Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Blu-ray Review
PictureWell if the actual storyline leaves you a little cold then this awesome 1.85:1 1080p MPEG-4/AVC coded transfer will certainly raise the temperature a little. I always felt the standard definition disc was worthy of owning to showcase to friends and family, but Sony have gone one step further here and this is a title you'll be wanting to own for that ultimate wow factor of your system and the capabilities of 1080p. That shouldn't have been hard for this though as it was originally constructed with a pixel count far higher than any HD system currently can, and won't for some time. cope with.
Colours are spot on; skin tones perfect. Obviously there's no grain and no noise has been introduced in the transfer process. The image is always sharp; structures, people and landscapes detailed both in the foreground and way back into the distance. Some of the close up work is outstanding. Aki's wrist handset whilst walking through the streets of Old New York, intricate, vibrant, detail fo fine you can read instrumentation. The war on the alien planet, popping three dimensionality as rockets meander their way through the air towards the destruction they inflict on the ground, the hordes of armoured, warrior tribes descending with so much to see in their battle dress, their structure and their suited eyes.
Blacks are decent enough, although they can grey a little whilst Aki is wandering around the deserted streets of Old New York. Outside shots are a joy to behold however with a lush palette of greens on the mountainous landscape and yellows and browns for deserted alien landcapes. Couple with this the neon quality of the phantoms and the souls they extract and Final Fantasy is one of those films which is certainly a feast for the eye.
SoundTwo English audio tracks are on offer, an uncompressed PCM 5.1 and the usual Dolby Digital 5.1. I always initially listen to the PCM and I felt no reason to change here.
Not slacking one iota, the audio comes up to the exacting standard the visuals have benchmarked. Certainly for a sci-fi release of this nature you would be expecting detailed sound coming from all channels and you won't be disappointed. Dialogue is sharp and clear emanating as would be expected from your centre. The score, predominantly by Elliot Goldenthal, suits the haunting nature of the film presenting an expansive front stage. The wails of the phantoms drift from speaker to speaker, across the fronts, across your surrounds and travelling from front to rear.
Steerage from the live action shots is handled well with the all too often laser fire finely produced from the speaker you would expect. LFE during scenes of the more monstrous wraiths, armoured vehicles and ships is low and deep. Certainly this track as a whole shows a dynamism which others have yet reproduced. In comparison between some scenes with the standard Dolby 5.1 mix I felt that nothing was really lost. Certainly the PCM is louder but in terms of clarity or detail you can't really fault either.
ExtrasThe standard two disc edition of Final Fantasy came with a wealth of extras and most have been reproduced here, not all though. Some of the more obscure, such as a virtual tour of Square Studios and the Aki Thriller Video have been left out, a shame really.
- Commentary with Animation Director, Staging Director and Editor
In English this is a technical commentary where the CGI choices, software used, storyboarding and editing were all discussed. It's a well thought out and well presented commentary giving all the information required for someone to start getting their teeth into the world of CGI movie construction.
- Commentary with Co-Director and Crew
This commentary is in Japanese but fortunately English subtitles are on hand. Again another technical based commentary I was hoping here more of a characterisation or acting commentary but unfortunately this falls short in that regard. If you hadn't gleaned enough from the first commentary then this should fill in some of the gaps. Ultimately though repetitive and long winded.
- Aki Dream Sequence - 9mins
Throughout the film Aki sleeps and records her dreams. Dreams which she feels hold the key to solving the mystery of the phantoms themselves. Here we are presented with the dream sequence in full. It works quite well as a short in itself. Perhaps though it could have been extended with segments not included in the main feature?
- On Set with Aki - 0:55mins
A rather odd little snippet where we see a scene 'filmed' with Aki then she walks off set, through the crew and sees the immediate take on her acting. An unusual one to say the least.
- Compositing Builds - 7:56Mins
Some snippets from the movie itself, put to music and presented with a rather odd looking character in a mask. Scary stuff indeed, only because you wonder what kind of mind creates this?
- Joke Outtakes - 1:57mins
Seems to be vogue these days for even pixel perfect characters to make mistakes and here we are shown some. Obviously animated for us by the crew most are pretty unfunny, however the one where Gray jumps for the spaceship and misses had me grinning a little.
- Matte Art Explorations - 6:13mins
This shows us how the detailed and expansive backgrounds were constructed for Final Fantasy. An interesting enough piece which shows that even the most advanced CGI work still reply on some tried and trusted old methods.
- Original Opening - 4:54mins
As the name suggests, the original opening sequence for Final Fantasy. It's ok I suppose, Aki doesn't look quite the same I thought and certainly the opening they eventually went with far surpasses this.
- The Gray Project - 5:37mins
A montage of test shots of CGI characters which was used to show the money holders that a project such as this could be done. Shows how characters can be constructed from their initial concept designs through to the final product.
- Interactive Documentary - Making of Final Fantasy
A fine documentary where we are yet again subjected to the processes involved in getting this feature to the big screen. Like the technical commentaries before it, lovers of CGI will relish this. This is marked as interactive in so far that at certain times at the press of a button on your remote you can jump to video samples or further information. This worked OK on the software player I use but was a little clunky to say the least.
- Character Profiles
Detailed histories on the major characters on offer in Final Fantasy. Only for those who love the film or have too much time on their hands.
- Vehicle Scale Comparisons
Much the same as above but with some of the vehicles used in the film.
- Trailer Explorations
How a trailer is constructed, what is needed to hook the audience and bring them into the cinema. The differences between the teaser and the main trailer.
- Three Trailers
The teaser, and main trailer along with the standard trailer for Spider-Man 3.
There is a mass of information contained within this feature, all of it really geared towards someone who really wants to understand the processes involved in producing a CGI movie. From that point of view it works well, but I would have also preferred some input from the cast themselves if only to hear their opinion on what they were trying to achieve. On the whole though a splendid set of extras for this ground breaking release.
VerdictA port over from the earlier US release this disc offers the same stunning visual feast and bulk extras in a new UK, regionless, version. Yes, let's admit it... Final Fantasy is bubble gum for the eyes, and on that basic level it really works. Were we really expecting deep, emotional characterisation... well I for one certainly hoped, especially with the cast on offer. What we get in the end though is an advert for what can be done with the right tools.
Better writing and better focus from the actors themselves (or even the facial expressions from the CGI people) may have allowed the viewer to connect to the characters to some small degree and this would have made Final Fantasy a much better effort. Alas though it seems that the main thrust here was to show off what could be done with certain elements of the technology at the time.
I have no doubt that Final Fantasy is a ground breaking movie and I fully expect to see a lot more of these in future years... features of a photo-realistic nature not the excellent CGI offerings of Pixar and Dreamworks. Judging though on the state of play as offered by Final Fantasy it is self evident that no matter what technology is available the director and writer must first present a fully rounded storyline and the software engineers have to put less emphasis on flowing hair, more on facial expression and general acting ability of the CGI characters offered up.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99
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- Commentary with Animation Director, Staging Director and Editor