Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

"Open your mind. Unlock the secret. Experience the fantasy."

Unleash a new reality? Harsh.
In 2001, something that had not happened before in film occurred. Squaresoft, under the ill-starred Square Pictures imprint, made a feature length film that was entirely computer generated. The intent at the time was that this would be the first but not last film they made, and the main character, Aki Ross, was supposed to be a recurring figure in more movies. Alas, the Spirits Within proved to be a catastrophic undertaking. It was a disaster at the box office, grossing half of the 136 million dollars that went into its production. Squaresoft took such a bath on this movie, that their pending merger with Enix almost fell through. Square wouldn't make another feature until their Final Fantasy VII film Advent Children (more on that in a bit). There is a long grocery list of reasons why this movie tanked in a massive way. I will recount some of the better ones for you now.

#1 Look at That Tagline Man
Or better yet, take a look at the little blurb on that cover art. That is some grade A bullshot you're looking at there. What does that even mean? OOOOHHH I get it, because it's called final fanntassyyy wow that's so super clever guys. Or wait no really stupid, my bad. These not very clever taglines are indicative of the entire ad campaign for this movie. This leads me straight into reasons #2 and #3

#2 Misleading Trailer
No text first, just watch this: Not good. Did you enjoy that? Yeah you'd think that this movie was going to be XXX by that trailer. Nothing will prepare you for the evolution of the next reality of... come on man, that is seriously lame. Also the story they are telling, is not the story that happens in the movie at all really. Move into reason #3.

#3 Don't call it Final Fantasy
They really play up the fact that this is FINAL FANTASY, but honestly, that probably put off a lot of movie-goers. Remember that this was 2001, and the market was very different. Movies & video games were not where they are now, and the idea of a 'video game movie' was rightfully maligned. The worst part about that? There's not really much of anything that makes this Final Fantasy. Really what they should have done is marketed this movie as what it was: a science fiction movie with an underlying, subtle premise, and plenty of action. They could have just called it The Spirits Within, and it would've been much better off I think.

#4 Photoreal CG
Look at that lady. Foxy right?
In 2001, a photorealistic CG movie had never been made. That's part of what was so profound about The Spirits Within: nothing like it had ever been done before. That being said, it turned out that the world wasn't ready to take something like that seriously. A lot of people seemed kind of creeped out by the CG, and everyone else dismissed the movie twice over. Video game, cartoon movie. This attitude would change by the time Advent Children came out, but that was also marketed in a very different way.

So I've been harping on why this movie tanked explosively, but who cares right? This movie failed, but Square survived, and CG movies would eventually happen (look how successful Avatar was right?). Well Spirits Within frankly was a pretty good movie! It presents a good mix of action and drama, and has what is really a A+ cast. Aki Ross is voiced by Ming-Na, who you may know as the voice of Mulan. Male lead Gray is voiced by Alec Baldwin. The supporting cast includes Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland and James Woods. Even Keith David, who would later voice Captain Anderson in the Mass Effect games, a series that treads the CG cinematic path that Spirits Within first tread. The plot, while not exactly elaborate, is entertaining, and the ending offers an unusual conclusion, taking a death and rebirth worldview rather than presenting the traditional "good guys win and ride into the sunset" sort of ending. It all works together with what is some really excellent CG. I re-watched it recently, and it has aged very gracefully. It was ultimately a film made ahead of its time, and it suffered for that. But I think now is a great opportunity to give it another chance, and enjoy it for what it is. A fun piece of science fiction.
With James Woods starring as a total Douchewagon.

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