Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell (GitS) starring Scarlett Johansson is a visually stunning movie that manages to strike a balance between the source material and original content, rewarding existing fans of the franchise while not alienating newcomers to the cyberpunk series.
Changes have been made to the story of GitS for this movie, but in almost all instances these changes help move the film along, and don’t bog the viewer down with the philosophical talk that the 1995 movie and subsequent TV Series build around. By stripping the movie down to the more easily digestible questions that hang over The Major’s past, and the actions of a hacker known as Kuze (Michael Pitt), Sanders is able to move quickly from one set piece to another, playing to what is undoubtedly this movies true strength; the way it looks.
While this movie might stray occasionally from the story laid down in the original, although the DNA of the original story is always visible, it slavishly recreates many of the scenes that fans will fondly remember. From the Shelling scene at the top of the movie, to the Optothermic fight in the waterways of the New Tokyo slums, every set piece that fans would expect to be here are present and correct. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a live action movie come closer to perfecting these scenes, they’re absolutely stunning.
Stunning is also a word that works well for the City of New Tokyo itself. While some of the shots look more than suspiciously like Hong Kong with a slew of digital effects thrown on top, this actually makes a lot of sense in context. The world of GitS is much more multicultural that the Tokyo of today, and Hong Kong embodies that perfectly. The camera shots of the New Tokyo skyline are tremendous, with elements of Blade Runner thrown into the mix to create a neon blue and pink backdrop for our players. It;s high tech in places but run down in others. Even in the future there is no such thing as utopia it seems.
Johansson puts in a decent performance as the Major, although her choice to play her as devoid of emotion in the early going does make her look like she simply can’t act, it’s most definitely a choice that pays off as her humanity (and acting ability) re-appears later in the story.
Juliette Binoche plays an important role as Dr. Ouelet (No, not Maryse), the woman that saves the Major’s life at the start of the movie and who serves as a link between Johansson and her lost humanity. She’s understated in the role but very believable.
Pilou Asbaek puts in a decent performance as Batou, an ex-Marine with a sensitive side. He’s perhaps not quite as physically imposing as i would have liked, but he definitely does a good job as The Major’s second, and shares some great scenes with her.
“Beat” Takeshi Kitano plays Section 9 chief Aramaki with his usual aplomb. It’s wonderful to see an actor of Takeshi’s stature in this film and the fact that they chose to allow him to deliver his dialogue in his native Japanese is a great call. Not only does it ensure the best possible performance from one of the films acting heavyweights, but it also solidifies the idea that this is a truly multi-cultural City.
The aforementioned Michael Pitt is excellent as Kuze. Not much can be said about him without spoiling some of the later story (suffice to say that he replaces a character that isn’t present in this re-telling), but he does a fantastic job of playing a multilayered villain with an ethereal quality that only adds to his mystique. Unfortunately Peter Ferdinando is very two dimensional in the role of Cutter, the CEO of Hanka Robotics, and the other antagonist of t the movie. He doesn’t get much in the way of fleshing out, outside of “I like making money and don’t value human life”. It’s no worse than many of the Villains in Marvel’s movies for example, but it’s still disappointing.
The rest of Section 9 get fairly short shrift as far as dialogue and time on screen is concerned, but enough time and attention is paid to them so that the little details are present and correct. Togusa sports his famous revolver and is augmentation free, a quality that is highly regarded by Aramaki in the Stand Alone Complex TV series, Saito has his trusty sniper rifle and ocular interface in one scene and gets to show just how deadly he is with it, and not only do we see Batou’s softer side with a short introduction to Gabriel the Basset Hound, but we also get to see how and why he got tactical augmentation for his eyes.
This movie is chocked full of Easter eggs and little visual cues like that holographic computer displays, fully realized in their orange circular glory. It was a detail that i wasn’t even thinking about until i saw it, and shows just how much attention to detail the entire production team put into the visual design of the movie. Even when the final credits roll, there’s one more treat for long term fans of the series, as the original theme from Ghost in the Shell plays. That song is haunting in its delivery, and it would have been a great shame if it had not featured somewhere in the 2 hour run time of the film.
Ghost in the Shell is a striking take on an animated classic. It would have been easy to do a shot for shot remake here, but what Rupert Sanders has managed to do here is not only make a highly entertaining sci-fi action movie, but also pay homage to the original movie and subsequent TV series. Director of Photography Jess Hall deserves a lot of credit for how beautifully this movie was shot, it really is a visual triumph, and while the story might be a little generic compared to the source material, it’s still an effective vehicle for some absolutely stunning visuals.
If only it had a couple of Tachikomas in there…