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16 September 2011 @ 07:22 pm
A "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" Defense  
With every fandom, there’s the assumption that because you’re a fan of a something, there’s the expectation that the creators will cater to your desires to see a certain theme or element that one favors. Granted, while creators love to see their work being enjoyed, the overall approach or what happens is up is theirs to command, unless their that keen on listening to the whims of their fanbase. (Supernatural is one of the many examples of a series that started off great but got progressively worse because they listened/catered a little too much to their fanbase.)

When a particular series fails to deliver on certain aspects it’s audience wants or expects to see, without question, you will have your defenders and your objectors. This the truth with anything, however, the audience that attracts the most attention when there isn’t unanimous positive agreement is split down the middle, is the “negative” or “mixed” viewpoints. Depending on how much revenue is garnered by a certain property, the response it gets is the biggest drive in it’s momentum.

Word-of-mouth often supports properties that aren’t instant money makers in the market; as said before, unanimous agreement that something is “good’ or “excellent” will have many flocking toward the property developers or movie-makers are looking to make a bountiful amount of money off of. And from observation alone, divided opinions act much in the same way. Their only drawback is that, the more hesitant or obstinate audience seem more willing to listen to the negative instead of the “positive” or “mixed” reviews, seeing as its their money they will be spending on something that they assume is “bad”.

In the case of the Final Fantasy franchise, opinion of which game is “good” or “bad” largely depends on what you’ve played (or in this day and age, watched on YouTube with the creation of video walkthroughs for players in crisis) or who you ask. It’s a franchise that has no continuing storyline (with it‘s biggest exceptions being IV, VII, X, XII and the recently released XIII), but one that “reinvents” itself, by-way of the zombie genre, by telling the tale of completely different characters and worlds. The closest thing I could compare it to would be Power Rangers/Super Sentai, which falls under the same basic principles (sans adult themes), only with the shade of childhood gone, it’s a rather campy, fun and laughable series altogether. However, the spectrum is wide enough that there’s a favorite series for every person. If your from the 1990s, chances are you’ll favor a Ranger series from that point up until 2000/2001. However, if you’ve only been introduced to the series after Disney took over (and FoxKids dissolved into nothingness), then chances are you’re both enjoying the new and backtracking like hell to understand the full history of this widely popular TV series and picking favorites and non-favorites.

Getting back on track, however, the Fantasy franchise is one that’s equally adored or loathed by fans of the [J]RPG genre, and one that’s certainly enjoyed a immeasurable amount of wealth as one of the “biggest video game franchises” in the world, in no small thanks to the various merchandising outlets Square has employed to sell their franchise to the adoring fanbase.

It’s tale isn‘t one I was terribly familiar with, but one I‘ve come to know through video overviews of the series. Sometime during 1980s, Squaresoft was presumably on the brink of closing its doors after several financial failures, when, in 1987, Hironobu Sakaguchi created Final Fantasy. According to Wikipedia.org, if the game didn’t perform as Sakaguchi hoped, he would quit the company and return to “the university”.

In an ironic twist the game, originally intended to be the “swan song” of the company (and the creator), saved it from death. From there, Squaresoft went on to produce --- primarily speaking --- ten Final Fantasy games before once again falling into financial woes that both halted and lead to the merge between it and the Enix Co., which had been considered as early as the year 2000. From there, as Square Enix, Four more Final Fantasy titles --- plus their spin-offs and tie-ins, Tactics, Crystal Chronicles, 4 Heroes of Light, Advent Children and the Dissidia series (etc.) --- were produced.

However, in 2001 or 2003, (sources conflict each other in this regard from what I‘ve searched), the series creator left the company of his own will, after stepping down from his position as EVP (Executive Vice President) of Square Enix. Kotaku.com’s article, “A Planet Without Square Enix” seems to imply that Square Enix regulated Sakaguchi to wayside until the man up and decided to pack and his bags and leave, taking the entire production of “Final Fantasy XII” with him to Hawaii to form Mistwalker. Since then, the series has fallen into the realms of a presumed disarray or “love/hate” relationship with it’s fanbase and fingers have often been pointed at the game’s latter entries, under Squaresoft and later Enix, as the reason for blame.

Now, depending on who you ask, the trouble for the series began with either Final Fantasy VIII, IX, Square Picture’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within or Final Fantasy X (the latter two marking the series first entry into the “next-gen” world in motion picture format and on the Playstation II). The unanimous agreement appears to be that 1997’s Final Fantasy VII is the crowning achievement of Squaresoft and all that came before or after it pales in comparison as it was the game that “popped the cherry” for many gamers who were first introduced into the Final Fantasy series or [J]RPG genre and is looked back upon with nostalgic fondness. In the words of Sade, “It’s never as good as the first time” for some people and by God if you tell them otherwise, prepare for a longwinded argument going nowhere.

Square Enix has used every opportunity to capitalize on VII’s success to the point of ad nauseaum and as such, it‘s gained a reputation to rival that of Twilight‘s infamy in the minds of gamers (both positive and negative). The game is not without its’ merits for many reasons (more or less tied to it‘s technical and financial achievements on the original Playstation), but the stigma it’s created among fans of the series and those who have absolutely no interest in it, isn’t one to be ignored. Every Final Fantasy game that’s debuted after or before VII’s time shall often be compared to it and rarely judged for their own merits, unless someone is fighting to defend it or killing the dissention in the ranks on forums. The seventh game has created a kind of “fanboyism” within the Final Fantasy community that’s typically applied [with disdain] toward players who enjoy first or third person shooters, like the Halo and Call of Duty series. Does it imply that the game is that good or that it‘s fanboys can‘t take a hint and be quiet about their favorite toy? Personally, that’s up for you decide, but I never found anything particularly special about it (especially after spending too much time observing that particular Final Fantasy fandom four years ago).

However, it’s undoubtedly The Spirits Within that receives the scornful reputation by the fanbase for “the movie that destroyed Squaresoft/Square Pictures” with it’s failure to perform at the box office and being the “worst idea” in the franchise, next to Final Fantasy X/X-2 or XIII (or whichever game catches the fan base scorn). It’s something that was completely unlike the socially accepted concept of what Final Fantasy was, but something that influenced the latest entries into the series: The Fabula Nova Crystallis series (Final Fantasy XIII/Versus) and BioWare‘s Mass Effect.

Which brings me to the crux of my essay. When you try something different after creating a routine, the change isn’t something that will be automatically accepted. If human nature has taught us one thing, it’s that we as creatures are defined by repeated processes; a routine if you will. If a routine is suddenly changed and you were comfortable in the niche that was created, objection or anger is the emotion your most likely to elicit --- with acceptance being the last or one thing you do or don’t adapt to. If it’s too different, you’ll reject it altogether. In the case of a million-or-more-dollar franchise, difference or change is a gamble when you’ve got a routine that’s going perfectly well for you. Finically and critically speaking anyway.

Fandom Entitlement, Preconceived Skepticism [and bad advertisement] vs. The Creator’s Vision:

Hironobu Sakaguchi first and only foray into being a director for movies didn’t go over so well with general and gaming audiences for various reasons. With the general audience, most were skeptical of the film’s chances of success and when it failed, it’s presumed that the incurable reaction to “Uncanny Valley”, certain characters resemblance to known actors (Aki, for whatever reason is constantly compared to Jennifer Connelly, Grey Edwards looks strikingly like Ben Affleck, Neil Fleming has been known to be compared to Jason Priestly) and the inability to follow or be interested in the storyline were part of the problem.

Back in 2001, the world was still living under the stigma that films based on video game franchises or otherwise noted, weren’t something to be taken seriously as it’s own genre. Even now, they still aren’t, but it‘s not as prominent as it was then. Granted, the stigma is not without reason, one couldn’t count how many properties landed in the wrong hands and were given a bad film that disregarded its source material altogether. Though I digress, the impressive revenue made by Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) , released just a month before Spirits Within, is the perfect counter argument for this claim, financially speaking. (Then there’s the hugely successful Resident Evil movieverse, that would premiere a year after it in 2002, to consider as well.) Another problem was the advertising. Trailers are misleading or misinterpreted by default, but, Columbia Pictures believed they could get butts into seats by marking the movie as a shoot ‘em up, run-of-the-mill action-sci-fi adventure, definitely something to watch during the summer.

The Deep Eyes were the primary focus of the trailers, the heroes of the day, while Aki Ross was depicted as the unwitting scientist that “opens the door” to all sorts of trouble relating to the Phantom creatures attacking the Deep Eyes squad. Think Evelyn Carnahan in The Mummy. Her curiosity lead to the revival of Imhotep, throwing unwilling hero, Rick O‘Connell into the line of fire to save the day and the girl.

Instead of a move akin to that of Starship Troopers, or even Aliens, audiences got a slow paced storyline dealing more with the philosophy of life/death, with a few action sequences smattered between, instead of the action movie they were advertised. In the same way, the 1994 film, Stargate, was more or less advertised as a action/horror-film as opposed to a sci-fi/fantasy adventure.

The movie industry and their actors generated some unfounded fear that companies like Square Pictures were moving to erase the need for an actor altogether with a film like Spirits and cried “Sabotage!” However, Andy Jones, one of the many designers responsible for Spirits Within, disagreed with the claim altogether:

“[…]The closer we get to replicating humans, the more we will need an actor to drive the performance. Actors bring spontaneity to a subtle performance where as animators use exaggeration to “over act” making up for the lack of spontaneity. This works great with stylized cartoon characters; but the more real they become the more you have to use motion capture or roto animation driven by an actor to pull off a performance.” --- Andy Jones

Critics, sans Ebert, who actually liked the film, went out of their way to turn their nose up at the film either for the sexualization of Aki Ross featured Maxim Magazine, or the simple fact that the movie was even attempting to mirror it’s live action counterparts rather than behave has it should’ve (a simple animated movie, not something to be taken seriously unless it was from [Disney or] Pixar, critic darlings). Backlogged information on Google shows that they took a particular interest in using every “Box Office” joke they could possibly think of (from “belly flop” to “dumb blonde” jokes). There’s also the notion that because a film is a considered a “box-office bomb” it’s also a bad movie. However, if Michael Bay, Bruckheimer and the Twilight franchises are anything to consider, “box office smash” does not a good movie make, yet it will undoubtedly get people lined up to buy a ticket to see your movie. Go figure, the dichotomy of visual over substance continues on and yes, I‘ve contributed to it on more than occasion and without shame.

In relations to the gaming world and the fanbase for Final Fantasy itself? Well of course they didn’t like it, it wasn‘t a direct translation of “Final Fantasy VII”. They believed The Spirits Within lacked all the themes of what was generally accepted as a “Final Fantasy Game” --- in the same way Final Fantasy XII is considered be least like a “Final Fantasy Game” and more like something suited for the western MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, despite the impressive counter arguments that prove otherwise. Sakaguchi’s reasoning for this lack of reoccurring visual themes is this:

“The theme I want to convey is more of a complex idea of life and death and the spirit, and I felt that in order to best portray this idea, the story should really be set on earth with actual humans that live on earth.” --- The Making of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, pg. 8

In short, he believed the outright otherworld that many of the games maintained wouldn’t help him tell the story he was aiming to get across to the audience. Thus, a ruined world much like our own was utilized and for all intents and purposes, I believe the setting works to the advantage of the tale‘s aim. The Spirits Within maintained all relevant themes that made Final Fantasy game, a Final Fantasy game:

Life, death, faith, an apocalyptic situation, personal crisis, a romance you‘ll either buy or ignore, six party members out to save the world from peril, a sympathetic or relatable antagonist [with his own woeful story] out to destroy it; a hunt for a mystical object, and references to other games (albeit in subtitle “blink-and-you-miss-it” or right in your face manifestations).

The argument that it “isn’t Final Fantasy” typically baffles and exasperates me, as in retrospect, fandom concepts of what constitutes as “fantasy” is relatively slanted in the same way of what they think constitutes as an “True JRPG”. The environments surrounding both Final Fantasy VII and VIII were hardly what constituted as a fantasy setting (the biggest “fantasy” element VIII had going for it was the Sorceress storyline). In fact, most Final Fantasy games are a mirror of our reality’s industrial environment in one way or another. However, as far as the fandom was concerned, the shift in Spirits’ reality was a bad move on all counts and a stupid one at that.

One has to consider that many were still riding the high that was Final Fantasy VII (as it’s often the game mentioned to have been played before seeing The Spirits Within) and therefore, assumed that when Squaresoft announced that they were making a movie, it meant it was a movie for the “greatest Final Fantasy Game of All Time”, not some project “in name only” piggybacking off a surefire franchise. Sure, there are the other games to consider, but you’d be silly in thinking Squaresoft was going to make a movie based on the previous generation games or PS1’s VIII or IX.

Because Spirits Within wasn’t stylized by the way of its game counterparts and maintained things like Chocobo’s, Swords no normal person could wield, Magic, the spelling of Cid’s name (instead going for the politically correct spelling “S-I-D”) and was set in a completely Western (and not Japanese) world with more a “Science Fiction Flare” than “Fantasy” (Nevermind that Sci-Fi, along with the Supernatural, is a form of fantasy), it wasn’t a Final Fantasy product in the least to them.

The entire film is disregarded on the mere fact that it wasn’t what they wanted to see and therefore gravitate more towards Advent Children because its connected to VII and is a entire film tailor made to service them in every way imaginational outside the realm of Fanfiction’s possibility. It’s a plotless tale with no heart to carry it. Nothing of interest actually happens in the movie, there’s nothing to captivate the viewer beyond its stylized CGI and Dragon Ball Z/John Woo-esque action sequences (all which I enjoyed the first 10 times). I popped said film in one day and couldn’t get past the first twenty minutes, aka, the advertisement for the Nokia cell Phone. Spirits Within, on the other hand, attempted to get by on its own merits, with a storyline that tried to convey something beyond the personal crisis of one character’s angst (a bad rash cured by church baptism) and being it‘s own character.

This is what bothers me the most about fan entitlement/expectation; I’m not immune to it, there are plenty things I’ve chosen not to watch or play on the basis that “it wasn’t [like] so-so”, but in the case of Final Fantasy, the problem with the franchise lies not with the developers (completely), but the fan’s expectation that everything should be like or modeled after VII. That and they feel as though their entitled to get the movie or game they’ve created inside their heads under the belief that the creator wrote the story with them in mind. Lately, when a certain game in the series disappoints them, they fall back on the hopes that Square Enix will remake all of the older games, more importantly, remake VII because that‘s what will make them happy.

Not a new game trying something remotely different, but a remake of the older games because they view that world through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. You see it all over the internet whenever news regarding Square Enix is involved (“Square Enix just needs to remake VII, because that‘s where‘s the money and success is at”). My argument to that is that not one remake of any of the earlier games will be the same because it lacks one vital element: Hironobu Sakaguchi at the helm. And quite frankly, he doesn’t seem like the type to mess with success, but move on to something else. Sure, he’s not necessary for the storyline/character aspect (its all been written down), but what made those games great were his involvement in everything else.

Most believe that the “hype” for the film ruined the movie’s chances of success, that they were purposely showing off the title “Final Fantasy” like they’d slapped it onto something that wasn’t meant to be a Final Fantasy spin-off, despite all evidence to the contrary. But was really the hype from the PR-machine or the preconceived expectations and self-generated hype of the fanbase and wary movie audiences that lead to the film’s failure? I’d be more inclined to say it was the latter and not the first. The biggest “hype” this film created for itself was for its computer generated graphics and the Photorealism effect used throughout the entire movie.

The fact that Aki Ross was being billed as the first “virtual actress” (Voiced by Mulan’s Ming Na) and not “the next Aerith Gainsborough”, was probably what the PR-Machine pushed out the most. Columbia Pictures, despite the trailers, never once fell back on any material from the other games, but advertised the movie (albeit misleadingly as an “action film”) for what it was; a completely different reality, not unlike any of Squaresoft’s previous endeavors in the series.

Fandom’s The Spirits Within Guide to Criticism: Storytelling and CGI Woes:

The storyline for The Spirits Within, inspired largely by the passing of Sakaguchi’s mother (Aki Sakaguchi), take’s most of the heat from both spectrums of audience. It’s told in a fashion akin to that of its game counterparts. A group of six characters (four of which are pulled into the conflict after rescuing Aki) are searching for a way to save humanity from the assumed invaders known as “Phantoms”; non-corporal enemies that have managed to wipe out half the earth’s population and surrounding wildlife with a mere touch after crashing onto the planet in a fragment of their planet (later dubbed the Leonid Meteor). The primary protagonist, Aki Ross, was infected by a Phantom during an experiment and now experiences messages from the enemy in the form of disjointed dreams that may tell her how to save what’s left their world.

Her only opposition is General Hein (the “villain” of the movie as the nature of the Phantoms are later revealed as ghosts in an eternal loop of suffering, taking it out on anything that‘s alive), a man hell-bent on destroying the Phantoms with excessive force, as he believes the passive-aggressive approach via the search for the Eight Spirits, the theory of Gaia (the Spirit of their Earth) and the Spirit Wave, won’t save them. He’s also determined to prove that Aki’s intentions aren’t as noble as they appear, by implying that her actions are being influenced by her infection to the advantage of the enemy.

The atmosphere of the film is pretty grim, the equally somber color pallet and lighting depicts that perfectly. Mankind stands on the brink of extinction, survivors live in fear, simply hoping to get through the next day, without hearing that the barriers that protect their city, will fail them and let the enemy inside. Despite up-beat or sarcastic/witty characters like Ryan Whittaker, Dr. Sid or Neil Fleming, the situation surrounding them is bleak on the level of hopeless. The planet, not just humankind, suffers because of the Phantom’s presence. While the end of the film resolves the conflict between human and Phantom, the way in which the problem is solved is a bittersweet one; a silver lining of hope promises everything‘s not lost, despite the fact that almost all of the characters, except Aki and Sid, die for the planet‘s salvation or their survival.

It’s a tale that’s been woven before in the series and one that’s been told in other manner of narrative media, but it’s hardly one I’d call “dull or uninteresting” (at the very least, not on the level of AVATAR or Advent Children, which truly doesn‘t do anything to pump anything different into their narrative to keep it from falling flat on its back). Like anything it’s a “take it or leave it” tale you’ll either gravitate to or ignore altogether, pretty much in the same way, you‘ll either enjoy the Secret of NIHIM or find it to be a boring animated feature from the eighties.

There are also arguments that the animation itself renders it’s characters without personality; frankly this is debatable and not a fact. Given the technology that was used at the time, the characters a pretty damn expressive to the point of “trying too hard” in some sequences. The film is scattered with scenes done at a latter point of time when the production team were better at animating emotion or movement, while other scenes are left untouched and leave something to be desired. The characters seem to suffer the most from this ailment of “emotionless expression” are undoubtedly Aki, Neil and Major Elliot.

Often times, Aki distress comes across more as confusion, a sign that key-framed facial animation just wasn‘t quite up to par for the crying scenes (something the animators themselves admit). Neil, for whatever reason, looks incredibly lost or vacant when he isn‘t speaking (with the exception of that one particular scene during Gray‘s infection. The suspicious expression he pulls in contrast to Ryan‘s panic is pretty awesome). Major Elliot is definitely among the few minor characters that got the least work done on his animation (the Council members are more expressive than he is).

Everyone else on the other hand, especially Ryan Whittaker and Dr. Sid, never seem to suffer from the “3 cards short of a full deck” in regards how emotion is expressed in their animations. Motion capture is also rather smooth and only suffers from the occasional awkwardness in running sequences or general Hein’s jacket. The technology, great as it was, has it’s flaws, but I can’t see getting hung up on it (especially if you could dismiss it in the games of that period). Again, this is a symptom of the “Uncanny Valley” reaction that has viewers searching more for the flaws in animation as opposed to focusing on what the animation is able to do. if a character isn‘t expressing an emotion or moving as they should, you‘ll nitpick it for all eternity until you can‘t get past it.

As to their personalities, I think the problem lies more within a lack of character development, something that‘s often sacrificed for running time or focus on plot; sure, most of the characters, like any Final Fantasy character, are archetypes that serve a purpose in the “motley crew” dynamic, but none of them are without a personality. You may not like some personalities like Gray (most likely for all the same reasons people dislike Cyclops/Scott Summers) or Hein (Hammy and relatively stupid as hell from this viewer’s vicarious perspective), but to say their lacking anything in regards to a personality is stretching it.

The Spirits Within’s only real problem, in concerns to the structure of it’s storyline, is that the viewer is thrown into the near-end of Aki’s journey. Most of the backstory for either the characters or the ruined world of earth itself is only told in snippets either available on the special features on its two-disc DVD, the novelization, and The Making of Final Fantasy The Spirits Within. Then there are times that some elements are not explained/explored at all (one would really love to know how Sid discovered that a collection of eight spirits, specifically, would save their world).

If history has told us anything, “1 out 10” people actually put any energy into hunting for all storyline‘s strings when it hasn‘t been presented to them on a silver-platter in the film itself. Given the constraints the technology, creative choices and budget used at the time for the film, I can see why we as a viewer are thrown into the middle of things. The movie certainly tries to tell you everything it can about the world you’re visiting, but ultimately, there’s only so much one can do before the limit it breached. Other than that, the primary storyline itself is relatively easy to follow; those that state they had trouble following it, clearly weren’t paying attention. In short, I view the Spirits Within’ storyline as no stronger or weaker than its counterparts entries, all of which have flaws most will ignore because they love it so much or nit-pick to death because it irks them that much. The only thing its truly lacking in regards to being Final Fantasy is the interactive experience. (And the advantage of 40, 50 or 100 hours of gameplay.)

In the same way Final Fantasy XIII is viewed as linear, The Spirits Within doesn’t allow you to explore the post-apocalyptic world, only the mater at hand. There’s no control at the helm that allows you to control Aki’s actions, there are no side quests or leveling up, everything is scripted to happen as it does in the film and the aftermath is something you‘ll either accept or outright hate. Despite this, there was an entire world behind the scenes of the film, more or less left on the cutting room floor in concept art and ideas explained through the special features of the DVD, that could’ve easily been expanded into other narrative means of storytelling to point of creating another tale for the movie altogether. However, like the problem with XIII’s “Datalog” technique or their “Episode Zero/One” novellas (unofficially translated), this relatively unexplained world is one you’ll probably never to get to see in any form of presentation in the universe’s tale itself, outside of a online encyclopedia if you can find it.

With that said, these drawbacks aren’t anything that make or break the movie in my honest opinion, only hinder it when you start thinking about the “more” of it’s universe. It’s an incredibly poignant and forlorn tale and performances of both the voice actors and characters themselves support the film’s visual like well balanced emotional support that keeps the film from becoming more style than substance. The only thing I can say I never liked about the film was General Hein’s “on-the-nose” villainy (the heavy handed attempt at “sympathy for the devil”), James Wood’s equally self-aware (hammy) voice acting and Elliot Goldenthal’s score. Both are as bland as you can get without being toast without butter.

The despite the positives the movie has going for it, its an undeniable fact that movie will forever be regarded as a “bad video game adaptation” (nevermind that attempting to compile all of Final Fantasy’s numbered game elements into one movie would result in a chaos of utter badness) to the majority, a “box office flop” or a “guilty pleasure” --- because for some reason one has to be guilty to love a movie that’s widely regarded as bad (fuck that I say, wear it on shirt with pride).

I’m not saying the film is the greatest thing since “sliced bread”, it’s got its problems, and its strongest element are indeed the beautiful visuals the film employs throughout, but the cons are hardly something I could get hung up on. It’s certainly not as horrible as many would lead you to believe because it lacks giant birds you can ride and Cloud Strife and all his angst. It would be like saying “I would’ve loved that Sailor Moon movie if they hadn’t called it ‘Sailor Moon: Journey to the Past‘” or even claiming that a Halo game wasn‘t a Halo game because there was no Master Chief as the frontrunner.

The argument that movie would’ve better received if it were simply called “The Spirits Within” and is “Final Fantasy in Name Only” is a flawed one, and more based more on the biased on what a fan thinks constitutes as “Final Fantasy”. To them, it isn’t apart of the franchise because that the film lacks all the aforementioned things that’s been mentioned thoroughly throughout this argument.

It’s unfair assumption and one that could be used against every Final Fantasy game that followed after the first. (I‘ve already seen one person declare “Final Fantasy XIII would‘ve been great if they hadn‘t called ‘Final Fantasy XIII’”, thus proving my point of the biased opinion towards this series‘ entries and what fans think constitutes as a “Final Fantasy Game/Film”.)

It’s all fine and well not to like something, but when you start acting like a entitled snot and think you know the universe better than it’s creator(s) (ahla “They should contact you for ideas, bb, you totally know their world better they do!”), then you’ve lost all respect in the argument (often wrapped in ill-aimed fanrage) from the first letter in your paragraph.

Hironobu seemed to remember that Final Fantasy was a franchise that wasn’t tied down to one specific look or system, its just a shame that the fandom doesn‘t. As far as I’m concerned, anything created by him (and later, in his absence, SQUARE ENIX) in regards to this series is a “Final Fantasy” title unless otherwise noted by the former creator.

The Spirits Within’s Impact after the fall:

Despite the “Mixed (I.e. “Negative/Meh”) Reception” of The Spirits Within, it’s influence would be later be seen a year later in the 2002 music video for the Linkin Park’s Reanimation album, “Points of Authority”. A completely computer generated short, whose ending reflects the showdown between the Proto-Phantom, Aki and the Zeus Canon in space near the end of the film. IMDB.com states that the opening sequence for Kingdom Hearts reflects Aki's first dream sequence through Kari:

A shot of Kairi standing on water, seen from below, is a reference to an identical shot of Aki Ross standing on water.

Nine years later in next generation console games, Spirits Within would be referenced by Square Enix’s first entries for the Next Gen console, Final Fantasy XIII and Versus and the most unlikely game, BioWare’s Mass Effect. In regards to Final Fantasy XIII, the biggest references to Spirits are found in military force of the Sanctum, PSICOM. The elite force for the planet of Cocoon, PSICOM’s uniform is believed to be have been modeled after the “Hound” armor used by the DEEP EYES squad in the United States.

Their helmets, specifically, are modeled after both the “Nightmare” Helmets. Both the PSICOM and Guardian Corps. Soldiers utilize technology dubbed “Antimatter Manipulation [Particle]” (a technology I wouldn’t be surprised was also inspired by the “Flatspace Technology” utilized in the 2006 film UltraViolet):

“Antimatter Manipulation Principle (AMP) forms the foundation for variety of technological wonders, enabling phenomena ranging from phase-space interference to the manipulation of gravitational force...” ---- Datalog/Cocoon Society, Final Fantasy XIII.

Specific references to Spirits Within’s DEEP EYES squadron are found in things like the AMP’s Grav-Con Unit and the Gravity Bomb, both of which slow the descent of any one soldier who uses it survive high dives from hanging edges or airships, much like the High Density Gas (or HDG) gel packs used by the DEEP EYES and their vehicles (be it aircraft or terrain vehicles). Aki’s Holo Bracelet is referenced by the devices that activate the Warp (or Summon) Gates that allow beasts or humans to transport to different places in half the time of airships or terrain vehicles.

The Gapra Whitewood’s visual cues, the laser gates utilized to keep experimental beasts from escaping and the elevators used to get around by Lightning and Hope, resemble the Pulse Sonic Lasers used in the prison cells and the structure of the Gondola transport from the Aki/Gray sequence. And finally, near the end of the game, the crystallized spirits of the deceased during the attack on Eden resemble the ascending spirits of both Phantom and man alike in the Spirits Within, which is a visual reference to the Lifestream in Final Fantasy VII. There’s much about the aesthetic look of Cocoon’s capital, Eden, that reminds me a lot of The Spirits Within as well. One can say that Final Fantasy XIII is also one of the only Final Fantasy to rival Spirits Within in terms of visuals. The game utilizes a completely different graphics engine (Crystal Tools) than it‘s previous counterparts on the PS1 and PS2 and the results are gorgeous.

Now in regards to Final Fantasy XIII Versus, the game is one of the largest departures from the series’ tried and true formula since 2001 CGI film, though Nomura is quick to compare to the 2005 film, Advent Children (if the trailers anything to go by, I expect it to be just as sleep-inducing). Versus’ tale is set completely against the background of a “reality based world” inspired various and well known landmarks of cities throughout the world. It’s storyline deals with military occupation and warring countries attempting to reclaim the only crystal in known existence from the heir of an unnamed city.

It maintains the elements employed in the Fabula Nova Crystallis “series” ---- the Goddess Etro, the light of the afterlife, the Crystal Theme and Behemoth beasts ---, but aims to be more “realistic”, “darker” and “believable” than its brethren, in the same way Spirits Within did. The problem is that their trying instead of doing, which is the hang up for most video games that try to be a more mature affair in order to be taken seriously.

(Seriously, Nomura, take a hint from Nike and “Just do it”.)

There isn’t enough information released for this game to make a proper comparison connection to Spirits Within, other the fact that its completely based in a world of reality (coupled with an extremely gray pallet and military vehicles that remind me of the tech used in the film, sans the Mechs), something the aforementioned film is constantly brow-beaten for utilizing.

And the irony of it all is that Verses is probably one of the most anticipated Final Fantasy games yet to be released, despite the backdrop of the real world surrounding its hum-drum set of characters who‘ve been bestowed with probably some of the silliest names in the Final Fantasy series yet (Noctis, Prompto, Gladiolus, Ignis and [Stella] Nox Fleuret). But then, I suspect it’s because most tend to forget Spirits Within exists unless they wanna make fun of it for it‘s failure.

And given that spin-off games like Dirge of Cerberus and Crisis Core take Kingdom-Hearts approach and rely more on RPG action, hack-n-slash and third person shooter based combat, I’m beginning to wonder about the arguments against XIII not being “turn based enough”, seeing that (to the best of my recollection), at least one of these games weren’t crucified for their gameplay being unlike their turn-based [J]RPG brethren.

In concerns to Mass Effect, it was recently revealed by the BioWare team that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was one of the many influences behind the game’s atheistic look:

“[…]Yeah, you know we actually reference a lot from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” said Watts, speaking to the latest issue of Xbox World 360 Magazine. “We used a lot of their GUIs and the way they did their ship – that was kind of like in some of the early designs for the Normandy.

Our attack helicopters are loosely based off that movie. There’s some great stuff, especially their glowing GUI screens; we used those a lot. I keep a folder of that stuff and I still actually tell the guys ‘just go back and look at that. Change it like that!’”
---- Derek Watts, BioWare Art Director

When the news was announced, reaction ranged from amused (more or less because BioWare was quoted for saying that “Final Fantasy wasn’t an RGP” in the general sense of the word’s meaning here in the states) to surprised.

Thus, Spirit’s Within’s existence in the world of movies and its relation to it’s video game counterparts is not in vain. Like the 1982 film, TRON, it will be remembered for attempting and succeeding in utilizing a form a technology and doing it in a way that was never done before with relatively flying colors. (It holds a record within the world Guinness Book of records for being one of the earliest computer generated films with photorealistic characters.)

The only difference between Spirits and TRON, however, is that the production team behind that particular movie used more traditional animation techniques than CGI, resulting in a bizarre blend of cartoon animation and live action film. Spirits Within goes one step further than that and weaves an entire tale completely in a computer generated world with live action principles.

"If the ambitious mix of East-West, movie-game and anime-action doesn't pay off, we may still remember this as the moment true CG actors were born." --- Time Magazine

Their efforts garnered the attention of two minor award shows; both the Online Film Critics Society and the Golden Reel awards acknowledged the film’s technical achievements by way of nominating the film for its sound design and the film as a whole (“Best Animated Feature”). Oddly enough, TV Tropes.com points out that Spirits Within was never given the chance to be get snuffed by the Oscars, as Square Pictures disbanded “soon thereafter”.

This statement puzzles me, seeing that there was still Final Flight of the Osiris to get produced and released in 2003, a good two years after The Spirits Within (which ultimately means, Square Pictures got snuffed by all major award shows in 2002, seeing that the film had plenty of time get award from the time of it‘s release in July to February of 2002 or earlier).

Square Picture’s last attempt to show off what they could with their technology would later be showcased in the film, The Final Flight of the Osiris, a short film apart of The Animatrix, “prequel” to the Matrix Reloaded and the [lousy] video game, Enter The Matrix. A demo reel of Aki sporting her default haircut, fighting one of the “squid” robots from the original Matrix was showcased to the Wachowski Brothers to show that Square Pictures could pull off the feat in the form of a short film.

With an improved source of tech to work off, the limitations that hindered Spirits Within were relatively null-void in Osiris and the doomed tale of the Osiris crew came to life in a spectrum of color and emotion. It is the strongest short film in the Animatrix set, first to A Detective Story and Beyond. (The only thing that puzzles me is why it was showcased before the film Dreamcatcher and not Reloaded or Revolutions.) Most films that attempted to mirror either Spirits or Osiris’ Photorealistic approach to characters/environments have never been able to achieve the same level of depth and movement as they have.

In closing, the journey of the film and Square Pictures, while not for naught, is definitely one wrapped in woe, more or less because, unlike TRON, Spirits Within isn‘t something that will be given a second chance by way of a revisiting via a half-balked reboot/sequel with even less character development and more continuity errors than a flat tire set backward (see: TRON: Legacy and all its tie-ins), but dumbed down enough for major audiences to swallow the back lighted pill. (There’s a reason why TRON doesn’t feel like a “Disney Film” after all. It wasn’t built on their principles, whereas Legacy was, right down to the cardboard protagonist.)

At the end of the day, despite the support it gets from those “%62 percent” who enjoyed it and the praise it gets for its graphics, the majority will always look down on this film as some lesser being with a brand name attached to it. Perhaps I’m just projecting and focusing too much on the negative, but I can’t help but believe that this is a film that’s been unfairly treated by both the general and Final Fantasy audience (an audience I‘m beginning to believe will be unsatisfied with anything given to them unless its you-know-what).

The massive financial failure of the film must’ve left the entire production team disheartened. It’s rather hard not to think that way, especially after leaning that Sakaguchi left the merged company of Square Enix in 2001, two years before the company merger and funnily enough, around the time Final Fantasy X-2 was released.

Did he believe the company and Final Fantasy had lost it’s way in the same way the fanbase does, or was he so disillusioned by the failure of Spirits Within, that he no longer had the drive to continue on with the company and the series, thus making good on his promise to exit-stage-left if ‘Final Fantasy Failed’? Who knows, but his endeavors with his company Mistwalker, appear to working out nicely for him and one can only wish him the best and thank him for creating something special like The Spirits Within. Without it, I doubt I would’ve paid Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts any attention at all.

The Making of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Bradley Games Publishing)
Antimatter Manipulation Principle - The Final Fantasy Wiki
Datalog/Cocoon Society - The Final Fantasy Wiki
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within - Wikipedia.org
Final Fantasy XIII Versus - Wikipedia.org
Hironobu Sakaguchi - Wikipedia.org
Squaresoft - Wikipedia.org
Final Fantasy (Series) - Wikipedia.org
The Final Flight of the Osiris - CG Channel.com
BioWare: Final Fantasy Movie Influenced Mass Effect - Gematsu.com
A Planet Without Square-Enix - Kokatu.com
(Anonymous) on March 25th, 2014 02:32 pm (UTC)
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We all know what that exact answer is without question.