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Movie Review

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence

Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
STAFF WRITER

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teen to Adult
Genre:
Sci-Fi
Length:
1 hr. 46 min.
Year of Release:
2001
USA Release:
July 11, 2001
Relevant Issues
Aki Ross in “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”

What is the significance of the New Age Movement? Answer

Reincarnation: Does the Bible allow for this possibility? Answer

Hell: Fact or Fiction? Answer

Am I good enough to go to heaven? Answer

SKEPTICAL about the claims of the Bible? See this

What does the Bible say about intelligent life on other planets? Answer

Guide to Games—check out our game review site

Featuring: voices of Ming-Na Wen, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Donald Sutherland
Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi
Producer: Chris Lee, Jun Aida, Akio Sakai
Distributor: Columbia Tristar
The Dreamscape of “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”

Before any review of “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” is given, it is best for potential viewers to have a brief history of this popular video game so as to understand the theme and concept behind this film. After all, the basic foundation of the film is based upon the game.

Sometime in 1987, a small Japanese publishing company named Square Co. LTD. was in desperate need of a hit. Until this point, Square had mostly published smaller games for the Famicom Disk system. The titles sold respectably, but the modest installed base of Famicom Disk systems made blockbuster status an elusive goal. Hironobu Sakaguchi had an idea: why not create a game similar to competitor Enix’s “Dragon Quest”? The console RPG was a big hit with gamers, and Sakaguchi thought that Square could significantly improve upon the basic formula. Thus work began on a massive one-megabit cartridge role-playing game that would attempt to revolutionize the genre. All of Square’s resources, dreams, and hopes were placed on this single game. If it failed, Square would be no more. The project, as Square’s final gasp, was given the name “Final Fantasy.”

Needless to say, the first “Final Fantasy” game was a massive success, and each sequel has been even more successful. “Final Fantasy VII” has sold nearly six million copies worldwide to date. Almost three million of those were sold within the first 48 hours of its Japanese release. The “Final Fantasy” series has proven to be almost without peer in both quality and popularity.

Most of it’s missions involve a primary team of four warriors working together. They have included themes of witches, spells, black magic, crystals, incarnations, resurrections, prophecies, and several elements of Buddhism. The new movie version contains some of the elements of the past and, of course, some new ones.

Military Captain Gray Edwards in “Final Fantasy”
Military Captain Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) in “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”

The story of “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” centers around the work of Dr. Aki Ross (voice by Ming-Na Wen from “ER”) and Dr. Sid (voice by Donald Sutherland). The year is 2065 and Earth is once again invaded by aliens. Dr. Ross and Dr. Sid are working together to save the Earth from extinction. They are trying to gather eight “spirit-waves” from all over the planet. They believe that these spirits can be channeled into an energy that can defeat the aliens, save the Earth, and protect Gaia (the planetary soul). If all of this sounds New Age to you, it is! These plot points are once again true to the “Final Fantasy” tradition. Included is high doses of Buddhism (reincarnation included) to solve this perilous dilemma. The two doctors are fearful that their ideas will be mocked and other plans will be destructive failures.

They are opposed before a governing council by General Hein (James Woods). He is in favor of the traditional military option. His team has developed a space cannon known as Zeus. “Let’s go in there and blast the aliens.” Earth is desperate for options. What remains of its cities is protected by a series of defense shields.

Dr. Aki, the heroine in the story, is joined by the Final Fantasy traditional team of four. The team is lead by Gray Edwards (voice by Alec Baldwin). They are the “A-team” that is assigned by the council to help Doctors Ross and Sid carry out their mission. The task of gathering “spirits” is not an easy one, though. It may be a rare remaining plant or a bird that is the host. The pursuit is compounded by Aki’s reoccurring dreams. I will not reveal this plot point, but she believes these are connected to this complex mission.

The aliens are called “phantoms”. They are red ghost-like images that take on a variety of shapes. They have the ability to capture a person’s spirit (represented by the color blue) by just a touch. The scenes are violent in nature, but not extremely fearful. Viewers get to see this battle between the “red” and “blue” teams. The good news is that any Rambo with a gun can blast them away. So why hasn’t the battle been won quickly, you ask? The aliens come from a meteor that crash landed on Earth 34 years ago. Weapons fired inside the meteor somehow make the aliens stronger. Hmmm. Will our heroes solve this puzzle and foil Gen. Hein’s mission to use the power of his weapon Zeus?

“Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” does contain some incredible animation and visuals. I am, like many other critics, torn by the elements of the story and the craft involved in making it. The movie represents four years of work and $140 million dollars to make. Human actors are safe (for now), but it is always fun for this SciFi fan to see them push the technological boundaries.

“FF:TSW” is, however, like that video game system you just couldn’t wait to buy. The satisfaction comes quickly, but leaves just as quickly. Satisfaction is like that in this film as well. Children are strongly discouraged from watching this ground-breaking effort, since the primary themes of the story are not a healthy influence on any young mind. There are many elements of the plot that will disturb the “true Spirit” within Christian viewers, and could continue to lead those who are not true believers down a deceptive and deadly path.

Yet, there is the “gotta see it” crowd who I cannot discourage from seeing this film. My recommendation is that SciFi fans see and enjoy the moment and that parents use the cautions stated above to guide in your discernment. Bridges can be built to explain the truth of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer. Take advantage of those opportunities to open discussion.

In other content, “FF” feels tame for a “PG-13” rating. It does contain some mild profanity and uses of God’s name in vain. It doesn’t contain any sex or substance abuse. The most dangerous element is the spiritual fantasy within, so don’t dismiss the prompting you may feel from the Holy Spirit within to share the truth with those who don’t know without your help.


Viewer Comments
Firstly, the technical aspects of this film are superb. Quite simply, this is the best looking use of computer animation yet released. It seems that the film makers are so impressed with their creation of Aki that she’ll be used in future films—depending on the success of this one. The script? Well, it’s OK. It maybe has a little more depth than the average SF hookum that seems to get churned out every so often. it’s a shame that they didn’t use a plot similar to that of Final Fantasy 5, with its often moving scenes and characterisations. Maybe they had to tone it down for the general American audience, who seem to be very keen on anything that doesn’t demand too much brain power. As for the New Age elements… Well, the film is called Final FANTASY. it’s not as if they’re being presented as documentary fact. The universe presented here is so clearly an alternative reality that I don’t think it poses too much of a problem. I find more to worry about in Disney, to be honest with you.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Paul Bird, age 28
I’ll keep it short, the graphics quality was really excellent, but the storyline and design was somewhat typical and bland. I have worked with this kind of media and stuff for almost 2 years now, but it doesn’t take an expert to know that since the Final Fantasy game, its publisher has brought nothing but excellence. Oh, and did anyone notice that absolutely no sweat or tears were shed during this film? How can that be due to the situation in the film? Finally, a serious objectionable element I would like to point out is the use of and focus on the Gaia (A nature spirit from Greek mythology, I think).
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Robin Tan, age 19
I went to see this movie because I was intrigued by the filming technic. The movie was very disappointing, I should have left halfway through it. There wasn’t any enjoyment at having seen a movie and I felt like I wasted my evening and money. The movie is extremely humanistic and promotes the belief that all life is God (gyna) and when you die, or anything dies it returns to the Earths spirit. By the way if I had realized Alec Baldwin was involved in the movie, I would have avoided it regardless of the promotional hype. Please save you money, and don’t expose your kids to this movie!
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3½]
—Gene Keene, age 45
This movie is eye candy. I went to this movie without ever playing the game of “Final Fantasy”. The movie was interesting but smacked with New Age Ideology from beginning to end (especially the end). This movie would lead to a great discussion with teens about worldviews. There are a few “s” words and so forth but no sex. There is plenty of violence. I guess as far as movies go it’s okay but it does not in any way put forth a Christian worldview.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Scott McCullar, age 26
The Final Fantasy movie was a complete waste of my time. Not only was the story confusing, but it had almost next to zero character development. When you make a movie, you should try to invoke some feelings towards the characters. I couldn’t care one way or the other for the characters, as they totally bored me to no end. Adding to that, the demonic presence in this movie is obvious. As a former fan of Japanese Animation, these so called “Aliens” are nothing more than what they’ve already established as demons in their animation. About the only thing that is outstanding in this movie are the graphics. Which are nothing really out of the ordinary if you’re a video game fan. As a video game player, this seemed to me like a 100 minute Computer graphics display. Which looked cool, but you’ve got to add more to it than that. The New Age spirituality tone is obviously felt in this movie. With all the references to “Gaia” and how humans supposedly came from this… In the end, stay away from this movie not only for that content, but also because it’s just plain bad.
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
—Ron Coley, age 26
Final Fantasy is the most beautiful piece of drek that I have ever been privileged to review in my lifetime. No profanity, No sex, terrifying but strangely non-graphic violence, and the hokiest message that I’ve ever seen in my life about spirituality… The best way to summarize the movie’s plot is to collect the science fiction cliches of everything from Metropolis to Judge Dredd and wrap it together in a New Age message. I realize that the word New Age is tossed around far too much, perhaps, in reviews but trust me there has never been a more New Age movie that I have seen in my life. Final Fantasy’s main problem for me is the fact that much of the movie depends on a very disheartening and disturbing theology where human spirits are permanently tied to the Earth and that it is possible for these spirits to be destroyed, captured, or even harnessed by evil spirits of another world. This isn’t giving away the plot because all of this is revealed in the first five minutes to anyone paying attention. The characters are interesting, the problems real, and the reactions very human from the villains to the heroes, but I couldn’t help but feel the entire time that the people on screen lived in a very bleak and horrible world spiritually. It should go without saying this is one of the most beautifully animated movies of all time and will hold that place with its haunting paintings for a good number of years I think but all of that cannot disguise that the heroes live on a world where Heaven is a myth, God is a seemingly powerless Earth energy, and the immortality of the soul is only a energy gun away from becoming a myth. For lovers of artistic talent this movie is a must see but one should be extremely careful to explain to children that there is nothing redeeming about the movie’s spirit message whatsoever no matter how pretty and likable the characters. Also if anyone can explain to me the ending aside from “it looks pretty” I would appreciate it very much.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4]
—Charles Phipps, age 20
So far I’ve seen only reviews placing an evil spin on this film so I wanted to give you what I saw in this film, what I got out of it. don’t worry I won’t give away the plot of the storyline. The objectionable element of the film is the basis on spirits, or whatever you want to call them. These phantom spirits kill by contact, that contact somehow destroyed all lifeforce near it. Real? no. New age? Maybe, but I didn’t perceive this film was about religion, it was a story. A story with the quality I’ve come to expect from Squaresoft. I think a lot of people have forgotten about stories. Most movies now are about worldly pleasures, monetary gain, or even just pure evil. People forgot their imaginations and their stories. This movie made me feel something. Something of God, even if he wasn’t directly the focus. Oh sure there was excitement action and shooting luminous shapes that could kill you. It was the picture of a dead Earth. People could only live in cities that had energy barriers around them. I’m not going to give you the plot, but on this dying Earth, there were people, people trying to save the Earth but they didn’t know how. And while some chose the right course, others didn’t. I think it reminded me of our country, a country that has chosen to forget God. And while a few of us choose the right course, many more don’t. This film made me feel. I know of almost no other film to this date I can say the same about. I’m sorry I strayed a bit from what was probably the main objective, but my advice on seeing this film is that if you can be led astray by this story, then you will be led astray by the first words out of the mouth of your neighbor. I went in to see this movie firm in my beliefs about God. And I left the theater not just with an enjoyable experience. I left with the lesson I chose to learn from the people on screen. it’s the people around you, the fight against evil that’s always before you, and the fellowship of those people that fight with you, that’s why we live…
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Andrew, age 16
I thought for about an hour that I was enjoying this movie. I tried really hard to understand it and appreciate it for what it is: science fiction. However, I really couldn’t get past the fact that the movie’s plot is very weak, the character dialogue is extremely generic, and the message of the movie is nothing but sludge. Despite all of that, I probably would have still given the movie a rating of 2 and a half based on the computer animation and effects, but the ending was so pathetic that I couldn’t make myself give it an average moviemaking quality rating. Without even getting into all of the theological discussion about the message of Final Fantasy, I can tell you from simply an artistic point of view, this is not a good movie. In my mind, Final Fantasy is this year what Battlefield Earth was last year, the sci-fi movie that you love to hate. Please heed my warning and don’t waste your money like I did.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 1½]
—Trae, age 18
I chose a 4 rating only because of the special effects and digital realism. The digital characters were somewhat realistic (at least the three main characters) and some of the body movements and gestures were believable. The special effects all around were great for a science fiction movie. I do find it disturbing that some who see the movie might actually believe the “fantasy” that is portrayed in the movie. To non-believers this kind of theology might be attractive. I have this dilemma each time I watch a sci-fi series or movie. I guess it does open the doors for discussion about the truth.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Ken Faytik, age 32
I’ve been anticipating this movie since it was announced a couple years ago, and I can say that the wait has been worth it! What we get in this movie is not only eye-popping computer graphics candy, but also a deep, strong message that isn’t as “New Age”-ey as most people think. Yes, I have played the games, and I think it’s a good thing to have played at least one of the games before seeing this. The entire “Gaia” concept inherant in the film comes mainly from the games as does the “Spirit” concept. Both are really nothing more than the basic magical elements of the video games, and “Gaia” is part of that. Remember, folks, this is a sci-fi movie with fantasy elements. This is not meant to be taken seriously! There are films out there with clear New Age messages, but this is not one of them! And if you do think the message comes off as New Age-ey, think of it this way: What better place for New Age than science fiction? Agreed? Good. Now on to the finer points of the movie. Aside from the stunningly fine computer work, we get a lush scope for the film, wonderful digital cinematography, a good script from the writers of Apollo 13, and a grand, virtuoso musical score by Elliot Goldenthal! All in all, if you’ve played the games, you will like this movie! No doubt about it! It meets expectations in all ways imaginable! If you are sensitive to “New Age”-ey messages even in the most subtle sense or if you haven’t played any of the games, then skip it. You probably won’t like this movie since you’re going into it not really knowing what to expect. All the magical concepts come from a central locale, and that is from the games. This is a sci-fi action flick and that’s all it’s meant to be. This movie isn’t about wacko environmentalism! This movie is about the harm that can result when we don’t understand each other and the results of lack in communication with each other as well as the personal struggle in all of us to fight off our own inner pain and sufferings…
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Josh Bizeau, age 18
I have always been a big fan of good quality animation. I had been looking forward to the release of this movie for months. I even downloaded four of the trailers and watched them at least twenty times each! I made sure to go to the biggest, best theatre in the city on the day it was released. Unfortunately, I was extremely disappointed with the plot. It was cheezy and way too far fetched. The animation is the best I’ve ever seen. If you are deaf I recommend seeing this movie because without the dialogue it can be appreciated for its breathtaking visuals. If you are not deaf, I recommend waiting for the DVD release and watching it with the volume turned down all the way.
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
—Ryan Martin, age 24
I thought the animation was great in the movie, but the message was just horrible. I am not a fan of the Final Fantasy series and knew nothing at all about it. So I went into the movie with a blank slate. The characters were interesting and was very well done in its approach. WARNING: This picture’s message goes completely against the Christian message. It is movies like this that is the reason people don’t want to do oil drilling in ANWR and other places because we might “hurt the Earth.” The Earth is described as a living being and thus is very big with Greenpeace and other environmental groups that only want to lock the land and not hunt any animals because they all have a “spirit.” There is also teaching on reincarnation a couple of times in the movie. However, it is a good movie to talk with other non-Christians about to witness and explain God and the Christian life and teachings. I would not expose young children to this movie. I am just glad I did not have to pay for it but got free movie tickets at work. Do not pay to see this movie. I hope this is a warning.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—Philip Smith, age 32
…From a Christian standpoint I should put out a yellow caution flag. …the movie revolves around spirits and spirit energy, and every spirit that dies merges with the “gaia”, the Earth’s energy. For those of you who have played through “Final Fantasy VII” you’ll note that the gaia is very similar to the “lifestream”. I didn’t take offence to it myself, but I’m sure it will for some of you. Violence is rather minor. There are graphic depiction of aliens eating peoples souls (it’s not as bad as it sounds). A few pictures of skulls, very little blood and lots of gunplay (against transparent aliens). There is some language present, but nothing compared to some other PG-13 movies. There are 3-4 uses of “Hell” and “damn”, one use of the “S” word and one unfinished “SOB” comment. …a visually amazing movie with a mediocre story, but is quite enjoyable if you can get past the new age thinking.
My Ratings: [Average / 3½]
—Gene Angel