Things were simpler in 2001. That’s the year Square Pictures, a short-lived production company under the then-Square umbrella, released their first and only full-length film: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. It did not go over well, and yet here we are, 15 years later, and Square Enix is gambling on a third film based on their storied franchise. The history of Final Fantasy and film is … complicated.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
It all started with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The history of the first film feels a bit like a fever dream, but let’s start with the movie’s plot, shall we?
Unattached to any of the video games that share a name with it — arguably the film’s first mistake — Spirits Within instead opted for a post-apocalyptic future where alien ghosts crashed into Earth and began attacking everyone in sight. Pretty much all the people are dead by the time of the film’s setting, which is good because it meant animating fewer of them.
Protagonist Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) must collect a whole mess of different spirits because all of them together resonate in such a way that can rid the world of the aliens. Along the way she has to deal with soldiers of varying importance voiced by the likes of Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, and James Woods. Ultimately, she succeeds, but at great cost.
Which is kind of like the movie itself — save for the “succeeds” part.
The film was a massive bomb with a $137 million production budget and box office of around $85 million. Square Pictures ultimately shuttered, and plans to use the Aki Ross model across a variety of projects were subsequently shelved indefinitely. Final Fantasy creator and Spirits Within director Hironobu Sakaguchi stepped down within Square, and eventually left after the company’s merger with Enix.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
In 2005, Square Enix was ready to try again. But this time, they weren’t about to make the same mistakes as before. This time, they’d tap into what is arguably still the company’s most popular achievement: Final Fantasy VII. And not only would they tap into it, they’d explore something new while they were at it.
Advent Children is set a couple years after the events of the video game, and it explores the efforts of a trio of antagonists to resurrect the game’s primary antagonist, Sephiroth, while an incurable plague called “Geostigma” ravages the world. Cloud, Tifa, and friends fight off the three maniacs and manage to come together as a team once more to save the world. Oh, and Cloud is a melancholy mess, because of course Cloud is a melancholy mess.
Contrary to Spirits Within, Advent Children began life as an animated short by Visual Works, a subsidiary company used by Square Enix for CGI cutscenes. The scope continued to grow, however, until it became a full-length film with the express purpose of expanding the world of Final Fantasy VII. (It is unique in that way; the majority of what’s called the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII are video games.) Also contrary to Spirits Within, Advent Children managed to do a brisk bit of business and even received an updated version in 2009.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV
And that brings us to Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. Can you guess which numbered entry the most recent film is attached to? Kingsglaive essentially functions as an extension of the video game — it’s not a necessary watch, but it uses the same characters and concepts to explore stuff left out of the game itself.
This time around Aaron Paul, Lena Headey, and Sean Bean lend their voices to the film’s lead characters Nyx, Lunafreya, and Regis, respectively. Though Advent Children wasn’t what I’d call “star-studded,” Kingsglaive shares this trait in common with Spirits Within. And also like Spirits Within, Kingsglaive has so far been met with … well, mixed results.
It’s still early, though, and Kingsglaive is only opening in limited theatrical release starting on August 19 in North America. Digital versions of the film will be made available for purchase on August 30, and a physical version is scheduled for October.