Home > Reviews > FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN – Elliot Goldenthal


finalfantasythespiritswithinOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s been a long wait since Titus for Elliot Goldenthal to spring a new score on the world, but it has been more than worth it. His work on Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is, from a pure enjoyment perspective, possibly the best of his career to date. I say that it is his best from an enjoyment perspective not because this score is his most challenging or complex – those accolades are reserved for works such as Alien 3 and Titus – but because, in terms of themes and developments, and for old-fashioned beauty, Final Fantasy has them all licked. It’s a dark, dark, score, make no mistake, but it contains more than its fair share of moments in the light.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has been newsworthy for being one of the most realistic computer-generated films ever made. Forget Toy Story, A Bug’s Life and Shrek. The imagery created by director Hironobu Sakaguchi is so life-like that, in many quarters, the idea of human actors being replaced completely by CGI has been seriously considered. The film is based on a series of successful video games and concerns the efforts of a band of humans trying to repel an army of alien invaders trying to take of the Earth. Vocal talent for the film is provided by such luminaries as Ming Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, James Woods and Donald Sutherland.

I have often wondered how Goldenthal would approach scoring a movie which required no dissonance, and instead needed a good, solid love theme. In Final Fantasy we sort of find out – although even here, the New Yorker’s experimental and slightly abstract tendencies still come shining through. Alan Silvestri country this ain’t. Nevertheless, the somberly attractive theme which first appears in ‘The Kiss’ is probably as musically tender and gentle a melody as Goldenthal is capable of writing. A tentative piano, coupled with strings and backed by a cooing choral wash, envelopes the listener in a mood of quiet reflection, slowly building into a gorgeous, brooding crescendo around the three-minute mark.

What’s really clever, though, is the way in which Goldenthal interpolates variations of the theme in unexpected places later in the score – as a deconstructed lullaby in ‘A Child Recalled’, as a countermelody to the bubbling action in ‘Dead Rain’, and in the soaring finale ‘Adagio and Transformation’. Goldenthal’s decision to use a piano, as the CD’s liner notes reveal, was his way of creating a link with reality. In the midst of the carnage and chaos of the computer-generated world, Goldenthal’s instrumentation is a very organic and tangible way of connecting to the human soul.

The song ‘The Dream Within’, performed by currently in-vogue soundtrack vocalist Lara Fabian, is based around a softer version of the love theme, and although Goldenthal’s somewhat off-kilter stylistics may come across as slightly disturbing to those who appreciate more straight-forward ballads, the way in which the theme is adapted for a vocal performance is nothing if not interesting. The lyrics, by Richard Rudolph, are also worth a note or two, adopting a thoughtful, almost metaphysical tone.

Of course, Goldenthal wouldn’t be Goldenthal if he didn’t manage to work in some dissonant orchestral writing to scare the pants off you. ‘Toccata and Dreamscapes’ is a mind-blowing collision of instruments, with every section of the orchestra engaging in a challenging eight-minute battle of chaos that almost defies conventional description. It’s surely no coincidence that parts of this cue are highly reminiscent of Altered States, a score written by his former teacher and mentor John Corigliano, as well as recalling some of the more violent parts of Alien 3, Sphere, and even bits of pieces from Christopher Young and Howard Shore.

The action music is very effective in its embrace of both thematic and dissonant scoring techniques. ‘Race to Old New York’ is a quite simply phenomenal scherzo, all flashing strings and deep, resonant brass phrases that reek of his Batman scores, and which are recapitulated in later cues such as ‘Music for Dialogues’ and ‘Blue Light’. ‘Code Red’ pounds to a massive percussion base – an element which, with the exception of the Titus main title, Goldenthal has not really used to this extent before – while ‘Winged Serpent’ and ‘Zeus Cannon’ take things a stage further by interpolating the full might of a choir into the mix. Goldenthal’s battle music hasn’t sounded so powerful or heroic in years.

Looking at the bigger picture, Final Fantasy does not truly break new ground for Elliot Goldenthal. The tones and stylistics of the score sit well within the parameters of his career to date, and many of the motifs and compositional techniques are obvious echoes of earlier works, especially Alien 3 and Batman Forever. Where Final Fantasy excels, however, is in its welcome inclusion of the softer, gentler tones many had hoped Goldenthal would eventually have the opportunity to write. Final Fantasy does not contain a theme you will go away humming, but challenging scores don’t come much more enjoyable.

Rating: *****

Track Listing:

  • The Spirit Within (2:05)
  • Race to Old New York (1:20)
  • The Phantom Plains (1:42)
  • Code Red (2:05)
  • The Kiss (4:14)
  • Entrada (0:54)
  • Toccata and Dreamscapes (8:29)
  • Music fore Dialogues (2:18)
  • Winged Serpent (1:35)
  • Zeus Cannon (3:24)
  • Flight to the Wasteland (5:56)
  • A Child Recalled (2:26)
  • The Eighth Spirit (0:51)
  • Dead Rain (1:51)
  • Blue Light (3:29)
  • Adagio and Transfiguration (5:23)
  • The Dream Within (written by Elliot Goldenthal and Richard Rudolph, performed by Lara Fabian) (4:43)
  • Spirit Dreams Inside (written by Hyde and Lynne Hobday, performed by L’Arc-en-Ciel) (3:42)

Running Time: 48 minutes 57 seconds

Sony Classical SK-89697 (2001)

Music composed by Elliot Goldenthal. Conducted by Dirk Brossé. Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Elliot Goldenthal and Robert Elhai. Special vocal performances by Lara Fabian. Flute solos by Dave Heath. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Curtis Roush. Mastered by Vlado Meller.  Album produced by Teese Gohl and Elliot Goldenthal.

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