I only wanted to see one movie for my birthday in 2001. That was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I purchased my first PlayStation game on my birthday, which just happened to be Final Fantasy VII. It was also the game that sold me the PlayStation. I received Final Fantasy VIII and IX for Christmas. I knew of Final Fantasy VI’s story, and that was on my list. That’s when I heard of Final Fantasy had a box office film showing in movie theaters for the summer. I jumped at the chance to watch it.
I don’t know what I was expecting. I saw the trailers. I knew they weren’t going to have any of the original Final Fantasy characters. But I still expected to see Cloud jumping around, swinging his Buster Sword. I expected magic, dungeons, swords, and an epic story. But we got none of that with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Instead, we got the antithesis of all that made Final Fantasy…Final Fantasy.
Well, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was unlike any other Final Fantasy I’d ever seen. And by that, it wasn’t a Final Fantasy. It was more of a sci-fi film that took place in our world: New New York City. Already, I realized the scriptwriters weren’t familiar with the material they were portraying. It’s one of those odd head-scratching details that leaves you instantly confused. It set a bad tone for the rest of the movie.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within had amazing graphics, but who were they fooling? We needed more than just semi-realistic graphics to carry a movie. Like, what are we watching right now? The spirits are phantoms, but actually aliens from another planet? How can the phantoms float through walls, yet feel plasma? Are they intangible or not? Can I punch a phantom? How does it take my soul? Why does Aki have to collect the spirits, and how do they plan to stop them? Why do the phantoms inside of Aki give her dreams, rather than gradually eat away at her soul? Why doesn’t the general get clearance right away, considering the predicament? Why don’t they listen to the scientist? His research advanced the study of those lifeforms? How were they able to build cities despite phantoms floating around? Why can’t phantoms float through the barrier?
What’s going on here? What should I be feeling right now? Why should I care?
Honestly, no one at the movie theater knew either. Sure, we knew the cues for laughter. We were amazed by the graphics. But the more the movie explained, the less it made sense. So in this sense, you had to rely on the graphics to enjoy the movie. But if science fiction wasn’t your thing, then you probably shrugged and watched Fast and the Furious. Or if it was, you watched Planet of the Apes.
Can’t say the voice acting was bad. Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland and James Woods each did a fantastic job. But this was just not the movie for their talents. It was a strange popcorn flick that just didn’t seem like a blockbuster hit. Sony and Columbia must have pushed hard to get this film into theaters, rather than straight-to-video.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within had many terrible movie cliches:
- No one heeds top scientist’s warnings.
- Male and female protagonists hated each other, but had a thing for each, and then start to fall in love.
- Evil general’s face appears in red light.
- Black guy sacrifices himself to save a crew that will eventually die.
I imagine Sakaguchi, with his beret and sunglasses, shouting through a megaphone (at programmers) to make this movie awesome. But it became clear this was an amateur’s interpretation of an obtuse science fiction movie. The one trick pony was the animation. At the time, it was groundbreaking. But it wasn’t enough to save this film. Sakaguchi and his team knew how to make cutscenes. But a feature-length movie? All we can say is that it was a nice effort.
I left the movie theaters slightly disappointed. I had no idea what to make of what I just saw. Even Super Mario Bros and Street Fighters were OF the franchise. And Tomb Raider, which released that year, had Laura Croft. So…what was up with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? Why did this movie not capitalize on what made Final Fantasy great? This has been a trend in Final Fantasy; branch out into other avenues while nearly neglecting what the series awesome. No one knows what to make of it, so it just falls by the wayside.
The joke is that Final Fantasy has fifteen installations, and over 100 spinoffs and sequels. Ironically, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within would be Hironobu Sakaguchi’s final movie under Square Pictures.