Sony’s 4K UHD release of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within seems like an odd choice for the format, but the results are rather impressive considering what the studio was working with.
The Production: 3/5
Forty-four years from now, interdimensional alien life forms known as Phantoms have invaded Earth to the point of infestation, and human contact with this species can be and usually is deadly. Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na Wen) and Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) believe that by gathering eight unique spirits from various lifeforms, they can render these Phantoms harmless. But General Douglas Hein (James Woods) would prefer to annihilate them using the Zeus canon from the orbiting space station, despite the danger of the weapon also doing irreparable damage to the planet’s eco-system. Dr. Aki returns to the planet surface along with Captain Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his Deep Eyes squad, which includes Master Sergeant Ryan Whittaker (Ving Rhames), Neil Fleming (Steve Buscemi), and Corporal Jane Proudfoot (Peri Gilpin), to locate and capture the remaining spirits needed to complete the mission. Hein has other plans.
Upon its theatrical release in 2001, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was considered groundbreaking as the first computer-generated animated feature with “photo-realistic” human characters. A lot has changed in the last 20 years, and much of the animation comes off as cut scenes from a video game somewhere between a Playstation 3 and Playstation 4. The characters exhibit very little emotion or realistic motion compared to what we’ve seen later in films like Avatar from 2009. The plot is a bit slow, but also more cerebral than one expects from a movie inspired by a video game.
3D Rating: NA
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was likely rendered at 1280×1024, just slightly lower than 1080p. That makes Sony’s 2160p transfer even that more impressive, although there does seem to be a nice layer of what appears to be film grain, so it is possible Sony has created this new transfer from a film source of some kind (the 2007 Blu-ray included in this set appears to have no film grain whatsoever). HDR10 has been applied, allowing for more vibrant colors and improved contrast, with deeper blacks and better shadow details. Fine details are also improved with better defined fabric textures.
The default Dolby Atmos track is an improvement over the film’s original 5.1 mix, provided on the UHD disc in DTS-HD MA and on the Blu-ray in uncompressed PCM. This is a wider and slightly more immersive track, with sounds travelling more seamlessly from speaker to speaker and a better sense of envelopment. LFE is good, an improvement over the 5.1 mix, but not as strong as one would expect from a more modern film. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout.
Special Features: 4/5
There are no special features to be found on the UHD disc, but the 2007 Blu-ray was chock-full of informative and interesting featurettes on the film, and Sony has included that disc with this release, although the Special Features menu design is not very well-designed.
Audio Commentary with Co-Director Moto Sakabira and Crew: In Japanese with optional English and French subtitles.
Audio Commentary with Animation Director, Editor, and Staging Director: This track is in English.
Aki’s Dream Reconstruction (1080p; 9:02)
On the Set with Aki (480i; 0:55)
Compositing Builds (480i; 7:46)
Joke Outtakes (480i; 1:51)
Matte Art Explorations (480i; 6:13)
Original Opening (480i; 4:54)
The Gray Project (480i; 5:37)
Interactive Documentary: The Making of “Final Fantasy” (480i; 30:49)
Character Profiles (480i): Dr. Aki Ross (2:25); Gray Edwards (3:03); Dr. Sid (2:37); General Hein (2:55); Ryan (1:51); Jane (1:27); Neil (1:45).
Vehicle Scale Comparisons (480i): Bandit (1:09); Black Boa (1:00); Quatro (1:18).
Trailer Explorations (480i; 4:50)
Theatrical Trailer (1080i; 2:11)
Teaser Trailer (1080p; 1:40)
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a 4K digital copy on Movies Anywhere.
What is most surprising about Sony’s UHD release of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is how good it looks on screen despite its low resolution origins (by today’s standards).
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