Plot: What’s it about?
In the bleak future of 2065, mankind has reached a point of near extinction, thanks to various forces present on the planet. It seems some alien spirits have infested Earth and unless they’re controlled, it could spell disaster for the human race. This is a massive task of course, but it could rest upon the shoulders of one woman, Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming Na). She has enlisted the help of her mentor Dr. Sid (voiced by Donald Sutherland), as well as the Deep Eyes Squadron, so she won’t be alone, but the task is still quite daunting, to be sure. In addition to locating the eight needed spirits, this band of warriors must also battle off invading phantoms, some of the meanest and most resilient aliens they’ve ever seen. As Aki and her team work toward a peaceful solution, a military agent named General Hein (James Woods) plans to demolish the aliens at any cost, even if that cost is the human race & his own planet. As these three forces collide in an attempt to achieve their ultimate goals, who will emerge as victors and at what cost?
I’ve seen countless arguments about how dazzling visuals can’t save a movie, but in this case, that argument holds no water, not even a drop. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has an average level storyline, but packs such a visual punch, you won’t even notice the holes. I do admit the environmentalist tones sometimes become too thick, but even so, this is a fun movie and if nothing else, it is gorgeous just to soak in. Thanks to some of the finest computer animation ever, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has immense worlds of various textures, populated by realistic, though sometimes stiff inhabitants. The animation has some flaws, but still looks excellent and if you ask me, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a visual masterpiece. The story is recycled and offers little depth, but is enough to hang the visuals on, which I think is all that was intended. The voice talent is so-so, with such names as Ming Na, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, and Alec Baldwin involved. This movie is by no means a modern classic, but it is a beautiful and memorable one, so this awesome double disc release is more than recommended.
Video: How does it look?
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As this is a direct from the digital source transfer, the image is remarkable and shows no real flaws, this is about as good as it gets. As no actual film was involved, the source print isn’t even an issue, as this all digital master looks excellent, totally flawless. The colors have a rich, very potent texture, while contrast provides slick, well refined black levels at all times. In short, this is one of the best transfers I’ve seen to date, but as this is an all digital production, it would be hard for normal feature films to compete, of course.
Audio: How does it sound?
As impressive as the video is here, I think the audio surpasses even that, with one of the finest Dolby Digital 5.1 options I’ve ever heard. This mix pumps in all sorts of surround presence and directional effects, but it never seem false in any fashion. Instead, the result is an immersive experience that really draws in the viewer, very potent stuff. The channels all kick in to create the environment and it all works to perfection, from the intense action scenes to more laid back, dialogue based moments. In other words, all the pieces fall into place and then some, easily a reference level track in all respects. This disc also contains 2.0 surround tracks and subtitle options in English & French, should you need those.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Columbia has laid down the red carpet here, in the form of a deluxe two disc special edition, packed with value elements. The first contains the film itself and also some neat extras, such as two audio commentary tracks. Each track consists of some crew members, from co-director to animation director to sets & props lead artist and beyond, so the scope of technical workers is covered here, at least to an extent. As expected, most of the talk covers the technical side of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which is appropriate, but it could bore some listeners. A feature called “boards & blasts” is also found here, which is the entire film in rough form, with content from storyboards, sketches, and unfinished animation stages. As you view this feature, you can enable a production commentary session or a text based note system, even both if you wish. The first disc also includes an isolated musical score with comments from composer Elliot Goldenthal, as well as the film’s theatrical and teaser trailers. We’re done however, as disc two holds even more bonus materials, including the much lauded interactive featurette, The Making of Final Fantasy. This piece runs about half an hour and from time to time, you can access additional materials, from brief featurettes to optional audio comments. Most of the extra content is available elsewhere in the release, but some is exclusive and to see it all, you’ll need to navigate this featurette, which looks awesome, I think. A series of short behind the scenes featurettes is next with pieces on character files, vehicle scale comparisons, exploration of the trailers, and sets & props. These all combine to provide a nice peek behind the curtains, but even more featurettes follow, if you can believe that. These featurettes cover The Gray Project, Matte Explorations, Character Morphs, and Compositing Builds. Again, these might be short, but they’re fun to watch and make welcome inclusions. This second disc also includes a ton of hidden extras, an alternate & extended opening sequences, an editing machine called Final Fantasy Shuffler, some joke outtakes, and extensive DVD ROM content.