Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is regretfully synonymous with the words “shitty movie.” It performed so poorly in theaters that the company that created ended up shuttering. That is… the very definition of a flop. But it’s really not that bad. In fact, it’s pretty great.
The movie should be commended for having tried something new, like having all of its realistic characters created from scratch. Yes, the story is a little convoluted, and yes, the CGI looks a little dated, but the plot is still gripping despite being 15 years old. So, you know, it’s bound to look a little less polished than what we’re used to now.
Here’s a few reasons why Spirits Within is brilliant.
All the Fixin’s of a Great Story
There’s fantasy, sci-fi, romance, mystery, action, tragedy, and a wee bit of humor in the midst of the movie. The main elements are, of course, fantasy and sci-fi. The movie takes place in the year 2065 on Earth after the planet has been ravaged by an alien race known as the Phantoms, after all. Aki Ross, the film’s protagonist and her companions are trying to rid the world of these monsters that suck the spirit out of a person. How? Planetary magic, of course.
And despite some people’s aversion to the faces of the characters, the movie was still praised for its visuals. The alien planet Aki dreams of is beautiful and chaotic, and the Phantoms are both realistic and visceral, creating fear with only being half-formed and opaque, but detailed enough to fill in the gaps and start off our imagination.
It’s Hella Final Fantasy
Even though many criticized the film for being named after Final Fantasy, expecting chocobos and other series regulars, the film still held all of what’s truly come to define the franchise — especially in recent years.
Originally, Final Fantasy was more based on — you guessed it — fantasy, but starting with games like Final Fantasy VII there’s a fusion between mechanics and magic. There’s even the “we don’t understand the power inherent to our planet” trope.
From there, that becomes more of a staple in the series, the latest being the newest game of Final Fantasy XV where two countries are at war — one with magic, the other with technology. And considering this movie came out in 2001 shortly before Final Fantasy X, which was also a kind of post-apocalyptic world, it’s not too much of a stretch to put this is the same basket. It may not have been what fans were expecting, but it’s not far off, either.
All of the Actors
Spirits Within gathered up a lot of talent for its characters, taking both on-screen superstars and others known more for their voice acting. Donald Sutherland plays Dr. Sid, a philosophical scientist that takes Aki, the main character voiced by Ming-Na Wen, under his wing. And then we have the soldiers that are voiced by Steve Buscemi and Alec Baldwin, and if you’ve ever watched Disney’s Hercules (which, why wouldn’t you have?) then you’ll be familiar with General Hein, a character voiced by Hades actor James Wood.
One of a Kind
Final Fantasy is the first completely photorealistic CGI movie. You’ve got to give it props just for that. Today’s photorealism owes some debt to the movie regardless of its success. This movie even prepped to have Aki as a recurring CGI actress, starring in other CGI films in different roles.
Unfortunately, the uncanny valley was strong with Spirits Within. Audiences didn’t care for the waxy expressions of the characters and the sometimes stilted movements. They were lifelike, but not lifelike enough. For anyone who’s been playing video games for the past few years, though, this shouldn’t a problem in the slightest. And it’s also like going back and watching Monsters Inc. after Monsters University. It makes you cringe a little in the beginning, but after that you’re good to just enjoy the show.