PictureProduced using techniques that rendered the images at a detail depth reportedly twice that of standard High Definition, I had high hopes for Final Fantasy being even more breathtaking on these next-gen players, potentially showing it in the light that it was truly meant to be seen before a wider home cinema audience. And the end result is pretty amazing. Hitting Blu-ray with a 1080p High Definition image in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within looks better than it ever has before. In fact, arguably, it is visually the best release on either Hi-Def format. Detail is outstanding throughout, with complete clarity, absolutely no softness, edge enhancement or anything else that you would get on a normal live-action production. There's no grain - why would there be - this is a pixel-perfect image that has been created to a higher detail specification than even the High Definition format allows, so the image is as good as it gets in terms of quality. The colour scheme is quite broad and often rainbow-style, with the landscapes rendered immaculately and even the skin tones given a remarkably amount of realistic depth. Without the problems that you would associate with a standard live-action production, the CG Final Fantasy will look eternally good and is particularly impressive on High Definition Blu-ray.
SoundJust as the computer generated visual material is simply perfect for the High Definition format, the audio content is similarly ideal for the multi-channel arena, with the sounds all specifically created for the movie. Thus on this next generation Blu-ray format, the Uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio track they choose to accompany the main feature is seriously good. Dialogue is at the forefront, coming clearly and coherently, predominantly from across the centre and front channels. There are myriad effects - as I stated all purposefully studio-borne - and they give the track some nice atmospheric qualities, showcasing dynamism across the surrounds whilst also giving plenty of room to display the power of the track during the more lively action-orientated sequences. The score is quite brooding, and often suitably thematic, providing some bass which, along with the deeper effects moments, gives the track some serious potency. Overall this is one of the best, most all-encompassing mixes that I have come across.
ExtrasAlthough there are no High Definition-exclusive extra features on this Blu-ray release, all of the many extras from the SD-DVD have been ported across onto this disc. First up we get two Audio Commentaries, one in Japanese (with English subtitles) from the Japanese members of the crew: the Co-Director Moto Sakakibara, Animation Supervisors Takiho Noguchi and Hiroyuki Hayashida, and Artist Tatsuro Maruyama, and the second track in English with the Animation Director Andy Jones, the Staging Director Christopher Capp and the Editor, Tani Kunitake. Both tracks are technically intensive, with much more time spent detailing the CG processes and animation designs than anything else. For fans who want to hear (or read) about how this beauty was constructed, they can find out right here, but for those more interested in character and story design, there is very little of interest here, the English track having the slight edge in terms of anecdotal worth.
The Character Files offer brief segments detailing some of the key characters within the movie, with the Vehicle Scale Comparison section having three similar short segments detailing the three main vehicles seen in the story. The meat of the extras comes in the shape of a purportedly interactive Making-Of Documentary which takes a thirty minute look behind the scenes at the production of this landmark animation. Not quite the kind of interaction we expect with the advent of High Definition Next Generation facilities such as Picture-in-Picture or In-Movie-Experience, it offers the limited ability to switch on optional Commentary or jump to the earlier Character Profiles. Again the Documentary is particularly stodgy with regard to the technical detail, offering more visual examples of how they pieced it all together using a bunch of powerful computers and some programming whiz-kids.
The Trailer Exploration Featurette takes five minutes to look at how they put together the promotional trailers for the main feature, the result often making the movie look far better than it is. Aki's Dream Sequence is like an Extended Scene, playing out the full version of the hypnotic, visually opulent opening dream sequence, and we also get the Original Opening to accompany it, which plays as an alternative to the dream sequence. These two bits basically encompass the Deleted Footage from the movie.
On the Set with Aki is a rather unique extra, and it is debatable whether this is more gimmicky than innovative. What we have is a pseudo set tour/interview with the imaginary (but photo-realistic) Aki. Obviously this was supposed to show the way of the future, but it still feels a little gimmicky. The Compositing Builds Featurette looks at the more psychedelic conceptual footage for the movie, the Joke Outtakes would be bland but for the fact that you know that they have been constructed specifically for your amusement, the Matte Art Exploration Featurette looks at the hand-painted backdrops and The Gray Project is an effects montage that shows how the scenery, settings and characters were all overlayed to create the final images. Finally More Boards/Blasts offers us some incomplete Deleted Sequences, in both unfinished conceptual design like storyboards, and near-finalised CG product.
VerdictFinal Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a bit of a failure really, a flawed story and feebly developed characters contributing towards the downfall of a visually momentous creation. Although arguably technology has far advanced in terms of CG in these last six years, the fact that the failure of this movie stemmed the flow of 'serious' dramatic CG movies has left it still being one of the few out there, and still one of the most spectacular. The High Definition format is ideal for this digital creation, as you can see from the perfect video and all-but perfect audio representation. All of the extras from the previous DVD release are ported over here, making this a no-brainer in terms of upgrade (it's easily worth it for using as a showcase of your home cinema equipment), but those who are not familiar with it should probably consider a rental first as it is - at best - a flawed sci-fi fantasy.
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