Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is the culmination of four years of work by Square USA, the Californian branch of Squaresoft, the Company made famous by its Final Fantasy games over the years (and most currently with Final Fantasy X on PS2). Working under the title Square Films they have managed, using their well known skills at computer generated animation, to create a world which is being dubbed as "hyper real". At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking it is not computer generated at all, but actually real. Yes, it does look THAT good. From the opening scene to the closing credits you will be drawn into a world of technology, mysticism and heart stopping action, and love every minute of it :)
The story is set on Earth, some undisclosed time in our future. An alien meteor crashed on earth 34 years before the start of the movie, carrying a massive invasion force of invisible aliens that the humans have dubbed "Phantoms". The Phantoms literally suck the life force right out of a person, and even brief contact with one can prove deadly. The main character in the story is Aki Ross, a doctor studying ways to defeat the Phantoms and win back earth. Her mentor and colleague is the old and wise Dr Sid. Together they are hunting for the 8 spirits necessary to defeat the Phantoms. With the help of a squad of kickass marines of course, led by the do-or-die Captain Grey Edwards. When all 8 spirits are found... well... thats something you'll have to watch the movie to find out :) It does indeed set the scene for a story of epic proportions, and thats exactly what you get.
As I briefly mentioned at the start, the movie is a very interesting blend of technology and mysticism. On the one hand, there is plenty of hardcore action, with Captain Gray and his team of marines laying down some serious smack on the Phantoms in some truly awesome action scenes. Then on the other hand, there is a lot of the trademark fantasy and magic that has made the Final Fantasy series what it is.
The story is in part progressed by the actions of Aki, Sid and Gray in the real world, and part progressed by the dreams that Aki has. The dreams become more and more insistant as the plot moves along and provide an alternate reality where things truly are tripping the light fantastic. On top of this is also the villian of the piece, General Hein, who (as all villians do) attempts to thwart Aki, Sid and Gray's attempts at every juncture. This gives quite a few inter-connecting plots: the race to find all 8 spirits to save the world, the fight against the Phantoms to survive, the fight against General Hein, and, behind it all, the quest to find out what the Phantoms truly are and where they came from. It all works very very well.
There is some pretty good talent behind the voices also, which helps a lot. Captain Gray is voiced by Alec Baldwin, whereas the members of his squad are voiced by actors Ving Rhames and Steve Buscemi. The role of Aki Ross is done by Ming-Na and the wise Dr Cid by Donald Sutherland. The militaristic General Hein is voiced very well by James Woods. With the top notch voice acting combined with the top notch animation, you find yourself many times throughout the movie just plain forgetting its an animated movie. It really does go above and beyond any animated movie I have ever seen.
I guess the only bad thing I can say about the movie is that I found it a bit of a let down to find it set on Earth. Although, I am coming from the point of view of a person who plays the games, which are never set on Earth and are always set on some un-named far away fantastical planet. Really, this minor detail has no impact on the storyline, and actually serves a very important role in the storyline, but it may put off some of the true die hard Final Fantasy fans as it does take away a little of that Final Fantasy magic that the games had in their fully make believe worlds.
Usually during an animated movie I find myself putting it in a different class to "real" movies, and comparing it against other animated movies. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within though stands almost in a class of its own, but definately stands side by side with any other movie ever made. The characters really come to life and feel like real characters in a real movie. It not only blurs the line between animated movies and live action movies, it totally erases it. I would recommend everyone to go see this movie, whether you're a fan of the games, a fan of great action movies, or just a fan of movies in general. You wont regret it.