The story follows scientists Aki Ross and Doctor Sid in their efforts to free Earth from a mysterious and deadly alien race known as the Phantoms, which has driven surviving humanity into "barrier cities." They must compete against General Hein, who wishes to attack the aliens with the Zeus space cannon to end the conflict.
The film received mixed reviews and was a box office bomb. The film was the first attempt to make a photorealistic rendered 3D feature film.
While the film does carry the name Final Fantasy, it is only vaguely thematically related to Square Co.'s popular Final Fantasy series of games. However, Dr. Sid's Gaia Theory, relating to a lifeforce within the planet to which spirits belong, is highly reminiscent of the Lifestream/Mako in Final Fantasy VII. The plot, characters, and storyline were all created specifically for the movie although the character of Dr. Sid does continue the games' tradition of having a character named Cid appear in most Final Fantasy games, despite the Doctor's name being spelled with an untraditional "S".
The film has several pacifist themes, as well as a general pro-environment attitude. Since the phantoms are the end result of an alien war in which the combatants literally tore their planet apart, they represent the unsettling self-destructiveness of endless warfare on an entire ecosystem and not just the inhabitants. Similarly, military solutions in the film tend to be futile or only temporarily effective--often exacerbating the problems until a non-violent, spiritual alternative is discovered.
|Character||Voice actor||Credit status|
|Doctor Cid||Donald Sutherland|
|General Hein||James Woods|
|Gray Edwards||Alec Baldwin|
|Ryan Whittaker||Ving Rhames|
|Neil Fleming||Steve Buscemi|
|Jane Proudfoot||Peri Gilpin|
|Major Elliot||Matt McKenzie|
|Council Member 1||Keith David|
|Council Member 2||Jean Simmons|
|BCR Soldier/Space Station Technician||John DeMita||Uncredited|
|BFW Soldier||John Di Maggio|
|Space Station Technicians|
|Little Girl/The Fifth Spirit||Annie Wu|
After the debate, Aki proceeds to search for the 7th spirit along with Captain Gray. They are both stranded when members of Gray's squad short circuit the system, saying that they want the captain and Aki to have time to talk to each other in order to build their relationship. Gray asks Aki about the spirits, and Aki replies, "When I was young, I was infected by a Phantom. However, I didn't die because Doctor Sid placed a membrane around the infection. Therefore the first spirit was me, the second was a fish, the third was a deer I found in a wildlife preserve outside Moscow, the fourth was a bird... Ever tried tracking a sparrow from space? It's not fun... And the latest one was the plant I found." Gray then points out, " You missed one — you said that the plant was the 6th one. What happened to the 5th?" Aki hesitates, saying "The 5th was a little girl, dying in a hospital. I managed to get the sample, however, she... I told her that everything had a spirit, little girls, the earth, plants, trees... She said that I didn't need to lie to her to make everything feel better and she said she was ready to die. Only seven and ready to die." Aki then sobs quietly. Gray and Aki draw close to kiss, but before they do, the power is turned back on.
Paranoid that Aki might be a spy for the Phantoms, the General orders Gray and the Deep Eyes to guard Doctor Ross and report any suspicious behavior. If she acts in any way abnormal, she is to be arrested.
Dr. Ross, accompanied by the rest of the squad and some soldiers sent by the General, then leaves the barrier city for the Tucson Wastelands, where she hopes to find the 7th spirit. After dropping energy buoys to distract the Phantoms, they descend and attempt to locate and retrieve the spirit. After a while, they find it — it is contained in the living tissues inside the OVO pack of a dead soldier. After retrieving it, they discover that they are surrounded by Phantoms, who, apparently, have been attracted to the one located inside Dr.Ross. The squad is picked up, but the General's soldiers try to apprehend Dr. Ross. One is killed by a Phantom, and Ross, Deep Eyes, and the rest of the soldiers narrowly escape. Citing the General's orders, one of the surviving non-team soldiers orders Gray to complete the mission, which is to place the doctor under arrest and return her to Hein. Dr. Ross, who began feeling side effects from the infestation due to the mission, collapsed and was carried back to the transport ship by Gray. During the mutiny, she was dreaming about the aliens and realized what happened to them on their planet- awakening right at the crucial point, she startled the soldier who was holding the squad at gunpoint and he fired his weapon directly at her, damaging her chestplate in the process. Gray and his team mutiny against Hein's soldiers, and they are killed before the transport ship returns to the barrier city.
Convinced of the treachery of both doctors, Klein and his men gain access to Dr. Ross' dream recorder, and viewing the playback- see the images of the aliens. He then uses those images as a pretense to arrest not only Dr. Ross, but also the Deep Eyes squad, when made aware of the fact that they haven't arrested the doctor yet. Interestingly enough, the General's intentions- however misguided they may be, are revealed. When the phantoms attacked the San Franciso barrier city after the generators failed, his wife and daughter died in that attack. Because of his loss, he's placed men around him who have also lost loved ones to the phantoms, and thus- are more willing to carry out his orders because they believe in what he's doing just as much as he does. After returning to the city, the Deep Eyes squad take Dr. Ross to Dr. Cid, who begins performing a procedure to repair her chestplate. He needs someone to go to Aki and be her spiritual support, and volunteers Gray for the job. Inside her dream, Gray and Aki witness the aliens fighting just prior to the destruction of their world. When Gray awakens, Dr. Cid tells him that he repaired her chestplate and now she has to rest. Just as things begin to settle down, soldiers barge into the operating room and arrest everyone inside under the orders of the general.
General Hein is now desperate to gain clearance to fire the Zeus Cannon. He tells the operators of New York's barrier to lower the shields in a section of the city. Hein's plan is to sacrifice a small part of the population in order to convince the Council that the Phantoms can breach the shields, allowing him to take necessary steps. His plan backfires, as the Phantoms are able to use plasma conduits to travel through the rest of the city. Aki and the others are in a detention facility, with her explaining what happened to the aliens. The aliens were fighting a massive battle with one another, when one side detonated a weapon that destroyed their world. As their planet fractured, a large portion of it was thrown into space. When it crashed on Earth, the aliens didn't realize they were already dead, and have been attacking the cities and humans out of anger and confusion. Gray and the Deep Eye's don't really believe this, but they can't explain it any other way. Since Gray himself saw what happened through Aki's dreams, he's inclined to believe it- even if it does sound far fetched. The dentention center loses power because of the aliens attack throughout the city. As they flee the city, every member of the Deep Eyes Squad dies, until only doctors Sid and Ross, plus Gray- are left to flee using Ross' ship, Black Boa. Subsequently, Hein fled to his own personal shuttle, and is about to commit suicide, when a transmission comes in from the Council, giving him authorization to fire the cannon in an attempt to dispel the alien phantoms from the city, even though it's already acknowledged to be 'lost'.
Aki and Dr. Sid devise a plan to destroy the Phantoms at their heart, the Phantom crater. The plan involves Aki and Gray being lowered into the crater inside a bio-etheric shield vehicle, and finding and removing the 8th spirit, which is a Phantom. The pair have just located the Phantom when suddenly a beam from the Zeus station crashes into the crater, killing the Phantoms on the surface, including the 8th spirit. The beam leaves the vehicle shieldless and exposed to the Phantoms, which are now spreading to cover the crater in response to the attack. Gray leaves the vehicle to protect Aki from the Phantoms.
Meanwhile, Aki has her final vision in which a Phantom tells her that the spirit within her is in fact the new 8th spirit. When Aki wakes up, she calls Gray in to use his OVO pack battery to project the completed wave pattern of the eight spirits. As the projection begins, another Zeus beam penetrates the atmosphere, completely obliterating the bio-etheric shield vehicle, and triggering a massive reaction from the Phantom world's spirit, which resides in the crater. This attack, however, overloads the Zeus cannon, destroying it and killing General Hein.
With the vehicle destroyed, Gray sacrifices his own life to distribute Aki's wave, using his body to transmit it directly to the Phantom world spirit. The Phantoms all turn into bright floating orbs which return to space, and the end scene is of Aki holding Gray's body and looking into the newly liberated world.
Square accumulated four SGI Origin 2000 series servers, four Onyx2 systems, and 167 Octane workstations. The basic movie was rendered at a home-made render farm which consisted of 960 Pentium III-933MHz workstations. The render farm was made by Square Pictures located in Hawaii. The film had cost overruns during the end of production.
Prior to the film's release, Square had indicated plans for the Aki Ross "synthetic actress" to appear in other films, possibly even interacting with live actors. A sample of what this might have looked like can be seen on the introduction to the second DVD in the Special Edition release, which shows Aki "breaking character" after filming a scene and walking through the studio, interacting with both CGI and real people. Chris Lee, the producer of Final Fantasy, defended his use of animation, stating that live actors often cannot physically accomplish what computer characters easily can, citing his experience from making Starship Troopers and Godzilla. Lee also noted that the difference between the CGI and live action footage can be jarring for viewers when the film requires heavy use of computer effects in almost every scene. Shortly after the release of the film, the character of Aki Ross became the first computer-generated character entry in Maxim's Hot 100.
The story for the film was written by director Hironobu Sakaguchi. Al Rienert worked on multiple screenplays during the early years of production, until the studio brought in Jeff Vintar as a three-week "script doctor." He re-shaped the screenplay with Sakaguchi into a workable film script. It was Vintar's draft that landed the high-profile voice cast, including Alec Baldwin, James Woods, and Donald Sutherland. Unfortunately, the screenplay tinkering continued through the long years of production, with new drafts by voice director Jack Fletcher (who would receive an "additional dialogue by" credit), closely overseen by the non-English speaking Sakaguchi, resulting in a confusing final product that sounds translated from the Japanese. As several Japanese film critics took great joy in pointing out, the film-makers clearly believed they knew more about English than the English-speaking screenwriters.
Elliot Goldenthal's score for the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a typical Goldenthalian sci-fi affair with epic, sweeping, anthemic themes and many moments are (as Goldenthal acknowledges in the liner notes) similar in style and texture to his work on the Alien³ score: modernist, dark, and percussion-heavy. The orchestra for the movie was conducted by Belgian composer Dirk Brossé. The film's director Hironobu Sakaguchi opted for the acclaimed film composer instead of Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of the games' soundtracks, a decision met with mixed opinion as many of the game's fans were completely unaware of who Goldenthal was.
Goldenthal discuss the soundtrack in the album's liner notes.
The film received mixed reviews and despite aggressive promotion by Sony, it became a huge box office bomb. With a budget of $137 million (including marketing costs) the film made $85 million worldwide, meaning total losses were approximately $94 million (the studio typically receives half the box office gross). The domestic box office loss was, at the time, the largest in film history. The merger between Square and Enix, which had been under consideration since at least 2000 according to the then Enix chairman Yasuhiro Fukushima, was delayed because of the failure of the film and Enix' hesitation at merging with a company that loses money.
Roger Ebert was a strong advocate of the film; he gave the film 3 1/2 stars out of 4, praising it as a "technical milestone" while conceding that its "nuts and bolts" story lacked "the intelligence and daring of, say, Steven Spielberg's A.I.". He also expressed a desire for the film to succeed in hopes of seeing more films made in its image, though he was skeptical of its ability to be accepted.