I walked into the theater with some trepidation, expecting to be disappointed, which turned out to be to my benefit, as the film quickly blew me away.
Granted the live action Ghost in the Shell does have its shortcomings, but overall I was pleasantly surprised.
*Warning, spoilers ahead*
I do think it was a smart choice to create their own narrative and borrow content from multiple renditions of the franchise, rather than more literally translate a single rendition. I think that adds a certain legitimacy and value to what they created.
At the same time, the original has a very rich meaning, which is very well executed, and it’s only natural for audiences to compare the different versions. And I do believe this version falls short of its predecessors. This version feels too morally clear, without the ambiguity and complex philosophical dialogue of other versions.
The theme of identity was engaging. I thought the recurrence of the phrase “I give my consent” was a nice trope, though I really wanted her to use her other name during the last “consent”, as a further affirmation of reclaiming that.
In some ways it makes sense. They had to appease the existing audience of core fans while simultaneously appealing to a more general audience who didn’t know the material, and those are contrary purposes.
I am very familiar with the franchise. I’ve seen both the original film and the various seasons of shows, and I like them a lot. Watching this film, I enjoyed it a great deal.
Visually I thought the film was stunning. There were many recreations and homages to shots from the original film, though I do feel that this film lacked some of the strong symbolic meaning behind its provocative images, while the original film frequently built strong symbolism behind their iconic images.
The characters felt well developed, if not always clear. There were times where the Major seemed unclear, distant, but overall it was interesting. I think the Major’s journey could have been stronger if there was no clear cut “this is the truth”; if her past was left uncertain, more akin to Blade Runner. Some things are simply left uncertain, and the strength of the character is in reconciling themselves to that unknown.
I thought Batou was very well portrayed; a tough guy who’s really just a big softy.
I liked Kuze quite a bit. I thought his verbal stutter and his body language were very well done. I particularly liked the scene between Kuze and the Major where he explains what he is. His voice and body language were so diminutive towards the Major, but as soon as he was threatened he became assertive and aggressive. The contrast felt very rich.
Some of the other characters felt less developed. Both the doctor and the CEO felt like a very clear cut archetype; the surrogate mother who desperately clings to the daughter she never had, the arrogant control freak who prefers machines because they obey without question. They both felt too blatant in their identity, too obvious.
Scenes & Specifics
Most of the scenes felt very strong on their own, but when they were strung together they felt mismatched to me. Some scenes were very emotional and powerful, while others focused on glorified action, reminiscent of the Matrix. Strong action scenes are not uncommon to anime, but the Ghost in the Shell franchise never struck me as action focused, and in this case the action aesthetic, while strong, felt at odds with the slower, more meaningful moments, with the exception of the tank scene.
I was very pleased to see the tank make an appearance, and I really liked seeing Her struggle to beat it, and ultimately tear herself apart in the process. That scene always struck me as a strong image of her strength, and her dedication/focus.
I almost wish they had spent more time with her damaged/exposed. They did show her face uncovered, but I think forcing her to be partially “unmasked” due to damage could have been a strong extended moment, particularly when she was on the table debating with the doctor while she’s being repaired.
I was also fortunate that I got to watch the film with a friend who knew nothing about the franchise, and it was interesting to hear his thoughts. He felt that the plot was predictable, the underlying ideas had already been done, and that overall it was a bit of a generic science fiction story. Hearing that, I realized how much of my experience was due to my prior knowledge, which I used to invest this film with a great deal more meaning and value than was necessarily clear and apparent to my friend.
What’s really interesting to me is how much this echoes another experience I had, watching the 1984 David Lynch Dune film. At the time I had not read the books. I didn’t know that there was anything other than the movie, and yet on some level I could sense a deeper meaning. I recognized the film’s weaknesses, but I could tell what the filmmakers were trying to express, and I used my imagination to fill in the gaps.
In some ways I think I prefer ambitious stories. Even if the artists can’t fully express their vision, there’s still a sense of what that vision was, something rough that we can build on using our imagination.
Those who have seen the movie, what did you think of it?
Were you already familiar with the franchise, or was this your first experience with Ghost in the Shell?
As a general question,
Do you ever read or watch something and realize the story you actually like is one you created while watching or reading “this one”?
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2 thoughts on “Discussing Ghost in the Shell (2017 live action)”
Great thoughts on the live action GITS. I appreciate your perspective and agree with many of your points. I too thoroughly enjoyed the U.S. live adaptation, and I really adored both the cinematography and the depth that Scarlett gave to the Major: just enough emotion and drive to remind us that parts of her human side still lingered within her shell. I thought the action was also very well shot and less explosive and frenetic than much of what recent U.S. movies have been generally bogged down with.
One of my favorite aspects of the movie was the score: I feel that Clint Mansell paid excellent homoge to Kenji Kawai’s visceral and brooding ambient. The worldbuilding was phenomenal, and Mansell’s tracks added a fitting somber layer throughout.
I definitely liked the more subtle musicals tracks that seemed to blend into the background, particularly “Surge”.