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Posts Tagged ‘‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano’


Saturday, July 15th, 2017


Stars – Scarlett Johansson, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Michael Carmen Pitt, Pilou Asbaek
Director – Rupert Sanders * Released by Paramount
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Ghost in the Shell originated in a graphic novel manga series in the late 1980s. It developed a huge cult following and was later adapted into a decidedly adult animated feature in 1995. From the moment this live action version was announced fans of the series have had their fangs out for it. Having seen countless remakes, sequels and re-imaginings it should be clear by now that studios can go ahead and do what they will. Neither Beauty nor the Beast had to suffer this kind of outrage when Disney went live action. You don’t have to support it at all. However I’d make the case that it should be judged on its own – sink or swim.

The film opens in a purposefully disorienting fashion and that’s a good choice since the story really wants to be challenging. We meet Major on an operating table. Her family has been killed in a terrorist attack. The only thing left is her mind and that is being set up inside a sleek and gorgeous shell that is Scarlett Johansen. Producers must have a clause in her contracts that demands she be poured into a sexy body suit in most of her pictures. She looks amazing here in the tight flesh colored metallic body armor. However as we begin to understand that her spirit is merely a ghost in a shell we wonder how much of her is her and how much is drawn by a digital artist who seemingly took lessons from Vargas. In very short order Major is part of a search and destroy task force. She is quite good at it. It is clear her spirit has been weaponized as part of some nefarious quasi military program. The man they are after played like the zombie in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari except with a vocal stutter by Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire) is also clearly some kind of human /robot combo. From underneath a dark hoodie he warns Major not to trust her handlers. The plotline as presented is not all that compelling and will be familiar to anyone who has read or seen much science fiction. The theme that the power of the human spirit is ultimately stronger than that of the encroaching machine has become hackneyed and hacked a whole lot lately.

What Ghost in the Shell gets right is the incredible eye popping candy coated urban landscape that the characters inhabit. Hologram advertisements loom over buildings. Garish colors envelop everything. The crowds are stifling. I am personally not much of a fan of CGI but I do really appreciate the way it can be used to create backgrounds and locations. Back in the day artists would paint these huge glass mattes that would be worked into films. The digital team on hand here has given us a setting that draws from so many elements recognizable from any number of Japanese sources. That’s fitting considering where the story came from. There is a bit of a twist at the end where we realize that the two leads in the film, played by Scarlet and the incredible Danish actor Pilou Asback have characters that were quit literally born in Japanese bodies. That’s quite a spin on cultural appropriation (I’m joking here). Pilou is a fine actor having done a series of high dramas that plummet the depths of the soul (R, A War, A Hijacking). That touches on the real disappointment here. Ghost in the Shell like any real good science fiction story will not only entertain but gets us thinking about some concept that is difficult to wrap your head around. This film very much wants to be pals with Robocop and Blade Runner but even though it looks quite cool it doesn’t not have the pedigree or subversive sense of humor.

Still when Scarlett Johansen stands on the top of a building and feels the wind and gets that look in her eyes as she drops off into space it’s a thrill. Batman used to do that way back in Detective Comics. Kate Beckinsale took a similar jump down to the pavement in Underworld. It’s cool. There is no denying that. The fights and action scenes here flow well. The whole thing is rather enjoyable in its own way, only we thought there’d be more of a kick to it. Director Rupert Sanders has only made one other feature – the disappointing but high grossing Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). I was super pleased to see Beat Kitano who will be most familiar to audiences from his role in Battle Royal. What he truly excelled at was in making a series of films that combined high octane bloody action with an almost Zen like exploration of the human condition. Kitano took a real reach when he made Sonatine (1993). There is nothing wrong the current version of Ghost in the Shell it’s just that well…it needs to reach for something more. As an action film it is not enough eye candy and exploitation to quality as a pure thrill fest. Those kinds of films may be even harder to realize.

Video – 1.85:1
This is a very sleek and near perfect looking presentation. We get exactly what has been chosen. It is very heavy on CGI. That is the paint brush that has been used. Much of the landscape imagery and city streets have a harsh electric sheen to them, however that is entirely on purpose. The holographic advertisements that show up on the sides of buildings are rather striking. Imagine having an apartment window that looks out on one of those!

Audio – English Dolby Atmos and English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 with subtitles offered in English, Canadian French, Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese

The Atmos track is tremendous and a real treat to experience if you have a full compliment of speakers in the room. Sounds and effects travel every which way. Things sometimes appear to originate overhead or from below. With the action often taking place in many off balancing visuals the track swirls in a nice match. If you’ve not experienced the Atmos sound immersion and imagery then this is a great one to get acquainted with it. Much of this sound design will come through in varying degrees with whatever rig you have. As suggested turn the sound off your TV and let your amp sort it out with the program.

Extras – Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell / Section 9: Cyber Defenders / Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy

The extras do not hold much of interest. They all have that puff piece press kit feel to them like a publicist designed them to sell the picture. The little special effects work that is showcased is more interesting than the talking heads.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good