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I can honestly say that there were few films that I looked forward to last year, but Final Fantasy ranked as one of them. As the first fully CGI film to attempt lifelike, photo-realistic animation, Final Fantasy promised much, but did it deliver?

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Feature
Final Fantasy has an interesting, innovative storyline. In the relatively near future, 2065 AD to be precise, aliens known as Phantoms have infested the Earth. These aliens, spirits from a long dead world, are invisible to the naked eye and have the disturbing ability to kill any living thing they come into contact with. Mankind is on the brink of extinction, huddled together in huge barrier cities, the last remaining human cities.

All is not lost however. A young Dr. named Aki Ross is searching the globe for the ‘seven spirits’. These spirits take the form of living creatures, be they plants or animals, and when combined will cleanse the planet of the Phantoms once and for all. Aki is not alone in her quest; she is aided by a group of soldiers called the ‘Deep Eyes’, led by Aki’s former love Gray Edwards, and watched over by her mentor, Dr. Sid. Together they fight the Phantom menace (no pun intended), and a vengeful General named Hein, who is intent on an all-out military solution to the crisis. Unfortunately Hein’s plan to use an orbital space cannon to strike back at the Phantoms could have serious repercussions for the Earth…

It’s been a while since the film was released theatrically, and I still have a hard time believing it performed so poorly at the box office. In a year that gave us so many turkeys, it also surprised me to hear Final Fantasy described as ‘rubbish’. While it may not be the most exciting film ever produced, you have to give it marks for trying something new. The storyline is far more involving than your average Hollywood flick, and the breathtaking visuals really do set a new standard in computer generated animation.

There are times you will forget that you are watching animation, so fluid and convincing is the motion of the characters. The level of detail is also far beyond anything seen before, with the imperfections in the characters skin apparent in close-up shots being a prime example. Voice acting is also excellent, especially from Ming Na (Aki), James Woods (Hein) and Donald Sutherland (Dr. Sid). There are a couple of instances of dodgy lip-synching, but his doesn’t ruin the overall experience.

Video
The video is virtually flawless, as you would expect from a completely digital film. I say virtually because although Final Fantasy does look stunning, it’s not entirely perfect. The 1.85:1 anamorphic video (average bit rate 5.21Mb/sec) is a little dark at times, which hides a lot of the fantastic visuals. The other problem relates to grain, of which there is a fairly significant amount. Now I don’t know if it was added artificially to give the picture a ‘film-like’ quality, but I find it annoying and it has cost the transfer a point. Even so, with the exception of Shrek, the image is still better than anything I have seen before.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Audio
Sound is provided courtesy of Dolby Digital, in 5.1 and Dolby Surround tracks. The 5.1 track is great; there’s always something going on, with excellent use of the split surrounds. The LFE channel delivers large amounts of deep, growling bass and, as is to be expected, dialogue is always very clear. Sound effects are spot on for this type of film, and the score suits the on-screen entertainment very well. Overall this is a fantastic track.

Extras
The two-disc set includes a wealth of exciting and original supplemental material. The first disc contains two feature length commentary tracks; the first with co-director Hiroyuki Hayashida, sets and props lead artist Tatsuro Maruyama and Phantom supervisor Takoo Noguchi, the second with animation director Andy Jones, editor Chris Capp and staging director Tani Kunitake.

The first commentary track is in Japanese, subtitled in English. This contains a lot of useful and interesting information on the film, which tends to be on the technical side. The second track is even better, although I could be biased as an English speaker. The guys give a lot of useful info, which appears to be more anecdotal than the Japanese commentary.

Also included on this disc is an isolated musical score with commentary by composer Elliot Goldenthal. The film has an excellent score so this is a welcome inclusion.

The boards/blasts option plays a series of sequences from the film in various stages of completion, such as storyboards and primitive renderings. This also comes with the option of a filmmaker’s commentary and subtitled factoids, which contain such fascinating information as how many babies were born to the staff of Square during the production (31 if you’re interested, and also 26 marriages).

The disc also contains a number of teaser and theatrical trailers, not only for Final Fantasy, but also for Men In Black, Starship Troopers and Metropolis. A sneak preview of Final Fantasy X is also included.

Disc two is where the majority of special features can be found, the most revealing of which is the documentary. This is of the interactive kind, almost like the white rabbit feature in the Matrix. The documentary links to some of the other features on the disc, which include: Aki’s Dream, a mini-movie which stitches together Aki’s dream sequences for your viewing pleasure,

One of the most novel inclusions is the Final Fantasy Shuffler, which basically allows you to re-order a key scene from the movie the way you like. This isn’t as cool as it first sounds as the scene only really makes sense the way it is in the film. Still, it gets points for originality.

Both discs include CGI intros created especially for the DVD and they look great. The menus themselves are very nicely animated, certainly better than the vast majority of discs.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Overall
Final Fantasy will not appeal to everyone, of this there is no doubt, but if you are a fan of computer animation this will blow your mind. While I admit the story is a little slow in places, it certainly isn’t dull. The excellent voice acting, coupled with the stunning visuals and great audio, make for a fantastic ride. This two-disc edition includes enough extra content to keep even the most demanding of fans happy, and as such the package comes recommended.


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