Ghost in the Shell is perhaps one of my favorite films.
It is, at the very least, one of my favorite science fiction films. And when it comes to Anime, I was a child of the violent 90s. Anime to me is Ghost in the Shell. It’s Hellsing. It’s Akira. The original Ghost in the Shell is a film that, no matter the mood I’m in, I am always down to watch.
The follow up film, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, was a visual spectacle that stood as a worthy successor, even if it was a bit more scattershot with its philosophical trappings. Not quite as wide as The Matrix films, but some of that story creep was present. Even so, its focus was on a character, building its narrative and philosophy around him in such a way that we weren’t being talked to, we were simply partaking of the same journey he was.
And then Stand Along Complex came along, and there hasn’t been an anime since that has captured my attention so wholeheartedly. A masterclass in every way, it managed to turn a 22-minute roundtable discussion into one of the most enthralling episodes of its two season run. That was the level of skill and artistry being put to work.
So when word came that it would be remade as an Americanized film, I was worried. I wasn’t filled with an immediate hate for it. After all, there are a lot of films regarded as classics that are remakes (The Thing? Magnificent Seven?). The preliminary artwork seemed to be pretty solid, showing off an aesthetic that was loyal to the original tone. I was cautiously optimistic.
And then the movie came out, and boy was it bland. It’s not a good movie. Not by a long shot. But it’s not a bad movie either. It’s the worst kind of movie: it is. That’s it. It has the elements of excellence, but uses them to achieve middle of the road. It has flaws, but none so glaring as to detract from the overall.
It is two hours of pointlessness, wrapped in a shell of the original elements with none of the understanding.
Setting aside the large, white, American elephant in the room (the hero AND villain were both Japanese teenagers kidnapped and turned into Caucasian robots by a corporation of white guys. Spoilers), the movie is lacking any sort of punch. It failed in three major respects: the scenery, the pacing, and the sound design (I’ll explain later).
The original Ghost in the Shell was a near perfect balance of awe inspiring futurism and gritty crumbling society. One scene would take place in a high-tech facility, the next in garbage ridden, graffiti covered slums. Yet the visuals, so disparate from one another, melded together. It was a sign of the skill behind the impressive world building, creating a universe that was wholly believable.
The live action adaptation feels less GitS and more Blade Runner. Giant building sized holograms clutter the skyline, and gratuitous digital overlays are everywhere. Traffic signs and parking stalls and buildings and billboards and trains and everything else is plastered with color and movement. It’s a visual overload. Not to say the original wasn’t, but it all felt purposefully. It threw so much visual information at you, but it was structured in such a way that it just made sense.
This movie is pixels. Pixels upon pixels, and every scene distracts from the core focus. It doesn’t feel like a world of classes, it feels like two entirely different worlds sitting atop one another. One is PG-13 gritty, the other has skyscraper hologram geisha. Sure, why not.It’s all in support of a film with some of the worst pacing and scene transitions I’ve seem in… just, ever. It cuts from loud action scenes to quiet dramatic scenes with nothing in between, leading to an uneven, jerky cadence that constantly shifts your focus in the wrong way. It keeps reminding you that it’s a movie. Some action scenes have almost no lead up, then all of a sudden there they are, then as quickly as they began they’re gone again.
But the biggest problem for me, strangely enough, was the sound design. Or lack thereof. This movie is utterly lacking any sort of audio depth. Scenes in completely different locales sound identical. Talking in an office? Sounds the same as a shootout in a club (sans gunfire). Sounds the same as siting on a boat. Sounds the same as a car chase (sans tires squealing). The world has no auditory identity. I don’t hear the sound of the crowd in the streets, or the pounding bass of the club, or the cold sterility of the medical facility. All I hear is the same baseline noise, punctuated by terrible, flat acting and forgettable music.
Oh yes, and the music was utterly forgettable. A cardinal sin for a film such as Ghost in the Shell, whose original theme is STILL one of the greatest film compositions of the modern day.
This movie is utterly bland. It is the pure definition of a PG-13 studio film. It seeks to be safe for everyone, while being for no one. Certainly not me, at any rate.