Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within: Collector's Edition (2001)

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Released 20-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-City
Audio Commentary-Sakakibara (Co-Director) et al
Audio Commentary-Animation Director, Staging Director & Editor
Isolated Musical Score-with commentary
Featurette
Biographies-Character
Featurette-Vehicle Scale Comparisons
Scene Editing Workshop
Featurette-Trailer Explorations
Featurette-The Gray Project
Storyboards
Featurette-Matte Art Explorations
Outtakes
Featurette-Compositing Builds
Featurette-Original Opening
Featurette-Aki's Dream
DVD-ROM Extras
Easter Egg-Head Model; Storyboards; Kelly's Thriller
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 101:38
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (16:45)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Hironobu Sakaguchi
Moto Sakakibara
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Ming-Na
Alec Baldwin
Ving Rhames
Steve Buscemi
Peri Gilpin
Donald Sutherland
James Woods
Case Soft Brackley-Transp-Dual v2
RPI $42.95 Music Elliot Goldenthal


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Japanese Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Spanish
Portuguese
English Audio Commentary
Spanish Audio Commentary
Spanish Audio Commentary
Spanish Audio Commentary
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Occasionally, a really sublime film will be advertised on television or in the theatres while I am waiting to see something else, and I will greet it with a sort of mixed reaction. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was one such film, with one part of me wanting to see whether Hollywood could make a decent film based on the concept of a video game, while another dismissed the film solely because it was animated. After I had finished watching the first disc in this set for the first time, I truly regret listening to that latter part of my film-assessing self, as this is really a piece of art.

The plot is both simple and complex at once, although this varies according to how much the viewer reads into it. The film is set in the year 2065, and the Earth has been overrun by Phantoms, disembodied alien spirits that suck the spirits out of living beings as they swarm the world for reasons unknown. Humanity survives in shielded giant bunkers that pass for cities, inside which they argue about the best approach to dealing with the Phantom menace (like you didn't see that coming). On one side, scientists are engaged in finding the eight spirits that, when assembled, will unleash the power of Gaia and hopefully correct the natural disturbance that allows the Phantoms to exist. Doctor Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and her mentor, Doctor Sid (Donald Sutherland) are the scientists engaged in researching the spirits that seem pervasive in this strange new world. Aki is accompanied in her attempts to find the spirits by Captain Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin), Ryan (Ving Rhames), Neil (Steve Buscemi), and Jane (Peri Gilpin).

Of course, if it were as simple as being a quest to retrieve eight spirits in a world seemingly dominated by spirits of one kind or another, this would be a very short and dull film. So, in order to liven up the proceedings, we have a situation in which the military believe a more appropriate response to the Phantoms is to use the weaponry they have in order to blast the meteor site from which they have emerged. Such an approach is strongly advocated by General Hein (James Woods), who has some rather personal reasons other than just generally being a real b******. With council members voiced by Keith David and Jean Simmons, both sides of the argument boil towards a dangerous climax as the struggle to find the last of the spirits borders on completion. Of course, with Aki connected to the Phantoms in a way that she'd rather not be, and her dreams dominated by visions of an alien civilisation, it gets hard to tell who is fighting for what reason.

What makes this film unique is that not only does it have a revolutionary approach to telling its story, with every element save the characters' voices being entirely CGI, it has quite a unique and innovative story to tell. Despite the fact that the details are largely shared by numerous political-action films, the whole of the story is quite broad and inventive, making it hard to believe that the concept is at least shared by a series of video games. Why this film didn't run away with the box office when it was released has got me beat, as it is one of the few films I would honestly describe as being a work of art.

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Transfer Quality

Video

As I have mentioned already, this is another one of those films where everything save the characters' voices was created in the digital domain, bypassing the need for film. The resultant transfer, while not quite as great as one would expect of a film from a source like this, is so well done that I would not be surprised to see it being used in stores to demonstrate the format's capabilities.

The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

Razor-sharp doesn't even begin to describe this transfer, with details leaping out of each and every frame at such a rate that I almost had to turn the disc off at several points due to detail overload. Little things like moles on the skins of characters, or the fine hairs that make up eyebrows, are exceptionally rendered by this transfer, making it one of the best I have seen to date in this regard. The shadow detail is excellent, with plenty of subtle steps between the light and the dark that makes the visuals seem all that more immersive, and there is no low-level noise.

The colours in this film are bright and vividly saturated, although the schemes are quite unusual, with even the most familiar of settings looking more alien and strange than is normally the case in the most imaginative science fiction films. Skin tones are exceptionally rendered in this film, so much so that I almost mistook the animated characters for actors in the early stages of this feature. You can forget about bleeding, misregistration, or composite artefacts here.

MPEG artefacts were not noticed in this transfer at all, a result of the film having been taken directly from digital masters and converted into high-definition before being further downconverted for use on this DVD. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some very minor and brief aliasing that was gone so quickly I had to look at some shots nearly ten times just to confirm that yes, the shimmering really was there. There was one instance on the side of a building at 25:03, which was gone so quickly, and so small, that I feel like I'm being mean just for mentioning it. Film artefacts were not specifically noticed in this transfer, although one or two small marks that looked like film artefacts were noticed on the picture. One grey spot appears over Aki's face at 43:45, but this was the only really noticeable one in the entire feature.

There are no subtitles for the Hearing Impaired on this disc, and the standard English subtitles are only about eighty percent accurate to the spoken dialogue, making them of limited use.

This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change coming surprisingly early between Chapters 5 and 6, at 16:45. This is just after Steve Buscemi says "what...?", and while it is noticeable, it is not particularly disruptive to the flow of the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

Matching a video transfer that is so close to reference quality that it makes no odds is an audio transfer that is, quite simply, of reference quality. If you think the video is going to knock your socks off, then wait until you get an earful of the soundtrack.

There are a total of five soundtracks on this DVD, the first two of which are encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 with the higher bitrate of 448 kilobits per second. In order, these are the original English dialogue and a dub in Spanish. The other three soundtracks are encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second, these being a Japanese Audio Commentary, an English Audio Commentary, and an Isolated Score with English Commentary. I listened to all of these soundtracks except the Spanish dub (I've got to get through another ten hours of special features yet, so I can't afford to sit through too much soundtrack information).

The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times. Remember those Sony Minidisc advertisements, where you could hear faint, otherworldly sounds that almost, but not quite, sounded like human voices? Well, on this transfer, you will hear sounds with all those kinds of characteristics, but they will come at you with such clarity and focus that it might even make you weep. There are no problems with audio sync in this transfer.

The score music in this film is credited to Elliot Goldenthal, and my what a work of art it is. Harmonic themes rise out of nowhere to add a sense of urgency and heroism to the proceedings that makes the film seem even more immersive, if that is even possible. This is one isolated score that I would have no trouble listening to from start to finish.

Now we get into describing the surround channel usage on this disc. Can you say "wow"? The surround channels are used elegantly and aggressively in order to draw the viewer further into the film, creating an immersive soundfield that places the viewer either in the shoes of the focal character, or about six feet behind them, whichever suits the narrative purpose better. The crackle of a flare at 5:11, an explosion at 8:11, and Aki's dream sequences, especially the one at 42:55, make the best examples of immersive surround channel usage. While the surround channels are not worked as hard as would be the case on such transfers as The Phantom Menace, they are used to full effect here, keeping the soundfield active on all sides of the listener.

The subwoofer is also used in an aggressive but elegant fashion to support gunfire, explosions, engines, and numerous other sound effects, many of which are just too otherworldly to describe.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Extras. There's a lot of them. I'd say more, but I am exhausted.

Disc One

Menu

The menu is heavily animated, accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded audio, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. This is one of the best menu themes I have seen since The Phantom Menace, and probably for a good while beforehand.

Audio Commentary - Motonori Sakakibara (Co-Director), Hayashida (Sequence Supervisor), Noguchi (Phantom Supervisor) & Maruyama (Lead Sets/Prop Artist)

Rather unusually, this commentary is presented in Japanese, rendered as a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack with surround-encoding and the film's original soundtrack mixed in at a lower level. Thankfully, subtitles are provided for those who do not understand Japanese, but reading the subtitles and listening to the rather odd sound of the Japanese speech can get tiring. This commentary shares all sorts of insights about what is going on in some sequences that might escape the notice of most viewers at first. It is worth the time listening to (and reading) this commentary in order to get a better insight into the film.

Audio Commentary - Andy Jones (Animation Director), Tani Kunitake (Staging Director) & Chris Capp (Editor/Post-Production Supervisor)

This commentary is rendered in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding, with the film's original soundtrack mixed in at a lower level. This commentary shares little bits of information about the lengthy production of the film and what challenges were faced in completing the final version. Again, this is worth a listen for the details about how this unusual film came to fruition.

Isolated Musical Score with commentary by Composer Elliot Goldenthal

Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding, this Isolated Score shows all the themes and subtle nuances of music that were used in the film, and it is surprising to hear them all without any other sounds to get in the way. Elliot Goldenthal occasionally chimes in with some comments about the approaches he used to create these themes, but often he speaks over some of the quieter pieces of music, while at other times there is dead silence. Still, this is worth a listen if you're a big fan of the film.

Featurette - Boards/Blasts

Clocking in at a whopping eighty-one minutes and forty-five seconds, this featurette is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded sound. It also has optional commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, as well as optional subtitles that reveal little facts about certain details of the scenes.

Theatrical Trailers

Selecting this option from the main menu plays back two trailers, with no option to access either one separately. Despite this, both trailers draw the viewer into a curious state about the film, even if they are somewhat misleading about the quality and general thrust thereof. The first trailer, clocking in at one minute and thirty-four seconds, is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The second trailer, which clocks in at two minutes and three seconds, is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. This is how I like to see my trailers presented, so a big well done to Columbia Tristar on this score.

Featurette - Aki Photo Shoot

Clocking in at a mere one minute and ten seconds, this featurette shows various renderings of the Aki character, usually in next to no clothing. It is quite revealing in that it shows all the stages of animation that went into designing the character. It is presented in an approximate 1.85:1 ratio, although the "photos" are vertically oriented, and thus there is a lot of black space in each frame, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. Some music is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.

Disc Two

Menu

The menu begins with a lengthy animated introduction that will literally knock your socks off, but accessing the different special features to be found on this disc is something of a pain. Nonetheless, the menu is presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded audio, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

Character Biographies

All of the character biographies are presented in aspect ratios of 1.78:1 and 1.85:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. Brief facts about the actors who provided the voices are also provided, although they tend to get more and more cursory the further down the list you go. The character biographies provided here are for:

Featurettes - Vehicle Scale Comparisons

A threesome of featurettes comparing the vehicles shown in the film with their current-generation equivalents is presented under this menu. They are all presented in the aspect ratios of 1.78:1 and 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and 16x9 Enhancement:

Scene Editing Workshop

This feature, touted under the menu as the Final Fantasy Shuffler, accessible with a stand-alone player, basically gives the viewer a chance to edit their favourite sequences together and play back the finished result. It begins with an explanation of how the system works, then it presents a menu of twelve clips from the film. All of the clips are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded audio. I have to confess being a little disappointed with this feature, as it only allows one to mix and match pieces of one sequence, although the pleasure of more or less editing out General Hein cannot be overlooked.

Featurette - Trailer Explorations

This four minute and forty-two second featurette is more of an extended trailer, with the teaser trailer and a theatrical trailer combined together with some cursory footage of a crew member explaining the design goals behind the trailers. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.

Featurette - The Gray Project

This five minute and twenty-eight second featurette is presented in aspect ratios varying between 1.33:1 and 1.85:1, without 16x9 Enhancement. It is a series of very rough animatics, presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack.

Featurette - More Boards/Blasts

This two minute featurette is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded audio.

Featurette - Matte Art Explorations

Presented in the aspect ratios of 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, this featurette is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Featurette - Joke Outtakes

Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, this collection of "bloopers" in very rough form is very good for a giggle.

Featurette - Compositing Builds

This seven minute and thirty-eight second featurette is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

Featurette - Original Opening

This four minute and forty-five second featurette is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is not 16x9 Enhanced. I am glad that they jettisoned this opening and went with the one that appears in the finished film.

Featurette - Aki's Dream

This nine minute and thirty second featurette is a combination of three dream sequences, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

Featurette - The Making Of Final Fantasy

This featurette begins with a nineteen second introduction that explains how it links to separate featurettes whenever another picture is visible in the lower left corner, and how to access them. The featurette proper, which runs for thirty minutes and forty-one seconds when these numerous sub-featurettes are not taken into account, is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.

DVD-ROM Features

When Disc Two is inserted into a DVD-ROM drive, a prompt appears asking if you wish to install QuickTime version 5, which is apparently necessary for these features to function. It is interesting to note that these DVD-ROM supplements will run on an Apple computer as well as a PC with Windows installed, a contrast to other discs out there with DVD-ROM material. When QuickTime is installed and the DVD-ROM menu is run, four options are presented in a quasi web browser interface. This DVD-ROM content is actually something of substance rather than just data added to fill space on the disc, something I never thought I'd see. The four main menu choices are as follows:

Easter Egg - Kelly's Thriller Music Video

At the second page of the Highlights menu on disc two, highlight the small animated square in the bottom right corner and press enter. A take-off of the music video for Michael Jackson's hit single Thriller will begin. It is presented in an approximate 1.78:1 ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

As far as I could tell from Widescreen Review's assessment, the two versions of this two-disc set are fundamentally identical. The extra features are laid out a little differently on the Region 1 version of this two-disc set, with the DVD-ROM supplements to be found on disc one, but this is a very minor difference. The local version has the advantage of being cheaper and PAL formatted.

Summary

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a sublime piece of film, one that proves commercial success and artistic merit certainly do not go hand-in-hand, and one that should be in every collection. I could easily live with this idea of films being based on adventure games. So while we're talking about the future of such heavily animated features, how's about making one out of BioForge?

The video transfer is immaculate.

The audio transfer is immaculate.

The extras package here redefines the term "Collector's Edition". Even the first disc is packed to the Nth degree with informative and entertaining material.

There are Official Distributor Comments available for this review.
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Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Saturday, November 17, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)

Comments (Add)
There are more Easter Eggs... - Xris
Final Fantasy Plot -
Should be called "Final Sci-Fi" -
It would be handy if reviewer could list how long the special features run for in minutes/seconds -
Final Fantasy Plot -
Floor-less great transfer!!! - Pendergast (Why not take a look at my bio, you might think it stinks.)
R4 is better quality by far -