Plot: What’s it about?
I was recently discussing movies with my brother. While not nearly as “into” them as myself, he’s a fan nonetheless. We got talking about remakes and how Hollywood keeps spitting out the same movies, remakes and television shows that are now feature-length films. I then told him that I was looking forward to watching the new version of Ghost in the Shell, a live-action version of the 1996 classic anime. He then asked why they (re)make so many films and my answer was this: It’s got a built in audience, there’s very little (if anything) you need to do with the script and remakes aren’t always bad. That aside, how do you take one of the most highly-regarded films of its genre (anime) and turn it into a live action film twenty years after it came out? We’re about to find out.
Set in a Blade Runner-esque future, humans are now able to “equip” themselves with cybernetics that give them supernatural powers. And while the bodies (shells) may be upgraded, the mind (ghost) remains the link to their human side. And thus, we meet Major (Scarlett Johansson), a high-tech warrior who works for Section 9, a special task force assigned to bring down terrorists. She, along with partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek) are good at their jobs and relish the opportunity to bring in the bad guys, namely Kuze (Michael Pitt). He’s been infiltrating the company whose leader, Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), “built” Major and wants to profit from her abilities. This, however, seems to get lost in the shuffle as the movie seems to focus on Major learning the truth about her past with a little help from her scientist friend (Juliette Binoche).
There’s technically nothing wrong with the movie. But considering the roots it has and what it could have been, I was pretty let down. Once you get past the visuals, which are, admittedly, mind-blowing, it’s just another movie. Johannson essentially plays the same character that she played in another, much better film, Under the Skin. And it could be said that her Black Widow character in the Avengers films is fairly similar. Does she not like to smile or does she pick characters void of emotion to portray? Nevertheless, like it or not, there is a live action version of Ghost in the Shell. Hard core fans have most likely seen it and discarded it and for the rest of those who might be on the fence – stick with the 1996 anime version as it’s much better.
Video: How’s it look?
Despite my comments on the film itself, I have to say that this is one that’s tailor-made for 4K. Paramount’s offerings on this format are few and far between, but if you want to see the capabilities of your display, look no further. The 4K image showcases the very best of what the format has to offer. Be it the “body” of Major, the ever-changing backdrop of the future or any one of the myriad things that buzz, click and whirr in the film. It’s a dark, yet very “active” film that’s sure to please. This is one area in which I was excited to see how it would translate from the animated version to live-action. And for those wondering, no you don’t get to see Scarlett Johansson naked, her “shell” looks more like a mannequin you’d see at a store (minus the clothes).
Audio: How’s it sound?
The included Dolby Atmos track pulls no punches. Again, from a technical perspective, this is where the film excels. I’ve yet to hear an Atmos track that didn’t deliver the goods on some level. Cars, gunshots and everything in between really make for an immersive and audio rich experience. Vocals are a mixed bag as Johansson tends to mumble her lines a bit. The front stage does most of the heavy lifting, but surrounds are almost constantly churning out something. For those not equipped, the TrueHD soundtrack is nearly as good.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell – Clocking in at thirty minutes, this is a bit more than your typical EPK. Members of the cast and crew was philosophical about the general message of the film as well as its relevance in today’s society.
- Section 9: Cyber Defenders – The Section 9 team is profiled here, a “small, but highly trained tactical unit” as director Rupert Sanders puts it.
- Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy – The technology in the film is explored and, more to the point, the humans reliance upon it at the risk of losing their own humanity.
The Bottom Line
A far cry from its 1996 roots, this live action version of Ghost in the Shell left many scratching their heads (myself included). While it was nice to see some of the scenes “come to life” (so to speak), the anime version is far and away the better film. There’s a huge audience for this movie, but they seemed to misfire at every given turn. Oh well.