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Let me cut right to the chase, even if you do not like the plot of FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN ($30), this is a must own demonstration quality DVD that belongs in every collector’s arsenal. The image quality of this computer-generated film is utterly breathtaking and watching the DVD on any good-sized display device will leave its owner totally entranced. Every computer-generated frame of the movie is eye candy thanks to the filmmakers desire to make FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN as photo realistic as possible- from the beautifully designed settings, all the way down to and the synthetic actors.

As for the movie itself, the best way to describe FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN is to say that the filmmakers have used CGI to make this the most technologically evolved anime (Japanese animation) ever produced. Set in the not too distant future, FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN tells the story the planet Earth in the middle of a deadly invasion. Humanity is forced to live in sealed habitats because of alien creatures known as Phantoms have arrived on Earth with the ability to rip the life force (or spirit) out of anything they come in contact with. As you might expect, the scientific and military communities are at odds in how the want to deal with the Phantoms. The military wants to employ their latest super weapon to eradicate the Phantom infestation, while a small group of scientists that have very radical ideas about the nature of the Phantoms, want to use a highly theoretical solution to the problem- one they feel will be far less damaging to mother Earth.

FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN would have been a more effective movie had it offered a more straightforward sci-fi/action movie plot. As it stands, there is too much touchy-feely spiritual mumbo-jumbo in the storyline for the film’s own good. Despite its problems, FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN is very watchable because of amazing visual design. Also helping things along are the distinctive vocal talents used to bring the characters to life. The voice cast of FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN features Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Keith David and Jean Simmons.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made the Special Edition of FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN available in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Utilizing the original data files, instead of a film element, Columbia TriStar has produced an utterly stunning and totally flawless digital transfer of FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN for the DVD medium. The image on the DVD is absolutely reference quality and looks incredible on everything from a 32 inch 4:3 monitor to a 65 inch 16:9 display. Every bit of computer rendered detail is up on the screen and sometimes it is awe-inspiring to behold. Colors run the gamut from cool and subdued to fiery and highly saturated. All instances are reproduced with chromatic noise or distortion. Blacks are very solid and dark scenes produce all the intended shadow detail. FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN comes on a cleanly authored dual layer DVD that does not display any truly noticeable instances of digital compression artifacts.

The impressive visual quality of FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN is complemented with a nearly as impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 channel sound mix. This is a highly aggressive mix that makes excellent use of the discrete nature of the Dolby Digital system. Since the film takes in a virtual world, the sound designers have taken off the gloves to produce a mix that throws conventionality out the window. There are no signs that the mix is constrained to conform with reality, which makes listening to the track a real blast. Channel separation across the forward soundstage is very clean and the panning of sound effects is very convincing. Additionally, split surround effects are frequently and effectively deployed- again with convincing panning, including front to back. Dialogue is fairly transparent and maintains excellent intelligibility. The bass channel provides an explosive kick that blows the track into orbit when required. English and French Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, along with English and French subtitles.

Fully animated 3-D motion, plus sound serve to enhance the DVD stylishly designed interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some solid supplements. Starting with disc one of this two-disc set, one will find two running audio commentaries. The first commentary is in Japanese with English subtitles and features co-director Moto Sakakbara, sequence supervisor Hiroyuki Hayashida, sets and props lead art Tatsuro Maruyama, and phantom supervisor Takoo Noguchi. The second commentary is in English and includes animation director Andy Jones, editor Chris S. Capp, and staging director Tani Kunitake. Both talks have their merits and the Japanese track is actually the more entertaining of the two, although the English speaking audience will appreciate the English track more, since it doesn’t require any reading. An isolated score is also present on disc one and it features comments by composer Elliot Goldenthal between musical cues. The most interesting feature on disc one is entitled Storyboards/Blasts and turns out to be a work in progress version of the entire film comprised of the complete soundtrack along with drawings storyboards and CGI in complete and incomplete stages. Storyboards /Blasts also includes commentary and subtitled factoids. Two theatrical trailers and DVD-ROM content close out disc one’s supplements.

Moving over to disc two, one finds a cute animated intro that leads into the menu system. Starting things off is an interactive documentary that allows one access to various ancillary materials during the thirty-minute program. The materials are also accessible through the menu system and they include Character Files, Vehicle Scale Comparisons, Final Fantasy Shuffler, Trailer Explorations, The Gray Project, More Storyboards/Blasts, Matte Art Explorations, Joke Outtakes, Compositing Builds, Original Opening and Aki’s Dream. Character Files are a more detailed look at the film’s primary characters. Vehicle Scale Comparisons looks at a few of the vehicles designed for the film. Final Fantasy Shuffler allows the viewer to reedit a scene from the film with various options. Trailer Explorations looks at how the film’s trailer was developed. The Gray Project looks at the creation of character and environmental designs. More Storyboards/Blasts offers a look at deleted material in various stages of development. Matte Art Explorations looks at the creation of the background images that are such an integral part of the environment that the characters occupy. Joke Outtakes is an animated blooper reel that was created in the same vein as those found on the DVDs of some more famous CGI films. Compositing Builds is an interesting assemblage of footage. Original Opening is just that- the movie’s original opening sequence, which differs from what is found in the completed film. Aki’s Dream is an extended version of the dream sequence that appears in the movie. Disc two also includes a lot more DVD-ROM content.

Story wise, FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN may not be a perfect movie, but as an achievement as a DVD- they don’t come much better than this. Columbia TriStar has produced a phenomenal looking and sounding DVD, packed with a tremendous amount of supplemental features. This is a must own DVD that is absolutely recommended to anyone looking to show off the capabilities of their home theater system.


Final Fantasy (Special Edition)


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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