Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within


Theatrical release poster
Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi
Moto Sakakibara
Produced by Hironobu Sakaguchi
Jun Aida
Chris Lee
Screenplay by Al Reinert
Jeff Vintar
Story by Hironobu Sakaguchi
Starring Ming-Na
Alec Baldwin
James Woods
Donald Sutherland
Ving Rhames
Steve Buscemi
Peri Gilpin
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Editing by Christopher S. Capp
Studio Square Pictures
Square Studios
Chris Lee Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) July 2, 2001 (2001-07-02)
July 11, 2001 (2001-07-11)
(United States)
August 3, 2001
(United Kingdom)
Running time 106 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $137 million
Gross revenue $85,131,830

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a 2001 Japanese-American computer animated science fiction film directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series of role-playing video games. It was the first photorealistic computer animated feature film and also holds the record for the most expensive video game inspired film ever made.[1] It features the voices of Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Peri Gilpin and Steve Buscemi. The Spirits Within follows scientists Aki Ross and Doctor Sid in their efforts to free a post-apocalyptic Earth from a mysterious and deadly alien race known as the Phantoms, which has driven the remnants of humanity into “barrier cities”. They must compete against General Hein, who wishes to use more violent means to end the conflict.

Square Pictures rendered the film using some of the most advanced processing capabilities available for film animating at the time. A render farm consisting of 960 workstations was tasked with rendering each of the film’s 141,964 frames. It took a staff of 200 some four years to complete the film. Square intended to make the character of Aki Ross into the world’s first photorealistic computer-animated actress, with plans for appearances in multiple films in different roles.

The Spirits Within debuted to mixed critical reception, but was widely praised for the realism of the computer-animated characters. Due to rising costs, the film greatly exceeded its original budget towards the end of production, reaching a final cost of US$137 million, of which it made back only $85 million at the box office. The film is blamed for the demise of Square Pictures,[2] and has been called a box office bomb.[3]



In the year 2065, a future Earth is infested by Phantoms: alien life forms capable of killing humans by physical contact. The remaining humans living in “barrier cities” all over the world are engaged in an ongoing struggle to free the planet. After being infected by a Phantom during one of her experiments, Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and her mentor, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), uncover a means of defeating the Phantoms by gathering eight spirit signatures that, when joined, can negate the Phantoms. Aki is searching for the sixth spirit in the ruins of New York City when she is cornered by Phantoms but is rescued by Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his squad “Deep Eyes”, consisting of Ryan Whittaker (Ving Rhames), Neil Fleming (Steve Buscemi) and Jane Proudfoot (Peri Gilpin). It is revealed that Gray was once romantically involved with Aki.

Upon returning to her barrier city, Aki joins Sid and appears before the leadership council along with General Hein (James Woods), who is determined to use the powerful Zeus space cannon to destroy the Phantoms. Aki delays the use of the Zeus cannon by revealing she has been infected, and the collected spirit signatures are keeping her infection stable. This revelation convinces Hein that she is being controlled by the Phantoms. Aki and the Deep Eyes squad succeed in finding the seventh spirit as Aki’s infection begins to worsen and she slips into unconsciousness.

Aki’s dream reveals the Phantoms are the spirits of dead aliens brought to Earth on a fragment of their destroyed planet. Sid uses the seventh spirit to bring Aki’s infection back under control, reviving her. To scare the council into giving him clearance to fire the Zeus cannon Hein lowers part of the barrier shield protecting the city. Though Hein intended that only a few Phantoms enter, his plan backfires and Phantoms invade the entire city. Aki, Sid and the Deep Eyes attempt to reach Aki’s spaceship, their means of escape but Ryan, Neil and Jane are killed by Phantoms. Sid finds the eighth spirit at the crater site of the alien asteroid’s impact on Earth. Hein escapes and boards the Zeus space-station where he finally receives authorization to fire the cannon.

Sid lowers a shielded vehicle, with Aki and Gray, into the crater to locate the final spirit. Just before they can reach it, Hein fires the Zeus cannon into the crater not only destroying the eighth spirit but revealing the Phantom Gaia. Aki has a vision of the Phantom home planet, where she is able to receive the eighth spirit from the alien particles in herself. When Aki wakes, she and Gray combine it with the other seven. Hein continues to fire the Zeus cannon despite overheating warnings and unintentionally destroys the cannon and himself. Gray sacrifices himself as a medium needed to physically transmit the completed spirit into the alien Gaia. The Gaia is returned to normal as the Phantoms ascend into space, finally at peace. Aki is pulled from the crater holding Gray’s body and looking into the newly liberated world.


Aki Ross’s voice actor, Ming-Na Wen, was selected by Sakaguchi based on his decision that she fit Aki’s personality.[4] Ming-Na, who found the role via her publicist,[5] said she felt like she had given birth with her voice to the character.[6] She noted the role was not without its difficulties; especially working without the presence and spontaneity of real actors.

“At first it was very lonely sitting in that booth and eerie to see (Aki’s) lips move and my words coming out, but slowly I began to enjoy my time with Aki, and I became attuned to her.”

Ming-Na, voice actor[7]

She gradually accustomed herself to this feeling, commenting that the voice-acting work did not take much time, as she would just go into the studio “once or twice a month for about four months” with no need for make-up and costuming sessions.[7] The workload was so light it did not interfere with her acting commitments in the television series ER.[7] Whilst Square ruled out any chance of a sequel to The Spirits Within before it was even completed, they were considering using Aki’s character in other films. Ming-Na has said she would be willing if asked to continue voicing Aki.[7]

Square accumulated four SGI Origin 2000 series servers, four Onyx2 systems, and 167 Octane workstations for the film’s production.[8] The basic film was rendered at a home-made render farm created by Square in Hawaii. It housed 960 Pentium III-933 MHz workstations. Animation was filmed using motion capture technology.[9] 1,327 scenes in total needed to be filmed to animate the digital characters.[10] The film consists of 141,964 frames, with each frame taking an average of 90 minutes to render.[10] By the end of production Square had a total of 15 terabytes of artwork for the film.[10] It is estimated that over the film’s four year production, approximately 200 people working on it put in a combined 120 years of work.[10]

From early on, it had been decided that The Spirits Within would be filmed entirely in English.[11] In order to keep the film in line with Hironobu Sakaguchi‘s vision as director, several script rewrites took place, most in the initial stages of production.[11] Sakaguchi stated he was pleased with the film’s final cut, saying he would not have changed anything if given the chance.[11] The film had high cost overruns towards the end of filming. New funds had to be sourced to cover the increasing production costs while maintaining staff salaries.[11] The film’s final cost of $137 million[12] blew out from an original budget rumored to be around $70 million.[9]

Surprisingly for a film loosely based on a video game series, there were never any plans for a game adaptation of the film itself. Sakaguchi indicated the reason for this was lack of powerful gaming hardware at the time, feeling the graphics in any game adaptation would be far too much of a step down from the graphics in the film itself.[11]

Character design

Ming-Na’s character was designed to be as realistic as possible; Square Pictures intended for the CGI character to be the world’s first artificial actress to appear in multiple films in multiple roles.

The model for Aki was designed to be as realistically human as possible, with Sakaguchi commenting in an interview “I think it’s OK to look at Aki and be convinced that she’s a human.”[4] Each of her 60,000 hairs was separately and fully animated and rendered,[6] her entire model was estimated to be made up of around 400,000 polygons.[13] Sakaguchi intended to have Aki as Square Picture’s “main star”, with intentions to use her in later games and films by Square and the flexibility of being able to modify aspects such as her age for such appearances.[4]

Aki’s appearance was conceived by lead animator of the project, Roy Sato, who created several conceptual designs for Sakaguchi to consider and then used the selected design as a guide for her character model.[14] During her development, he altered the model to appear more intelligent looking, shortening the hair and removing makeup from what he perceived as a “supermodel” looking character in favor of an appearance that would “convince people that she’s a scientist.”[15] In an interview, Sato described actively trying to make her appear as realistic as possible, making her similar to himself in as many ways that he could in terms of animation, including elements of his personality through facial expressions.[14] Sato concluded that Aki ended up being similar to him in almost every way, with the exception that “she’s a lot cuter”.[14]

While the near lifelike appearance of the characters in the film was acknowledged as a technological tour-de-force, some commentators felt the character renderings fell into the trap robotic scientists called the “uncanny valley“. This is a point where a robot or animated character becomes very realistic, but subtly different enough from reality to feel “creepy.” There was some discussion that the poor box office of the film was due to the audience becoming uncomfortable with the almost, but not quite human appearance of the CGI “actors.”[16]


Before the film’s release there was already skepticism of its potential to be financially successful; Time magazine noted that video game adaptations had a poor track record when it came to the box office, also noting that it was Sakaguchi’s first feature film.[9] The film was released in the United States on July 11, 2001; making $32 million in North America and going on to gross $85 million in worldwide box office receipts.[12] The film achieved average to poor results at the box office in most of Southeast Asia however it performed well in Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.[17]

“If the ambitious mix of East-West, movie-game and anime-action doesn’t pay off, we may still remember this as the moment true CG actors were born.”

Time Magazine[9]

The Spirits Within holds a 44% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 142 reviews (62 positive, 80 negative), where the consensus is the film “raises the bar for computer animated movies, but the story is dull and emotionally removed”.[18] Similarly it has a weighted score of 49/100 at Metacritic based on 28 professional reviews.[19] The film was nominated for “Best Sound Editing – Animated Feature Film, Domestic and Foreign” at the Golden Reel Awards[20] as well as “Best Animated Feature” by the Online Film Critics Society[21] but did not win either award.

Roger Ebert was a strong advocate of the film; he gave it 3½ 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 noted that while he did not once feel convinced Aki Ross was an actual human being she was “lifelike”, stating her creators “dare us to admire their craft. If Aki is not as real as a human actress, she’s about as human as a Playmate who has been retouched to glossy perfection.”[22] 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.[23]

Sample of “The Phantom Plains” from the soundtrack album.

Problems listening to this file? See media help.

Entertainment Weekly named Aki an “It Girl”, stating that “Calling this action heroine a cartoon would be like calling a Rembrandt a doodle.”[24] She was voted to be one of the sexiest women ever by Maxim and its readers, ranking 87th out of 100 and became the first fictional woman to ever make the list, additionally appearing on the issue’s cover.[25] Her appearance has been received positively by critics,[26] with praise for the finer details of the character model such as the rendering of her hair.[27] The New York Times described her as having the “sinewy efficiency” of Aliens franchise character Ellen Ripley and visual appeal of Julia Roberts‘ portrayal of Erin Brockovich.[25] The book Digital Shock: Confronting the New Reality described her as a virtual actress having a “beauty that is ‘really’ impressive”, comparing her to video game character Lara Croft.[28] In contrast, Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams criticized her character as an example of the constantly kidnapped female in Japanese cinema, further “diluted” by her existence solely as a computer-generated character representing “an ideal, cinematic female character that has no real referent”.[29] Action and Adventure Cinema described her as among the “least overtly eroticised” female characters in science fiction, though noted her as an example of the treatment of such characters as pin-up girls and “transformed […] into an erotic fantasy machine.”[30] Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality noted the emphasis by her creators on making her appear real, though questioned the portrayal of her character, in particular if the presence of her unconsciousness in the film was intended as a means to have the character appear more human to viewers.[31]

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 had just lost a substantial amount of money.[32]

Related media

Final Fantasy – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within by Elliot Goldenthal
Released July 3, 2001
Recorded Watford Coloseum, Watford
AIR Lyndhurst Hall, London
Genre Classical/ Avant-garde/ Modernist/ Progressive[disambiguation needed]
Length 56:35
Language English
Label Sony Classical
Producer Teese Gohl
Elliot Goldenthal chronology
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

The soundtrack to the film was released on July 3, 2001 by Sony Music.[33] It was composed by Elliot Goldenthal, with the performing orchestra conducted by Belgian composer Dirk Brossé. Director Hironobu Sakaguchi opted for the acclaimed film composer instead of Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of the Final Fantasy games’ soundtracks, a decision met with mixed opinion as Goldenthal was completely unknown to many of the game’s fans.[34] The film’s soundtrack was recorded in the United Kingdom at the Watford Coloseum and the London AIR Lyndhurst Hall. It was mixed at the Manhattan Center Studios in the United States.[35] In the liner notes to the album, Goldenthal describes the soundtrack as combining “orchestration techniques associated with the late 20th-century Polish avant-garde, as well as my own experiments from ALIEN 3, and 19th-century Straussian brass and string instrumentation.”[36]

The album was met with extremely positive reviews. Neil Shurley from Allmusic, who gave the album 4 out of 5, stated the album would probably have been nominated for an Oscar if the film itself had of been more popular,[33] as did the reviewer from, who gave the soundtrack 5 out of 5.[37] gave the soundtrack 10 out of 10, stating the feel of the album was “expansive and majestic”.[34] gave the film 4 out of 5, calling it “an easy album to recommend”, adding “parts of it will blow you out of your seat.”[38] Dan Goldwasser from also gave the film 4 out of 5, calling it a “must have”.[39]

The album peaked at No. 19 on Billboard‘s Top Soundtracks list and No. 193 on the Billboard 200 on July 28, 2001.[40] The track “The Dream Within” was nominated for “Best Original Song Written for a Film” at the World Soundtrack Awards.[41]

All music composed by Elliot Goldenthal, except where noted.

[show]Track listing
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “The Spirits Within”     2:05
2. “Race to Old New York”     1:21
3. “The Phantom Plains”     1:43
4. “Code Red”     2:05
5. “The Kiss”     4:15
6. “Entrada”     0:55
7. Toccata and Dreamscapes”     8:30
8. “Music for Dialogues”     2:19
9. “Winged Serpent”     1:35
10. “Zeus Cannon”     3:24
11. “Flight to the Wasteland”     5:57
12. “A Child Recalled”     2:26
13. “The Eighth Spirit”     0:51
14. “Dead Rain”     1:51
15. “Blue Light”     3:30
16. Adagio and Transfiguration”     5:24
17. “The Dream Within” (performed by Lara Fabian) Elliot Goldenthal (music), Richard Rudolph (lyrics) 4:41
18. Spirit Dreams Inside” (performed by L’Arc-en-Ciel) Hyde 3:43


A novelization was written by Dean Wesley Smith and published by Pocket Books in June 2001.[42] The Making of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a companion book, was published by BradyGames in August 2001.[43] Edited by Steven L. Kent, the 240 page color book contains a foreword by director Sakaguchi and extensive information on all aspects of the films creation, including concept art, storyboards, sets and props, layout, motion capture and animation.[44]


  1. ^ “Earliest film computer-generated animation with photorealistic characters”. Guinness World Records. Retrieved March 1, 2011. 
  2. ^ Briscoe, David (February 4, 2002). “‘Final Fantasy’ flop causes studio to fold”. Chicago Sun-Times
  3. ^ Duffy, James (August 2, 2006). “Movies that were Box-office Bombs”. Retrieved January 2, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c Kennedy, Sam; Gary Steinman (August 2001). “Final Fantasy”. Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine (47): 90–93. 
  5. ^ Hobson, Louis B. (June 1, 2001). “Fantasy role for ER actress”. Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved May 21, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b “Final Fantasy stirs star nightmares”. BBC News (BBC). July 11, 2001. Retrieved January 26, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b c d Ryan, Tim (July 10, 2001). “‘Fantasy’ girl’s a geek”. Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Black Press. Retrieved January 26, 2008. 
  8. ^ Stokes, Jon. Ragan-Kelley, Jonathon (July 30, 2001). “Final Fantasy: The Technology Within”. Ars Technica. Retrieved October 16, 2006. 
  9. ^ a b c d Taylor, Chris (July 31, 2000). “Cinema: A Painstaking Fantasy”. Time.,9171,997597,00.html. Retrieved May 8, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c d Park, John Edgar (September 10, 2001). “Behind the Scenes on Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”. Animation World Network. Retrieved May 8, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c d e “FF:TSW Interview Series — Hironobu Sakaguchi”. Anime Dream. October 2, 2001. Retrieved October 16, 2006. 
  12. ^ a b “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)”. Box Office Mojo. January 1, 2002. Retrieved January 1, 2010. 
  13. ^ Jon Stokes; Jonathan Ragan-Kelley (2001). “Final Fantasy: The Technology Within”. Ars Technica. p. 2. Retrieved January 26, 2008. 
  14. ^ a b c Brockbank, Eric (November 6, 2001). “‘Final Fantasy’ Movie an Eyeful” (PDF). The Denver Post. p. 3. Retrieved May 21, 2009. 
  15. ^ Reese, Lori (July 11, 2001). “‘Fantasy’ Female”. Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc..,,167110,00.html. Retrieved January 26, 2008. 
  16. ^ “When fantasy is just too close for comfort”. The Age (Melbourne). June 10, 2007. Retrieved May 31, 2010. 
  17. ^ Groves, Don (July 30, 2001). “B.O.’s animal planet”. Variety. Retrieved July 20, 2010. 
  18. ^ “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)”. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 1, 2010. 
  19. ^ “Overview over Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within reviews”. Metacritic. Retrieved July 23, 2007. 
  20. ^ “Motion Picture Sound Editors: Who We Are”. Motion Picture Sound Editors/ Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 8, 2010. 
  21. ^ “OFCS Awards for 2001 Nominees”. Online Film Critics Society. Retrieved May 8, 2010.  ,
  22. ^ Ebert, Roger (2003). Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2004. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 216. ISBN 07407383483.5/4 stars
  23. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 11, 2001). “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (PG-13)”. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  24. ^ Staff. “The It List 2001;Aki”. Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on June 25, 2001. Retrieved May 27, 2009. 
  25. ^ a b Ruth La Ferla (May 6, 2001). “Perfect Model: Gorgeous, No Complaints, Made of Pixels”. The New York Times (The New York Times Company): pp. 9–1. Retrieved January 26, 2008. 
  26. ^ Gumbel, Andrew (May 21, 2001). “Hollywood finds the perfect star: Tall, attractive, and guaranteed not to strike”. The Independent (London: Independent News & Media).–tall-attractive-and-guaranteed-not-to-strike-685474.html. Retrieved January 26, 2008. 
  27. ^ Spencer, Megan. “Final Fantasy: The Spirit’s Within”. Triple J. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved January 26, 2008. 
  28. ^ Fischer, Hervé; Rhonda Mullins (2006). Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2004. McGill-Queen’s Press – MQUP. p. 96. ISBN 0773531149
  29. ^ Bolton, Christopher; Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., Takayuki Tatsumi (2007). Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 209–211. ISBN 081664974X
  30. ^ Tasker, Yvonne (2004). Action and Adventure Cinema. Routledge. ISBN 0415235065
  31. ^ Creed, Barbara (2003). Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality. Allen & Unwin. pp. 161, 167. ISBN 1865089265
  32. ^ Long, Andrew (2003). “Square-Enix Gives Chrono Break Trademark Some Playmates”. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  33. ^ a b Shurley, Neil. “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)”. Allmusic. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  34. ^ a b Coleman, Christopher. “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within by Elliot Goldenthal”. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  35. ^ “Dirk Brosse discography”. Retrieved January 26, 2011. 
  36. ^ Goldenthal, Elliot (2001-07-03). “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Liner Notes”. Film Music. Retrieved 2011-02-08. 
  37. ^ “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  38. ^ “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”. June 29, 2001. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  39. ^ Goldwasser, Dan (June 21, 2004). “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  40. ^ “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”. Billboard. Retrieved November 15, 2010. 
  41. ^ “World Soundtrack Awards 2002”. World Soundtrack Academy. Retrieved May 8, 2010. 
  42. ^ “Final Fantasy : The Spirits Within (Mass Market Paperback)”. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  43. ^ “The Making of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  44. ^ Hafer, Monica (September 10, 2001). “The Making of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 

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