Lost in Translation

In the creative background of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, screenwriters from both Japanese videogame company Square and American writers at Sony jostled this script. That led to this technological marvel (at one time, anyway) that failed in enrapture either – and vastly different – culture.

Prolific producer and Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi wrote a scathing, even ruthless allegory about western militarism for this, his first feature film. Spirits Within puts that death laser-firing, alpha male government against a Taoist-like scientific endeavor trying to understand an invasive alien species. Even when bent by the translation, enough comes through to grasp Sakaguchi’s perspective. It’s not as much a defense of Japan, rather a mournful take on post-WWII occupation and what his home nation lost in their defeat. Given Spirits Within released mere months before 9/11, the stance on wartime aggression gained an additional foothold after.

Spirits Within can’t hide the script’s limitations under polygonal humans

What results is less potent than obtuse, delivered through stilted dialog determined to appease summer movie goers. The voice cast includes award winners like Donald Sutherland, yet he (and others) is stuck line reading through strained exposition, trying to balance a heady, metaphorical foreign belief system alongside the distinctly western-styled action. Partly, it’s as if Sakaguchi’s design, which includes an all-black clad, fascist General Hein (James Woods), purposefully aims for the obvious visual symbolism in case the American writers tried altering his theme.

Considering Spirits Within saw release in 2001, in that context, it’s stunning to see. Later films like Polar Express and Beowulf failed to equal the same lush realism a few years later. Consider the PlayStation 2 spent only a single holiday in stores prior to this, and the gap in processing power is substantial. That same “wow” factor fades two decades on; Spirits Within can’t hide the script’s limitations under polygonal humans. Time only surfaces the flaws inherent in the material, much like those excited movie goers who once left Star Wars: Episode I on an entertainment high, only to realize their blunder a few years later.

Sakaguchi wanted a statement piece. Through the movie industry’s various cogs and gears, that ideal became lost. It’s a shame.

Video

Understandably, this is a difficult upscale given the source animation’s age. Resolution can’t reach high enough levels to resolve all instances of aliasing, which at times, becomes prevalent in wide shots. In close, artifacts like ringing appear, subtle, if notable.

As a plus, the detail layered onto the character models themselves does show through, if to no greater degree than the Blu-ray. Gains can’t be made when the materials were rendered at lower resolution. That much is obvious, and a light grain filter challenges the encode far too often. Mild banding can intrude on the drop off toward black.

HDR adds a little potency, although the source animation favors a drier aesthetic. Pure black remains rare. Highlights however don’t bring much bite either, say holographic displays. The best comes from direct sunlight (frequently part of Aki’s dream), while the rest lags behind. On visuals alone, there’s little point in upgrading.

Audio

A big time boomer, this new Atmos mix piles on bass from ship engines, guns, explosions, and whatever else is deemed appropriate. Spirits Within shakes everything in the room, but also maintains nuance. LFE intensity varies, even if it’s usually on the beefier side; it’s levels of beefy, and always impressive.

Atmos effects frequently factor in, including the early moments as flares pop overhead. Exquisite precision matches the visuals flawlessly. Motion flows between each channel flawlessly, surrounds lighting up whenever needed, and stereos are equally active.

Extras

Sony includes a Blu-ray identical to the original, and keeps all bonus features there. Things begin with two commentaries from the Japanese creative teams, followed by tech-focused featurettes, and a funny little animation gag reel. The meat of the disc an interactive documentary, but it’s every bit the early ’00s in its design and style.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Lost in translation, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is on the precipice of classic sci-fi, but turns to mush in trying to appease west/east cultures simultaneously.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 44 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: