Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A product of Blu-ray’s early days, the image showed its age.
Transferred straight from the digital source, a well-rendered Spirits should look flawless. However, the movie showed some compression artifacts more typical of its era, and these gave the presentation a grainy feel that shouldn’t exist given that it never saw a frame of film.
Definition felt erratic. At times, the movie showed reasonably good delineation, but too much of the image could see a bit mushy.
Again, some of this related to expectations, as a proper transfer would bring razor-sharp elements at all times. Instead, the film tended to show relatively acceptable accuracy but not the crispness the source deserved.
This left us with little fine detail. At best, the image provided pretty positive definition, but it just never came close to the level of sharpness it deserved.
No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized, and I saw no edge haloes. No print flaws showed up either, which made sense since no print existed.
Colors tended to lean toward blues and ambers, with occasional instances of brighter tones. Like the rest of the image, these felt adequate but not optimal, as the hues tended to seem a little flatter and duller than I’d expect.
The same issues greeted the somewhat inky blacks and slightly opaque shadows. Even with all these issues, the image still merited a “C+”, but given that a superior transfer should give us an “A+” presentation, the picture turned into a substantial disappointment.
At least the movie’s Uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack held up much better, as the soundfield offered a nicely involving and active experience. The forward soundstage provided a great deal of activity from the sides, most of which blended together well.
Elements moved cleanly from channel to channel, and the localization seemed good. Music displayed fine stereo separation in the front, and the rears reinforced the score neatly.
Speaking of which, the surrounds added a strong level of activity to the mix. The movie featured a lot of fine action sequences that creates a lively and vibrant atmosphere much of the time. All five speakers contributed accurate and useful information that made the track work well.
My only complaint stemmed from a certain sense of sterility to the package. At times the soundtrack seemed a little too neat and clean, and it didn’t feel like a truly natural piece on occasion. This was a minor concern, but it kept the mix from achieving greatness.
Audio quality appeared excellent. Dialogue sounded natural and crisp, with no concerns related to edginess or intelligibility.
Music seemed really strong, as the score was quite bright and dynamic. The music appeared clear and vivid, and it showed nice low-end response as well.
Effects also demonstrated excellent fidelity, with clean, accurate tones that displayed terrific depth. The bass came across as very tight and powerful without any boominess. Ultimately, Spirits featured a fine auditory experience that seemed consistently satisfying.
How does the Blu-ray compare to the the original DVD? The lossless audio offered more heft than the already solid Dolby Digital mix on the DVD.
As for the visuals, they felt better defined and showed livelier colors. However, the improvements didn’t seem as pronounced as I’d expect since the image seemed dated. Though the BD became a step up over the DVD, it wasn’t the massive leap it should’ve been.
As we shift to extras, we find two separate audio commentaries, the first of which features co-director Moto Sakakibara, sequence supervisor Hiroyuki Hayashida, sets and props lead artist Tatsuro Maruyama, and phantom supervisor Takoo Noguchi.
All four men sit together for this running, screen-specific track. They speak Japanese, but subtitles - available in English and French - translate their remarks.
Overall, I thought this was a decent commentary. At times their statements tended toward the obvious, with remarks like “Aki is in danger here” and “the sky is orange”, and they provided a fair amount of self-congratulatory material as well.
However, they also offered a reasonable amount of information about the production as they covered challenges encountered during the production as well as changes made through the many drafts and even a little criticism of some aspects of the flick. As a whole, it was a moderately interesting but unspectacular track.
The second commentary provides English speakers as we hear from editor Chris S. Capp, animation director Andy Jones, and staging director Tani Kunitake. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific track.
This piece seems fairly dry and flat, as the technical elements dominate it. Some discussion of production concerns and alterations made along the way occur, but for the most part, the participants talk about nuts and bolts animation areas.
They also offer a lot of praise for the work, as we often hear how this was “amazing” and that was “fantastic”. This commentary isn’t a bad listen, especially via Capp’s piece, as he includes some of the best information about the storytelling process. However, I think it’ll be most interesting for serious fans of the film.
The Making of Final Fantasy delivers an “interactive documentary” about the film. This program runs 30 minutes, 49 seconds and combines lots of interviews with shots of production materials and a few movie clips.
I didn’t care for the style used, as the show features lots of jittery camera work and quick cuts that seem odd for this kind of program. Also, a lot of the participants don’t get identified, which makes the show less coherent.
Despite those issues, the documentary generally appears reasonably interesting. Not surprisingly, it mainly focuses on technical aspects of the production, as it goes over the techniques used and demonstrated the work.
I think that’s why the program uses the jumpy MTV-style look: the material tends to be so dry that someone must have felt they needed to spice up the footage. Overall, the show offers a good overview of the production and the computer animation requirements. It doesn’t go into great depth, but it still comes across as a fairly effective discussion of the subject.
In addition, some extra material can be observed while you watch the documentary. 17 times during the show, an icon indicates you can press “enter” on your remote and access different video pieces.
The bonus clips cover a lot of different subjects. Essentially these amount to a second documentary, especially since it lasts longer than the main program itself, though the discussions generally elaborate on topics seen in the central show. These add some nice details about the production and merit a look.
Seven of the 17 snippets also provide optional filmmaker commentary. These bits flesh out the material to a moderate degree. I don’t think any of them are terribly fascinating, but they give us some useful bits at times.
Note that the documentary’s chapters send you straight to each added bit. This feature seems especially useful because I didn’t like watching them during the documentary itself.
They became a distraction, as when I left the show for a few minutes, it broke up the flow of that program and made it harder to take in the intent. As such, it works better to watch the extras one after another and not deal with them during the main show itself.
Vehicle Scale Comparisons look at three different items: the Bandit, the Black Boa, and the Quatro. Each gets its own short video program that tells us about them and gives us details as we watch drawings, test footage, and other material.
The clips run between 60 seconds and 78 seconds for a total of three minutes, 27 seconds worth of footage. These add a little depth to the package but not a lot.
Character Profiles provide additional details about the movie’s main participants. We hear about Aki, Gray, Hein, Dr. Sid, Neil, Jane and Ryan.
Each of the video pieces lasts between one minute, 27 seconds and three minutes, three seconds for a total of 16 minutes, three seconds of material. These offer brief biographies of the characters as well as a few notes about the performers and animators involved. The snippets are generally pretty good, and they help flesh out the roles nicely.
In the Trailer Explorations area, a four-minute, 50-second piece basically just rehashes the teaser and the theatrical trailers seen elsewhere on this disc along with a few seconds of remarks from filmmaker Jun Aida.
He adds roughly 35 seconds worth of statements, but otherwise, it’s all film clips. I thought we’d learn some insight into the trailer creation process, but that doesn’t occur.
The Gray Project provides a five-minute, 37-second “proof of concept” piece. Essentially it shows rough character animation intended to demonstrate the possibilities of the computer form.
It’s a fun look at the early stages of project development, but it suffers from a lack of narration. Some comments from filmmakers would make it more useful.
The same problem plagues Compositing Builds. This seven-minute, 46-second program offers a visual demonstration of the layers required for the compositing, and it seems fairly interesting to see the scenes grow. However, narration would make the piece more comprehendible and productive.
Matte Art Explorations takes a six-minute, 13-second look at some CGI art created for the film. We hear from an unnamed matte artist as he discusses his work and we watc examples of it. This becomes an informative little feature, even though the anonymous artist did sound eerily like Peter Lorre.
Aki’s Dream offers a “mini-movie”. Thw nine-minute, two-second program provides a compilation of all Aki’s dreams from the movie. It’s a decent concept but nothing special.
Joke Outtakes provide a little rough animation that shows falsified goof-ups from the set. We get one minute, 51 seconds of this material, most of which becomes violent in nature. The snippets seem moderately amusing at most.
In the same vein, In the Set with Aki goes for 55 seconds and views the animated character as an actual actor. It doesn’t feel memorable.
The Original Opening shows exactly what it indicates: an unused beginning to the film. The four-minute, 54-second piece would have started the movie in a more low-key manner.
We see almost finished animation but not quite, as it still displays some rough edges. Of particular interest is the alternate Aki, for she looks noticeably different here.
The disc ends with the teaser and theatrical trailers for Spirits as well as Previews for Ultraviolet and Ghost Rider.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within seems moderately entertaining, and it provides a technical milestone for its era. Unfortunately, it features a story that becomes little more than a generic rehash of other plots, and the animation holds up poorly after two decades. The Blu-ray brings excellent audio and a long roster of supplements, but visuals seem less than optimal. The film would look much better with a new transfer.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN