough to produce an animated tie-in to The Matrix, Final Flight of the Osiris. This short film ably demonstrated additional refinements to Square's virtual actors.
Cast (voice actors)
- The IMDb entry for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0173840/)
- Screenshots from nVidia demo (http://www.pcrave.com/reviews/245.htm)