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Film Rating:
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DVD Rating:
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by Columbia / Square Pictures

1-Dr.-Aki-Ross.jpg (5689 bytes)As DVD technologies have developed, navigating through their menu systems has felt more and more like playing a video game. The line seems even more blurred on the Final Fantasy DVD. Based on the Fanal Fantasy gaming franchise, Square Pictures and Columbia entertainment have produced a DVD that pushes the boundaries of the technology and is guaranteed to satisfy fans of the film everywhere. Most critics ravaged the film when it was released. Too often we judge a film on its failures rather than its successes. Admittedly, there are a lot of faults with the film, but there is a lot to admire about this film both in terms of technology and story.

In the not too distant future, the earth has been ravaged by a horde of phantom aliens. Life is struggling to survive, and unless our crew of intrepid heros can find all of the eight spirits, the world may be doomed. The premise of the film is intriguing. So much of science fiction deals with the spiritual in an allegorical way that it’s unusual to see a film struggling with spiritual issues between spectacular chases and shoot-outs. Part of me can’t help but admire the filmmakers for shooting so high. It would have been very easy for them to remake Aliens or Star Wars yet again. The film tries to balance spiritual introspection with all out action and comes up a little short. It was as if the filmmakers were trying to combine the philosophy of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the non-stop action of Starship Troopers. I think the film is richer for asking some interesting questions, but all of the explosions and gunfire tend to be a little distracting.

4-Deep-Eyes.jpg (6558 bytes)Watching the film, I can’t help but feel that somewhere along the line the script got away from them. It was a great concept to start with, but, judging from the commentary, most of the filmmakers’ concerns dealt with getting the effects right. When the story serves the technology, you’ve got a problem. The visuals are nothing short of spectacular, but they are not enough to save the movie from B-grade dialogue. Listening to the commentaries provided some real insights into the creative processes for this film. Nearly all the filmmakers discuss the technological issues and none talk about the narrative difficulties. In contrast, listening to John Lasseter on any of the Pixar discs, you get the clear idea that the technology is always second to the story and characters. That is why people will come back to Toy Story for decades to come in spite of its already dated visuals.

As far as supplements are concerned, this is one of the most comprehensive discs I’ve ever watched. Everything that you could want to know about this film is found on the two disc set. We’ve got you’re standard commentaries by the director and production crew. One commentary with the Japanese crew in Japanese with optional subtitles and another commentary with the American team. Both of the commentaries were recorded almost immeadiately after the completion of the film and you can hear the fatigue in the filmmakers’ voices. The participants on the Japanese track are almost giddy from exhaustion. These are interesting commentaries that deal mainly with the technical hurdles they had to overcome in the production of this film. You’ve also got an isolated music score with commentary.

2-Final-Fantasy-Menu.jpg (4281 bytes)Also on the first disc is an extra called the storyboard-playblast. This is essentially the entire film portrayed in selected storyboards, early renderings and the final product all edited together. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. This feature also contained optional subtitled factoids which gave some background to the characters, settings, and filmmaking process. Great film student stuff.

On the second disc, you’ve got more extras than you can shake a stick at. Anything you could possibly want to know about this movie is there. There’s a great documentary on the filmmaking process that allows you to branch off in certain sections when an icon appears at the bottom of the screen. The coverage is almost exhaustive. A lot of documentaries are little more than exercises in PR, but the Final Fantasy documentary was genuinely interested in providing insights into the process. It got pretty technical at times, but I never felt that it ever went over my head.

3-Key-Art.jpg (13873 bytes)Also on the second disc is an editing feature that lets you edit certain shots from a pivotal scene in the film. I first saw this on the MIB special edition disc. It’s features like this that further blurr the line between film and interactive entertainment. You’ve also got character profiles, vehicle profiles, an alternate opening scene to the film, a bloopers reel, and an interesting piece on developing the trailers for the film. On top of this, you’ve got a bevy of DVD-Rom content as well. This disc has one of my favorite easter eggs of all time. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but think great mid-eighties choreography. At $29.95 you’re getting much more for your money than you’re likely to find on higher priced discs.

The "Wow" factor on this disc is incredible. People will be using scenes from this movie to demo their home theater equipment for months to come. It has a spectacular Dolby Digital soundtrack and the picture mastered directly from their digital source is simply flawless. If you’re trying to sell any of your friends on DVD, this movie will do it for you.

Let there be no mistake, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a milestone in digital filmmaking. It was an entertaining and interesting experience. There are scenes in this film where the visuals will take your breath away. My favorite moments occured when the technology became transparent; when I forgot that everything I was watching was programmed on a computer. This is a film that deserved to do better than it did, but it’s also a film that deserved to be better than it was. If you feel like you need some great demo equipment, buy this disc. You won’t regret it. Knowing that the technologies in this film are only going to get more and more sophisticated as time goes on I have to admit that I’m a little scared and a lot excited.

Jason Frank   (10/11/2001)


Ups: Phenomenal extras; excellent quality; DVD ROM content; re-edit pivotal scene.

Downs: The story -- show don't tell.

Platform: DVD