I’m still on a Final Fantasy VII Remake high. I’ve been watching a ton of YouTube videos who have been going through the content with a fine tooth comb to gather clues about what the future holds for future installments. During one of the videos, I watched a super SPOILER FILLED video from Easy Allies featuring Maximilian Dood, one of my favorite YouTubers. In the video, Max practically dissects Final Fantasy VII Remake and connects things to the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children film. It was an amazing and mind-blowing explanation and it just makes so much sense!
Watching him talk about Advent Children and some of the Easter Eggs and references it holds for Remake made me want to watch the movie again with fresh eyes. I do remember watching it way back when but I don’t really remember anything about it because I was rather young. I asked my older brother, who has been collecting movies for years, if he happens to have the Final Fantasy movie Square made using all CGI characters.
He said he did and he ruffled through his DVD collection and pulled a disc out. It was a burned version of the movie so it didn’t have a label. I still promptly snatched it from him, ran into my room and plopped it into my PlayStation 3 (since that’s what a use as my media player). It turns out, while the movie my brother gave me was indeed a Final Fantasy movie featuring all CGI characters, it wasn’t Advent Children.
It was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
Well, I already have the sucker playing! I might as well watch and review it!
Since Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is an incredibly old movie and the people who wanted to see it have already seen it, I think it’s safe to already talk about SPOILERS for it. I kind of have to because I have soooooo many issues with the plot.
Anyway, The Spirits Within takes place in the future. The earth has been infested by alien beings called Phantoms. Coming into contact with the Phantoms will mean instant death and those who do survive become infected by some form of disease. One of the infected people, scientist Aki Ross (played by Ming-Na Wen) discovers a means to possibly get rid of the Phantoms but it does mean gathering 8 specific spirits. By combining these spirits, the Phantoms can be neutralized.
Now, if you’re reading the above summary and your currently scratching your head wondering if I got a stroke, you’re not alone. After watching The Spirits Within, I was wondering if someone slipped something in my tea because the plot is bonkers! However, at the same time, the plot is very bland, especially for a Final Fantasy story. The film was written and directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the legendary creator of the Final Fantasy series. It does borrow a lot from the environmental message of the original Final Fantasy VII, with the planet having a spirit and whatnot.
Hironobu Sakaguchi can be said to be the father of Final Fantasy so he should’ve been the right person to plan out the big budget Final Fantasy movie. So, it’s really weird he wasn’t able to capture the “fantasy” part. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is one of the most boring sci-fi movies I have seen! A lot of the story is told using exposition and gobbledygook. What’s worse, everyone who’s supposed to deliver all of the exposition and gobbledygook is delivered in a super dry and monotone fashion. There’s hardly any emotion here! That’s very disappointing when you consider you have high caliber actors like Donald Sutherland in your cast. Ming-Na Wen, the highly expressive Mulan herself, doesn’t fare any better.
Additionally, a lot of the story is told in the dreams of the characters. This wouldn’t be a problem if the dreams actually had some coherence or some kind of story to them. Unfortunately, they are not. They’re mostly like flashbacks from the alien’s perspective before their planet got destroyed. However, that doesn’t really give the viewer any context as to why they appear to be knowingly killing humans with their Phantom spirit forms!
Basically, the “dreams” are supposed to tell us, the viewers, the alien spirits arrived on a chunk of their planet and the Phantoms are their spirits. Aki Ross and the “good guys” theorize they’re not actually invading the planet but are trying to survive or something like that. Yet they are going after human beings and ripping off their souls! They are intentionally targeting people! How is that not a bad thing? I don’t care if their confused because their planet exploded and their spirits… sorry, their Phantoms, don’t know where they are; the Phantoms were still killing millions of humans!
The story wouldn’t be so bad if the humans were battling the Phantoms in cool ways. Sadly, instead of really cool battles with guys with spiky hair and cool swords and weapons, The Spirits Within has guys and gals with guns blasting away at ghosts! You might think it’s unfair how I’m comparing The Spirits Within to a video game and you might be correct. However, I wouldn’t be this critical about the action scenes if they were exciting. They are not. It’s just people with guns shooting at stuff.
It certainly doesn’t help that none of the main characters are particularly likable. Most of the grunts are forgettable and lack any distinctive personality so I didn’t care they died! Even the love interest for Aki Ross was just bland as bland as can be. Oh, and Aki Ross doesn’t come off as sympathetic at all! She comes off as super whiny and a know-it-all! It’s hard for me to want these people to survive the alien outbreak if they’re just not likable in the least!
I will say The Spirits Within looks… okay. Considering it came out in 2001, the CGI looks okay but there’s just something off about it all. I wouldn’t say it plunges right into the uncanny valley as I never felt they came off as creepy. Rather, it’s more of a lack of texture to everything. The backgrounds are either in some space station, decrepit city or desert so everything, and I mean everything, has the same hue. Gray and dark for the space station and decrepit city and muddy brown for the deserts. Heck, the rocky areas in the Dragon Ball animes have more personality than the desert locations here!
The character models also look a little too perfect. Everyone is just too good looking for it to be realistic. Not a single person in the film has anything like a blemish on their face! They must take skin care very seriously in the future! This super clean look to the character models certainly doesn’t help as it deprives them from any kind of possible distinguishing character marks.
The worst sin of The Spirits Within, however, is how much it doesn’t feel like Final Fantasy but more like a cheap knockoff of other movies and games like Halo and Star Wars. The human soldiers generally look like they’re wearing more colorful versions of Master Chief’s armor. Their vehicles look like the warthog and the pelican. The humans even have a giant space cannon reminiscent of the Death Star! I know these are pretty much sci-fi tropes so I could be looking too much into this. The problem is The Spirits Within copies the look and feel of so many other movies, television shows and video games except for the video game that matters: Final Fantasy!
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is the first and only movie produced by Square Pictures. You can tell they had high hopes for this. I did some research and they even positioned Aki Ross to become the first “virtual actress,” someone who can do other movies or endorse products. For the time, I can see why Square Pictures felt secure The Spirits Within was going to be the first of a long line of successful CGI films. Like I said, it does look good, especially for 2001.
It was definitely ambitious but it’s easy to see why The Spirits Within flopped big time. You can have all the fantastical graphics but, unless you couple it with relatable characters and an actual good and comprehensible story, no one is going to like it, no matter how pretty it looks. Don’t listen to that emo gal with time controlling powers is saying. She has terrible taste.
Avoid this movie at all cost. Just wait for the video game adaption.
Have you seen Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!