FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHINmay be the most highly anticipated film based on a videogame in the history of cinema. Square's remarkable reputation for putting together an excellent story with an appropriate blend of action has made FINAL FANTASY one of the hottest videogame franchises ever. But how does this new movie stack up to the high standards set by the game series itself?
Perhaps the hallmarks of the entire FINAL FANTASY series are the incredible stories told in each installment. Pick any of the titles after FINAL FANTASY III and you'll find a 40-hour quest, complete with deep characters, personal moments and an evil villain. FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN is a 90-minute movie, so it obviously cannot compete with the tapestry of the expansive aforementioned games. However, even after the movie was over, I felt that I didn't really know the characters since no real background information was provided. There were a few well-timed laughs that complied with the gaming tradition, but overall the story was fairly straightforward. The movie did succeed in creating an excellent villain, however. General Hein was perfect and could have easily been pulled into (or taken out of, for that matter) any of the FINAL FANTASY games.
Another classic element in the series has been the use swordplay. Even with the advent of guns and lasers in FINAL FANTASY VI, swords, knives, and other melee weapons were heavily used. FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN had none of these elements. It was strict gun fighting and that was rather disappointing.
To continue the discrepancy list, traditional FINAL FANTASY characters and creatures were not included in the film. Sid (Cid in the game series) was the only true link to the games, while other such links (like Chocobos, Moogles, Dragoon warriors, and crystals) were completely abandoned. The film's setting, Earth, is new to the mythology as well (each game has been set on a different world with different characters).
Perhaps the above could be forgiven, if it were not for the movie's obvious lack of magic. Even the futuristic titles of FINAL FANTASY have always included magical attacks and defenses. Fire, Ice, Lightning and Cure magic spells have always been a staple of the series. However, for the film all semblance of magic was drawn out in my mind, magic should have been the only way to damage the enemy Phantoms (I won't spoil it here).
Lastly, the climax and the ending were sub-par. The games always build up to a huge battle and a 20 to 30 minute long ending. But after the day is saved in the film, it's all over. Of course, I didn't expect a 20-minute ending, but couldn't they have given us just a little something extra.
While I thought FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN was a great movie, it wasn't up to par with FINAL FANTASY the game. The name is just there to sell the film. Now, if Square would use the same process to create a movie based on FINAL FANTASY VI, then perhaps you would see the kind of staggering box office return a true FINAL FANTASY adaptation could produce.