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Building a movie around groundbreaking technology is always a risky move. With a few exceptions, it dooms the result to be seen as little more than a product of its times.

That’s been the fate of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a 2001 box office flop that’s forever tied to its status as a technological showcase, but maybe isn’t worth its reputation as a failure.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was born of the success of Final Fantasy VII — widely considered one of the best video games of all time when it was released in 1997.

One of developer Square’s greatest feats with Final Fantasy VII was its 3D graphics, which set a new high-water mark for the PlayStation.

That led Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi to found Square Pictures, in order to beat Hollywood animation studios to the first feature-length film with realistic computer animation.

The result was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Undoubtedly the most realistic animated movie ever up to that point, it nonetheless failed with critics and audiences alike.

Though it’s not related to any Final Fantasy game, it may have still been too much like one, with its story focused on uniting spirits of the Earth to ward off ghostly enemies.

Critics had no patience for its plot, but many conceded that the movie looks gorgeous.

It’s certainly not what we’d call realistic today, but it sits more comfortably in the uncanny valley than other attempts at lifelike CGI, with an unearthly quality that’s intriguing rather than repulsive.

Another joy of watching The Spirits Within today is its ridiculously stacked cast, with Ming-Na Wen, Ving Rhames, Peri Gilpin, Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, and Donald Sutherland giving admirable performances of a somewhat bonkers script.

In Square’s eyes, the real stars of The Spirits Within were its digital “actors,” whom it envisioned appearing in other future movies.

That, of course, never happened, though protagonist Aki Ross did appear in Maxim’s Hot 100, digital bikini and all.

If you go into Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within expecting a work of unsung genius, you’ll likely be disappointed.

But go in looking for a bold, beautiful, bizarre experiment, and you’ll find a movie that deserves to be remembered as more than a flop.

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