What happens when effects gets in the way of a story? Throughout modern visual culture's colored history, there are classic examples where stunning effects, massive setpieces, and bombastic sound design that have somehow managed to fail in carrying an entire production simply because the story was just well... ordinary.

"I have a love of astonishing sights, of films that show me landscapes and cityscapes that exist only in the imagination, and ''Final Fantasy'' creates a world that is neither live action nor animation, but some parallel cyberuniverse."
-Roger Ebert

Hmm... I just found an ol' copy of Final Fantasy: Spirits Within lying around the house, so I thought, why not?
John Virata of the Digital Animator Community puts it that "...even though the characters were entirely computer generated, the skin tones, Aki’s flowing hair, without good story to keep things flowing, everything gets muddled." For awhile, you are led to believe that these characters are real people fighting aliens. Then the story gets in the way."

Seeing the film though, almost its not as bad as people say it is. And the funny thing is I sorta agree with a lot of what Roger Ebert said in the film. The film had this whole spirit aspect going on (hence the frickin' title) and while it can get really weird at times, I guess they had to have it cuz' it did bear the Final Fantasy title. Mr. Ebert commented in his old 2001 review, "The most realistic are probably Dr. Sid and Ryan. It all comes together into a kind of amazing experience; it's like you're witnessing a Heavy Metal story come to life." I agree... The story felt had that whole depressing post-apocalyptic motif/thing which I have seen in a lot of in my Heavy Metal mag collection.

"The company and its cadre of digital artists have proven that they can create some pretty impressive effects for film, and they have also proven that they aren’t as adept as they had thought in getting into the filmmaking business." The film was a international failure, garnering a hundred twenty million in losses. There was a plan to use the Aki character model/asset for other films in the future, but that planned quickly turned to dust. For shame.

Whatever the case may be, the film is indeed a stunning piece of work. This opening dream shot was really an eye-opener, especially back in the beginning of the second millennium.

And while you know that all the characters were fake, there was that... believability in that they exist in that world. Ebert notes that "Not for an instant do we believe that Dr. Aki Ross, the heroine, is a real human. But we concede she is lifelike, which is the whole point." I guess the only problem was the poor facial capture technology at the time. Lip synch was also pretty off and sometimes just plain bad at times.

Imagine that these were the graphics that we could achieve in 2001. At the time of this writing, its 2007, and games are rendering all this stuff in REAL TIME! Thanks to leaps and bounds in processing power, games are reaching that quality with current generation Playstations and Xbox 360s. PC power is also pushing that barrier to photorealism with games like Farcry 2 and those uh... just about every other first person shooter in development at this time.

I was also really impressed with these trooper designs developed for the film. Nowadays, a lot of creative people have focused on this type of design aesthetic (is that the right jargon??) Halo and a bunch of other properties pioneered this craze, since they sold so damn well.
I also liked this concept of the 'touch display' which was has been seen in many features to date, though I remember it most from the film 'Minority Report' starring Tom Cruise. I remember quite a bit of buzz about that aspect in that particular film.

So anyway, the film is indeed a triumph in design. Square USA brought in veteran concept designer Craig Mullins, who helped realize this Spirit's intricate worlds. The film's muted color scheme sorta made me wish for a wider palette, but I blame creative decisions...

Upon the film's release, people threw the term 'Hyper-real' around a lot due to the film's graphics. ‘Hyper-real’ is defined as a means of taking what's real and then putting something into it that makes something happen more than we’ve seen actually happen on our soil. In this case, its making this entirely believable world, yet unreal world. Well, whatever. I'm still impressed with this 2001 one-shot film. Despite bombing so bad, this whole 'hyper real' film making movement produced was still able to produce "wonderful" and "memorable" classics such as Final Fantasy: Advent Children and "Appleseed". More on those films in the future.

Wikipedia Entry
Final Fantasy Review
Final Fantasy in Hollywood

1 Responses to Spirits Within: A "Brief" Look Back

  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. Really good review, actually. Bookmarked.

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