A Retrospective – “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” Seven Years Later

I spent the better part of last evening watching Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within movie on Blu-ray Disc, which I grabbed from Amazon.com several weeks ago for $15. As much of a fan I am for the Final Fantasy series, there really is no argument that the CG movie was a disappointment. (FF VII: Advent Childen, on the other hand, was totally kick ass.)

Nevertheless, nearly seven years after release, FF: TSW still feels like a remarkable achievement. Only now are high-quality CG getting to the level set by Square Picture in 2001.

FF:TSW is incomparable to any of Pixar’s work, because the Disney-owned studio takes a specific artistic direction that is unique in every movie. Square Pictures went the other way by trying to replicate the look of a big-budget, live action sci-fi movie – and that was part of its failing.

Even without taking the “kiddy-appeal” factor into consideration, Pixar’s movies are instantly more alluring because they all deal with subjects that couldn’t otherwise be accomplished with live actors. FF:TSW could have worked nearly as well with the voice actors (the likes of Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, et al), but then in the end it would have ended up as an incoherent sci-fi picture.

As it is, FF:TSW’s only real saving grace is its technical accomplishment in animation. The failure of Square Pictures was that it tackled too large of a risky project far too early. If it had started with animated shorts (like the way Pixar did), then the studio could have gone through its growing pains on less critical and expensive endeavours. Even though it came after FF:TSW, the Animatrix short Final Flight of the Osiris demonstrates exactly what Square Pictures should have been doing in the beginning rather than a feature.

Viewing it for only the third time, but first in stunning 1080p, the animation and attention to character detail is still in a class of its own. Sadly, losses of over $124 million from FF:TSW sunk Square Pictures, leaving us only to imagine what the studio could do it if existed today.