It was supposed to be a revolution in cinema: a photorealistic computer-animated film based on one of the most popular video game franchises of all time.
But Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, released in 2001, turned out to be a colossal flop that nearly bankrupted its studio and dashed the hopes of its ambitious creators.
The film, which had nothing to do with the games except for sharing their name, was set in a post-apocalyptic Earth invaded by alien creatures called Phantoms.
The plot followed Dr. Aki Ross, a scientist infected by a Phantom, and her mentor Dr. Sid, who tried to find a way to defeat the aliens by gathering eight spirits of different lifeforms.
Along the way, they had to contend with General Hein, a warmonger who wanted to use a powerful weapon called Zeus to destroy the Phantoms, regardless of the collateral damage.
The film boasted a star-studded voice cast, including Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Donald Sutherland, Ving Rhames and Steve Buscemi.
It also featured stunning graphics that aimed to create realistic human characters and environments.
The film’s director, Hironobu Sakaguchi, was the creator of the Final Fantasy video game series and had a vision of making Aki Ross into a “digital actress” who could appear in multiple films.
He even sent out photos of Aki in a bikini to Maxim magazine to promote her as a sex symbol.
But despite all the hype and investment, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within failed to connect with audiences and critics.
The film was criticized for its dull story, bland characters and lack of connection to the games.
It also faced stiff competition from other animated films that year, such as Shrek, Monsters Inc. and Spirited Away.
The film grossed only $85 million worldwide against its $137 million budget, making it one of the biggest box office bombs of all time.
It also caused huge losses for Square Pictures, the CGI studio that Sakaguchi had set up in Hawaii to produce the film.
The studio was shut down shortly after the film’s release and Sakaguchi left Square Co., the video game company that he had co-founded.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was not the only attempt by Square Co. to make a movie based on its flagship franchise.
In 2005, it released Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a sequel to one of its most popular games.
The film was more faithful to the game’s style and characters, but it was also criticized for its confusing plot and excessive fan service.
It was released straight to DVD in most markets and did not make much impact.
In 2016, Square Enix, the successor of Square Co., released Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, a prequel to its latest game.
The film featured impressive visuals and action scenes, but it was also panned for its weak story and characters.
It had a limited theatrical release and earned only $6.55 million at the box office.
It seems that Final Fantasy movies have never lived up to their potential or their name.
As one reviewer put it: “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is about as final as you can get.”