Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Music Composed by:
Music Produced by:
Teese Gohl for Gohl/Mclaughlin and Elliot Goldenthal
Electronic Music Produced by:
Music Performed by:
Watford Colosseum & Air Lyndhurst, London
Music Mixed at Manhattan Center Studios, New York
Vlado Meller, Sony, New York
Addtional Engineering & Editing by: Lawrence Manchester
Additional Transcriptions by:
In an interview conducted by Dan Goldwasser of Soundtrack.Net, the composer Elliot Goldenthal mentioned that the work such as composer commentary for DVD isolated score track is “kind of tedious” because “you're sitting there and watching the whole movie and talking about it as the scenes are going by” such that “it doesn't lend itself to the nature of music discussion.” Then, he continued that “The movie is going linearly from side to side, but you have to talk about music vertically. It would be better to discuss the score separately in an interview where I could talk about a few scenes, separate from the film. It's much more sensible.” However, for the present commentary to the score to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the composer still provided some sufficient information and ideas about scoring this film, to the audience who would be interested in more detail of this work. The way the Composer commented on the score was like a lecture; he was rather serious then on this occasion, and somewhat nervous and uneasy at the beginning. He didn’t talk about any personal background and interaction with the director during the production of this film in the commentary, which was in contrast to those that Marco Beltrami did for ‘I, Robot’. Nevertheless, these are different sort of listening experience and pleasures for the audience. For each cue in the isolated score track of Final Fantasy Special Edition DVD, the composer didn’t indicate the cue names of the recording sessions; hence, I named the cues in the following review based on the official DVD titles, those of commercial soundtrack album, a commentary when available, and the corresponding scenes.
On the other hand, the soundtrack album of this score was released on Sony music, but its presentation of the contents may elicit a sense of enjoying a contemporary concert work, less confined in a strict form, rather than a narrative in terms the synchronized musical materials. For listeners who prefer a standalone pleasure of appreciation, this form of presentation is acceptable, whereas for those who are concerned with the music for a specific scene, or the connection between scenes and music, it is unfavorable. In a study of the present film score (Murphy, 2012), its author argued about the “rampant practice of including music on the soundtrack recording that is not heard in the film,” and “… the soundtrack recording,…, is a veritable scramble of the original score.” And, he continued that “… ten out of the sixteen orchestral tracks are assemblages of non-adjacent passages from the score,” and so on. The last comment is true in view of the present form of edits and arrangements of these cues in the film and those unused; therefore a list of complete cues in the film along with those of the soundtrack album will be shown in this review for the reference. The study of Murphy is focused on the harmony aspect of the score, the tritone harmonic progression between two major triads – what he called the major tritone progression. This study is detailed in technical aspects, and interested readers can refer to the related information provided at the end of the present review.
For the first cue – ‘The Start (The Spirits Within* - The Phantom Plains)’, Goldenthal noted that he used the instrument Shakuhachi (尺八), voices and orchestral clusters, with a crescendo, to bring in the recollection of the mysterious dreams of the main character Aki Ross in the first section of this cue. Then, he also introduced the musical instrument “glass harmonica”, which supports “the sense of floating” in the cockpit in the following scene, “feeling like a floating, to underscore the fragility of this woman Aki”. This sense of “floating”, he argued, is engendered by the “grandeur of space and Earth”. Thus, in ‘The Phantom Plains’, the music begins with the repeated two-notes – B-B♭, through a perfect fourth of B♭ up to E♭, and culminates on higher C (through the recurring motive of the ascending E-F-C-F-E-C in this film), to depict the beautiful scene of the giant blue planet Earth. Toward the end, the percussions, supposed to be related to the so-called Phantoms, emerge to signify the upcoming “paramilitary operation” which is going on in this film. In ‘Lifeform Search’** of the next cue, the composer utilized piano, glass harmonica, lower strings, the brass, and some electronic sounds to engender the suspense of the scene, the mystery of the spirits, which is then followed by the action music of attack of Phantoms (‘Surrounded by Phantoms’†), the rescue by the crew Deep Eyes Squadron led by Captain Gray Edwards (‘The Rescue’, the Squadron’s Theme) that further leads to the ending on C6 via the ascending motive E-F-C-F-E-C again.
The next scene of approaching to Barrier City (‘Barrier City #42, New York City’**) is reminiscent of that in the classic Sci-fi film ‘Blade Runner’, where the place of Dr. Eldon Tyrell was also cast in glorious splendor; though their scoring manifest different idiosyncrasies, they are both characteristic of ascending motifs which correspond to the dynamics of the scenes. From E-flat again, Goldenthal used an ascending motive of E♭-G-A♭-B-E with one repetition, accompanied by the repeating, descending motive of sixteenth notes of the minor major seventh chord - C-E♭-G-B, a minor triad (C-E♭-G) with a major seventh (B), which alternates with its sequence descending by three semitones. The use of this type of chord evokes the mystique prevalent in Bernard Herrmann's classic works, that is, "The Hitchcock's Chord" (Brown, 1994), such as Psycho (Brown, 1994) and Vertigo (Murphy, 2012). It was found that this short piece of music (only 32 seconds) is comprised in a more standalone cue (“The Bandits”, lasting 1 minutes and 40 seconds) later on in the movie; In "The Bandits", after 48 seconds of prelude the music begins with the motives of this Barrier City music and has some developments based on the previous motives and rhythm. The following piece – ‘Code Red’, on the surface, was set to increase the dramatic tension in the beginning of the film, which was scored by the Composer using many rhythmic shifts in pizzicati and strings. This music begins with an ascending four-note motive – B♭-D♭-C-A and a repeat of its first three notes an octave higher, with ritardando, where the higher Bb gives a sense of return but also suspense, and the prolonged higher C in place of A augurs the next development. Hence, here comes the tense dialogue between the strings, oboes and brass. After that, loops of strings of two patterns with electronic sounds of percussion were deployed in crescendo, and joined later by the trombones and bass drum. And, on the other hand, this piece actually paves the way for the romance between Aki and Captain Gray, an old flame, who has been saved by Aki on the operation table (‘Code Red’) due to the attack. Thereafter, the Composer introduces here (‘It’s All Right.’**) for the first time partials of the main theme (love theme), which also constitutes the title song of this film.
The relationship between Aki and Dr. Sid was unexplained in the film, while Goldenthal still wrote a piece (‘Dr. Sid’**) which portrays the interaction of them, and it also reappears in the scene of the dispute over the disclosure by Aki of the partially-completed energy wave after the council meeting (‘Council Meeting’**). The cue ‘Dr. Sid’ was developed via a brief, simple theme of Dr. Sid surrounded by the variations of its sequences backward (Aki speaking up in defense of Dr. Sid’s efforts) and forward (his suggestion that they should destroy the unfavorable proof of their works). And, the bright side (backward) and dark side (forward) of this scenario can be underlined via this music. It was found that the motive - D-E♭-C-B♭-D in Alien3 (the cue 1M2-2M0 ‘The Survivor Is A Woman’) is part of one of these sequences. On the other hand, during the council meeting, a tune played by the instrument Shakuhachi was used to signify the spirit of the Earth, Gaia, when it is mentioned in the discussion with Dr. Sid.
In ‘A Child Recalled’*, the scene Aki tries to evade talking about a dying little girl who touched her, Goldenthal used the instrument glass harmonica to suggest the sense of, I supposed, the flow of time, and introduced piano to imply the nostalgic feeling at home; the later technique was adopted and proposed by the Composer in his Alien3 score which encountered the scenario of a little girl likewise. The first section of this piece reflects the dialogue between Aki and Captain Gray to the point where Aki confides her encounter with the dying little girl, and the music develops into another phase, joined later by a female vocal which resonates the story as well. This manipulation of female vocal indeed can invoke the humanity(#) in this film, though the composer didn’t associate the very humanity he wanted to emphasize with the vocal part in the commentary. After the second section the music returns to the motives of the first one, played by flute as well, due to the scene Captain Gray tries to kiss Aki, and ends with a discontinued melody played by strings which corresponds to the interrupted action in the scene. The General, Hein, to confine the works of Aki, an impediment to his ambition, gives an order to Captain Gray that he should report to the former any aberrant behavior of Aki in a private meeting. And, this meeting is depicted by three descending motifs (in the cue ‘Hein Command Room’*, first part of track ‘Blue Light’† of the album), which are F-D♭-B♭-F, G-D-B-G, and G-E-C-G played by cello and oboe, accompanied by violin on higher B♭; the three motifs work like a minor triad with doubled lower F, a major triad with doubled higher G, and a major triad with doubled lower G, respectively, and the meeting ends with the third motif at lower speed and an additional, prolonged note of lower D♭, when Hein gives the malicious suggestion “… for her own good.” to Gray.
For the plot proceeding to the next dream of Aki, Goldenthal continued to use brass clusters, with twelve-tone technique, French horn modulation, and Japanese Taiko drum, electronic percussion in low registers to balance the sound effects in middle registers. On the way to Tucson Wasteland, where Aki, accompanied by the assigned Squadron, intends to find Seventh Spirit, the Phantoms can be detracted by the dropped energy buoys; hence there is a close-up shot of Phantom, a Serpent here, attracted by buoys. And, it seems that the Composer wrote specifically a simple, queer motive – B♭-B-A-A♭ for Serpents, played by high strings with some electronic sounds. In the following scenes of the wasteland, Goldenthal tried to portray these Phantoms as a beautiful picture of creatures in an area, like a zoo, hence we can hear some, so to speak, fantastic music, in a sense of “floating”, in the composer’s own words, which is in contrast to those in the previous dreams where powerful percussion was utilized. This piece is also characteristic of the repeating, descending motive of sixteenth notes of a chord, as that of the cue ‘Barrier City #42, New York City’**, which is the augmented major seventh chord – E♭-G-B-D here, and its progression to F-A-C♯-E was also used. However, for the album release, ‘Flight to the Wasteland’ was joined by another unused cue at the beginning, which sounds more eerie than the former; nevertheless, this unused section was still cast in the repeating, descending motive of sixteenth notes of chords such as F-A-C-E and F-A♭-C-E, which are major seventh chord and minor major seventh chords, respectively. By coincidence this word “FACE” corresponds to the scenario of Aki and Deep Eyes Squadron whose action taking place on the Wasteland in face of the potential attacks by the Phantom. The descending sixteenth notes of the above chords, say, deployed as the two motives – F-E-C-A and A♭-F-E-C, are also accompanied by the ascending quarter notes of their retrogrades as A-C-E-F and C-E-F-A♭ played by trombones.
When a bird flying over the wasteland is spotted by the crew and Aki, Shakuhachi was used again to highlight the so-called multi-cultural reference in this film; however, the brief tune (‘The Survivor’**) for this bird was omitted in the soundtrack album, and so was the unchanged Serpents’ four-note motive mentioned before (the note A♭ was dropped later). In the following long battle scenes, Goldenthal emphasized that it was very difficult to balance music against the sound effects, so he managed to exaggerate a little bit the orchestrational treatments to achieve this balance. This exciting action music (‘Battle on Tucson Wasteland’), whose materials had also been utilized in ‘Surrounded by Phantoms’, together with some of those for the dreams of Aki (The Third, fourth, and fifth Dream), were all edited into the single track ‘Toccata and Dreamscapes’† with some unused materials (about 3 minutes and 48 seconds) in the soundtrack album; note that the opening gloomy passage of ‘The Fourth Dream” used in the film is slightly different from that present in the album.
When these people fly back to New York, there is an incident on the plane, that is, a conflict, provoked by an incident that Aki was shot after waking up from a coma (dream) due to the Phantom particle confined in her body by partially completed energy wave, between the crew and a spy sent by General Hein. Therefore, the Squadron music which first appeared in ‘The Rescue’ emerges such that the rescue (protection) of Aki is recurred again in the cue ‘The Incident’**. In the scene of returning to New York (Barrier City), a new motive – B4-B♭4-G♭4-B♭4-B4-B♭4-E♭4-B♭3 in ‘Back to New York (Hein's Plan)’* sounded instead of that of the previous cue ‘Barrier City” due to the upcoming arrest of Aki and the crew later, and this operation instigated by Hein is underscored by the sequence of the above motive ascending six semitones (F6-E6-C6-E6-F6-E6-A5-E5) in the cue ‘The Arrest (Hein's Plan)’. According to the commentary, the personality of General Hein in this film was reminiscent of an “evil character” of Wagner’s opera that inspired the composer to conceive of this motive, which is preceded by a scene, where a sad music is begun by the oboe, that Hein regretted deeply his lost child, family due to the attack of Phantoms (the cue ‘Hein’). The section of music from ‘Hein’ to ‘The Arrest (Hein's Plan)’ is included in the second part of the track ‘Flight to the Wasteland’† of the album.
To be a spiritual support of Aki, Grey enters the former’s dream with the help of a machine after returning from the wasteland, before the inevitable arrest; hence the title of the track ‘Music for dialogues’†, which is the music used here except its opening passage, of the album was derived from this scene. It can also be noticed that this unused opening passage coincides with the place of the cue ‘Back to New York (Hein's Plan)’; hence this unused passage would be an alternative or earlier version of ‘Hein’s Plan’, which is also characteristic of the use of brass that representative of the arrogant attitude of Hein. At the end of this fifth dream in the film, both the two characters witness the destroy of Phantom’s own planet by alien species; here, Goldenthal used “a large, with brass, almost a fanfare, to signal the death of the planet,” and tritone (the motive – A♭5-E5-D5 here, with an interval spanning six semitones between D5 and A♭5) well-known for its “diabolus in musica” (the Devil in music), was utilized in this bitter fanfare. It can also be noticed that, as mentioned before, the sequence used for “The Arrest” is just the motive for the cue ‘Back to New York’ ascending six semitones, and the four-notes motifs used for Serpents’ theme, the beginning of ‘Flight to the Wasteland’*, ‘Death of the Planet’ are likely suggestive of the shared musical ideas in association with the Phantom.
In order to gain the approval of the council to use the Zeus Cannon, Hein tricks the council by lowering the power to form a barrier breach and let Phantom slip in. In ‘Security Breach’, to highlight the turning point of the plot, the incursion of the Phantom is signified by the brief Serpent theme, which first appeared in the cue before 'Flight to the Wasteland'*, with some new variations and extensions, and this music actually stretches into the next cue ‘Entrada’*, which can be regarded as a development based on Serpents’ theme, and, has been included in the album. The scene for which ‘Security Breach’** – Entrada* scored is the aggravation of the incursion beyond what General Hein has envisioned. Hence the employment, development of Serpents’ theme here is adequate in such a way that this theme won’t be, say, somewhat trivial midst the ample materials for the scoring.
From the beginning of the attack of Phantom, a passage played by timpani, female vocals and some electronic percussion and sounds, in the Barrier City to the retrieve of Aki’s ship, the music mainly comprises of (1) the motive for the sacrifice of human souls for Hein’s ambitions, the motive of C5-B4-E4-G♭4-G4-D4-D♭4-G♭4 (‘Evacuation Facility’*), (2) the sacrifice of the three members of Squadron, the motive - C5-B4-A-E-C5-B4-A-E♭, its sequences and extensions with electronic percussion (film version of ‘Dead Rain’† of the album), (3) the variation on Squadron’s Theme (‘The Rescue Again’*), (4) reprise and developments of Barrier City music in ‘The Bandits’ and reprise of the second part of ‘Code Red’ (‘Rough Riders'), (5) action music in ‘The Raid’*/†† and first part of ‘Escape’††, both of which were incorporated into the track ‘Toccata and Dreamscapes’† of the album, (6) the music of ‘The Bandit’**, whose beginning is the four notes E-F-D♭-A which sounds like a derivation from Serpents’ theme, that leads to the tune of Barrier City music, (7) more standalone piece for the preparation of taking off in ‘The Retrieve’**, and (8) the recurring six-notes ascending motive E-F-C-F-E-C which ends this section (or ‘Escape’). Note that the music of (1) and (3) is the film version of ‘Winged Serpent’† of the album, and the sequence used in (2) is also the motive indicated therein ascending six semitones.
In the cue ‘The Kiss’*, Goldenthal again used piano to remind the audience of the romance of Aki and Grey, and leaked out more notes of the complete love theme. That is, at this time he also utilized the same motives of first part of “A Child Recalled” without imitation of themselves (dialogue of this couple), and leaded this music directly to partial of the love theme instead of that of the little girl as before. However, the motifs – E♭-B♭, E♭B, E♭-A of ‘Dr. Sid’s Plan’* reminds me of those of the third movement of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony played by oboe, clarinet, and flute (such as C6-G5-F5-C6-A♭5-G5-C6-B♭5-G5-F5-G5-A♭5-D5…), and so does the beginning four notes E-F-D♭-A of ‘The Bandit’** reminds me of the well-known musical quotation of the DSCH motif (D-E♭-C-B) of Shostakovich. The following two cues ‘Hein’s Return’* and ‘The Ruse’* constitute the film version of first part of ‘Zeus Cannon’† of the album; the film version of ‘Hein’s Return’* is different from that of the album, though they are both characteristic of the brass. The two versions have very different melodic lines, and, in the album, it repeats after the piece ‘The Ruse’†, which is obviously darker than those related to Hein previously. The cue ‘The Phantom’* is the film version of the second part of ‘Blue Light’† of the album, and it consists of the theme of Phantom which is shorter than that presented in ‘The Spirits Within’† of the album which was not used in the film. While, the next short cue ‘Zeus Fires’** was not included in the album.
The following section of music is a long, continued piece lasting about thirteen minutes in the movie; ‘Emergency Landing’ and ‘System Overload’ are the third part of ‘Blue Light’† and second part of ‘Zeus Cannon’† of the album, respectively. ‘The Eighth Spirit’ is that one in the album; the rest of the piece were unreleased, that is, ‘Hitting It Again’** which contains the motif of ‘The Ruse’*, and ‘Not a Good Place to Be’**, ‘Earth Gaia’**, and ‘Projection of the Complete Wave’**. In ‘Projection of the Complete Wave’, the music in ‘Flight to the Wasteland’ was used to recur again the bright side of the Phantom for what happens in Aki’s dream that it can be healed by the completed wave pattern. This music culminates at the point that Zeus Cannon explodes due to the system overload imposed by General Hein, and the motives of the sacrifice of human souls for Hein’s ambitions are played by full forces of brass, percussion and chorus, following 'The Ruse' motive intensified by brass and accompanied by timpani performance.
The final ‘Death Isn't the End.’*, excluding the opening, is approximately the track ‘Adagio and Transfiguration’† of the album; however, the album version is the extended one which has extra 37 seconds music played by English horn, Shakuhachi and strings. According to the commentary, English horn employed in this cue was to express the lost about what has happened, and the entirety of main theme (love theme) stated by the flute is due to the important character in this movie, argued by the Composer, which is associated with Aki’s feeling about Gaia, in a way like many cultures around the world associated with flute in the Earth. The intention to relate the flute with Gaia can also be discerned when Dr. Sid remarked upon the existence of Gaia at the council meeting, which has been mentioned above.
The unfolded love theme leads directly to the culmination in the middle of this piece, like a resonance with the rebirth of the Earth, and healing of the spirits of Phantoms; Goldenthal here stressed again the use of the “beautiful sort of major E-flat statement” of the music. The final line of music leading to this culmination begins on E♭4 to the major third of G4 and B4 played by the trombone and French horn respectively. After this point, the Composer then used the “lonely trumpet”, “lonely trumpet”, in his words, to signal the end of travail and the unfortunate spirits of Phantoms. If we rewrite the lonely trumpet melody, together with the following one by English horn, as three triads, which are one minor triad and two augmented triads as shown in the figure below, we can observed that dissonance, which reflects the bitterness, is inherent within. The end credit song ‘The Dream Within’, performed by Lara Fabian, makes use of Goldenthal’s music with lyrics by Richard Rudolf; this song was cast in the form of pop music, while the roles of the piano, flute Shakuhachi and a string section of the orchestra were still remained in the performance. The choice of putting on this pleasant song here is satisfying, provided that the recovery of the Earth from a trauma, at the end of this film, is not necessarily engaged by too fervent taste of orchestral music.
Albeit the film itself failed in the box office after its release, the score by Elliot Goldenthal was still well-received among the reviews. And, it was also presented, as one of the special features, in the DVD isolated track with composer’s commentary. The accomplishment of this appealing music, as an isolated score, was not overlooked by the local distributer as well such that, as a catchword, the including of score track praised for its “sensation of fantastic science fiction genre” (科幻感十足的配樂音軌) was clearly indicated on the back cover of the region 3 DVD.
On the other hand, in this work we can observe that the techniques of sequences of a motive or melody, or its retrograde are still a common practice in modern sci-fi movie scoring for the enhancement of its layers, intratextual elements and the relationships between leitmotifs. While, provided that “Final Fantasy” was a project for the composer who had scored various stylish films such as Alien3, Batman Forever, Michael Collins, Sphere, and Titus, we may assume that this score would be abundant in gorgeous eerie sounds, many dissonant harmonies, and avant-garde experimentation which were indeed stressed by the composer that “orchestration techniques associated with the late 20th-century Polish avant-garde, as well as my own experiments from Alien3”(##) were employed, before watching the movie or listening to its score. However, the music is still confined to the narrative nature of the story that the “suffering” Phantoms are not an invading army, as Aki put it; hence these creatures were not necessarily depicted in the film as devil as “Alien”, nor as the claim one may take the face value of the “diabolus in musica” bestowed to tritone. On the contrary, the music for “Final Fantasy” is actually comparatively “mild”, as the results of combining the above mentioned techniques and experiments with "19th-century Straussian brass and string instrumentation"(##), and warm, in many scenes, which is associated with the humanity the composer wanted to emphasize, though there is the longest action scene of battle sequences on Wasteland for which he felt he had developed the most atonal and savage orchestral sections. Overall, the present score inherits a soundscape, created by Goldenthal and adhering to his idiosyncrasy of composing, which has imprinted on my own listening experiences that also engage especially with those of Sphere and Alien3, and some elements of his “homemade” electronic sounds and melodic inceptions can also be traced back wherein. Yet personally I still prefer the darkness in his Alien3 and dissonance in Sphere. (July 21st, 2017, revised in Aug 28th, 2017)
Figure: the lonely trumpet melody, followed by the one by English horn.
The author would like to thank Pei-yu Wu for some suggestions during the writing of this review.
Murphy, Scott. “The Tritone Within: Interpreting Harmony in Elliot Goldenthal’s Score for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," In: The Music of Fantasy Cinema, Halfyard, Janet K., Ed., Equinox Publishing Ltd: UK, 2012.
Murphy, Scott. “The Major Tritone Progression in Recent Hollywood Science Fiction Films,” Music Theory Online 12/2, May 2006.
Brown, Royal, "Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music", University of California Press, 1994.
* film versions
# Pei-yu Wu proposed in her lecture “吳姊姊電影配樂系列講座三部曲 - Science Fiction 科幻篇” that in some Hollywood Sci-Fic films, female vocals were utilized to signify the humanity in these films; July 2017.
## Goldenthal, Elliot. Liner notes in 'Final Fantasy: The
Spirits Within (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)'. Sony Classical Records. SK