A visually stunning video game adaptation, with a creative story to engage the audience...
Since 1993, we have seen plenty of video game-based film adaptations that critics pretty much hated, like Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Wing Commander. You would think that, for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within released in July 2001, Final Fantasy would be the next game franchise to have an embarassingly bad adaptation that fans want to forget about. Well, you may want to hold that thought. This is perhaps the first movie based on a video game to get it right, and I'm pretty serious about saying it.
Film adaptations of video games tend to fail because they focus so much on the visuals, as if recreating the excitement of the game for the fans, without really doing much on the characters and story that are the core elements of films. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within succeeds with both breathtaking visuals and a well written, though simple, plot. I also appreciate how one does not have to play any of the Final Fantasy video games to understand and appreciate this movie. In fact, it is said that each game in the series is an independent stand-alone story, so it definitely is no big deal.
While the script is more important than the visuals, I still want to briefly talk about the latter because it's the first thing that anyone notices here. One word can sum up the computer animation in this movie: incredible. The animation team decided to go for photorealism with the visuals, creating characters who are 99% lifelike (you can tell it's animation if you look really, really carefully) and worlds that are just fantastic to see. Honestly, this movie has undeniably some of the best CGI I've ever seen.
As for the story, it centers on a post-apocalyptic Earth in the year 2065. The apocalypse came in the form of a meterorite carrying alien lifeforms that crash landed on our planet. These alien lifeforms cannot be seen with the naked eye and require special light to make them visible. They are essentially ghosts and are therefore called Phantoms. As for the humans, not many of them remain. In order to survive, they have to seek shelter in various cities designed to keep the Phantoms out.
Because of this alien threat, a council is discussing whether to use the Zeus space cannon to destroy these lifeforms for good. The only problem is that, according to a scientist named dr. Sid (voiced by Donald Sutherland), the Earth itself has a spirit, and destroying the Phantoms may destroy Earth itself. He suggests an alternative: gather specific Phantom spirits to generate an energy waveform that would fully counteract that of the Phantoms at the meteorite crater. This would solve the problem while preserving the planet.
This is where the film's main character comes in: Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na). She is helping Dr. Sid find the spirits that would form the right combination of energy for their task. There are other tidbits about her that are interesting to follow. She has a Phantom spirit inside her, which is keep in check by a surrounding membrane. She also has strange dreams, perhaps from this spirit within, that may indicate the reason of the Phantoms' arrival on Earth. However, because of this spirit, Aki is suspected of being a spy for the Phantoms, and some seek to apprehend her.
The plot from beginning to end is neither overly simple nor overly complicated. It has the right mix of a streamlined story and a few twists thrown in for good measure. The animation, as I said, is just brilliant, and it certainly makes the action scenes exciting to see. Then there's the voice cast, which features plenty of big names. Aside from Ming-Na and Donald Sutherland, the film features the voices of Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, and James Woods. And here's the best part: one of the directors, Hironobu Sakaguchi, is the creator of the Final Fantasy games. His role truly helps make the movie something worthwhile.
Hopefully, with all of this, you can see that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is nowhere close to a bad movie based on a video game. It's not the best movie ever, but it's a pretty good one. It's good enough that any future movie based on a video game should look at this one as a model for how it should be done: well developed characters in an engaging story, mixed in with some exciting moments (if it's based on a video game with action), without requiring that the movie viewer play the game first. Final Fantasy can, in fact, be the beginning of a trend of exciting video game-based movies, if filmmakers know how to do them right.
For more information about Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, visit the Internet Movie Database.