Why Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is the Boringest Videogame Movie

It was the late 90's and Final Fantasy was an unstoppable juggernaut that shattered the boundaries of digital storytelling. Riding this wave of praise, money and ambition, Square went for broke and started a film project directed by the creator of the original series. After 4 years of intense work and a record-breaking production budget, it was finished and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within hit theaters across the globe... with a thud. Feeling a case of the "nostalgies" I went back and rewatched it for the first time in 13 years and it turns out, this might be the worst videogame movie I've ever seen.

Here's why.

 

1. It's Not a Movie, It's a Two-Hour Cutscene.

Why Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is the Boringest Videogame Movie

What happens when you give a team that was responsible for making cutscenes a full-length movie? You get a two-hour long cutscene, which is horrible if you're anyone besides Hideo Kojima. From the moment the film starts you'll be unconsciously looking for a "press x to skip" prompt. Most of the movie is people talking about new locations, new enemies and new equipment, like they're getting you ready for the next level. Even the visuals are like something from era of the Xbox 1 (not the Xbox One, you know what I mean). There's power-armored space marines, vehicle segments, forcefields, and alien hives. Everything about the movie makes your brain scream "THIS IS A GAME", but you never get to play it. The "story" of the movie is "we have to collect 8 Macguffins scattered across the world to stop a dark evil force". That plotline is pretty much the only thing that the movie shares with Final Fantasy, and that's terrible. 

 

2. No Moogles, Just Depression.

Why Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is the Boringest Videogame Movie

Ok, here's the challenge: you're a videogame studio and you're trying to break into the world of movies. The only thing stopping you is the fact that you're making an animated movie based on a videogame property, aka "the two least respected genres in the eyes of mainstream film critics". What do you do? You make it SUPER SERIOUS. That means nothing "kiddy" can be seen. What they DID include was death, disease, war, corruption, all blanketed in this "next-gen beige" that makes everything just dim and forgettable. Lots of Final Fantasy games are dark, but they knew to balance it with a sense of (sometimes cringey) humor and (sometimes awesome) adventure. But here, they spent millions of dollars just to make sure a pile of rubble was adequately dingy. Great, thanks, appreciate it, definitely didn't want to see a crystal moon base or a colorful town full of charming villagers, nope just wastelands and laboratories for me! 

 

3. Oh God, The Alien Ghosts

Why Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is the Boringest Videogame Movie

So, there's these things, right? They are translucent, can phase through walls, and seem to be aimless, shambling undead entities that reach out towards the living and try and steal their souls away. Naturally, these ghostly entities are called "Phantoms" and humanity is devastated since the Phantoms can't be fought with traditional weapons. Humanity cowers behind barrier-cities that keep the phantoms out with "bio-ether" energy. In this universe, it is taken as fact that there is such a thing as spirit energy, and they've been fighting things called "phantoms" for years. Now imagine the chutzpah it took to have this moment in the movie: 

Why Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is the Boringest Videogame Movie

That's the big reveal, those ghost-like things that EVERYONE ON EARTH CALLED A SYNONYM FOR GHOSTS... were ghosts the whole time! It's like an M. Night Shyamalan movie, by which I mean "poorly written".