Ghost in the Shell Blu-ray Review

Visually impressive with excellent central performance despite challenges 3.5 Stars

Ghost in the Shell is an ambitious, stylized, visually impressive film with a good cast. While it may not have satisfactorily explored the moral questions of who we are and what makes us human, it makes a genuinely earnest attempt at probing something deeper than just a plot around which action set-pieces are formed. The film received considerable backlash for casting a white actress in the lead–a role (from a Japanese manga series, set in Japan of the future.) That issue is quite real and while reactions to the casting by Asians and Asian-Americans vary from shrugs or enthusiastic embrace, to cries of whitewashing and reminders that Hollywood has a minority and people of color-representation problem, the issue hurt the box office potential of the film. Judged outside the controversy, Ghost in the Shell is a good motion picture with a terrific central performance and a flurry of technical excellence. The controversy, however, casts quite a shadow.

Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Released: 31 Mar 2017
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 107 min
Director: Rupert Sanders
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche
Writer(s): Shirow Masamune (based on the comic "The Ghost in the Shell" by), Jamie Moss (screenplay), William Wheeler (screenplay), Ehren Kruger (screenplay)
Plot: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals.
IMDB rating: 6.6
MetaScore: 52

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 1 Hr. 46 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet
Case Type: Standard with Slip Sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 07/25/2017
MSRP: $39.99

The Production: 3.5/5

“They created me. But they cannot control me.”

It is the future and people have become comfortable enhancing themselves with technology, blurring the line between humanity and technology. In this world, Major Motoko Kusanagi (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind, a human saved following a tragedy and merged with cyber enhancements to become a perfect soldier. As cyber terrorism increases, where humans can be hacked and controlled, Major and the others in her unit, Section 9, along with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk), and under the leadership of Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) fight to bring down the terrorists, but Major discovers that all is not as it appears, and begins to question everything about who, and what, she really is.

Ghost in the Shell is an ambitious and was, frankly, a risky proposition for Paramount. Certainly, a favored property to those familiar, but not as well-known outside the targeted audiences for manga and anime. The subject and storyline are also deep and bleak where the boundaries of humanity have slipped and shifted (allowing for the central question at the heart of Ghost), and our hero is at once a conflicted ‘construct’, and also the most ‘human’ of all the characters we meet in this world.

The success of Ghost in the Shell as a major motion picture would be predicated on a compelling adaptation of the source material, acceptance of the adaptation from those familiar with it, and interest and excitement from those who were unaware of the story. On those three grounds, Rupert Sanders’ cinematic adaptation comes close, but has too much working against it. On the first, the faithful adaptation of the source aesthetic using complex and detailed visual effects work, costume, set-design, and practical effects, seemed to boost interest and favor, but on the second, acceptance of the adaptation, any goodwill conjured from the aesthetic and design mastery would be knocked by the casting of the vital Major character by a non-Asian actress; a controversy the film would not escape or assuage. Finally, enticing or persuading those unfamiliar that this was a story and a world to invest in would, it seems, be irrevocably harmed by the casting controversy as well. So let’s talk about that controversy.

There have been many terrific examinations of the controversy and the complicated and long fermenting reasons of why the casting choice here mattered so specifically (covering everything from cultural appropriation and sidelining born from America’s victory over Japan in World War II, to the rise and fall of Japan’s electronics-based economy that fed the story in the first place). In one particularly insightful piece, published on The Verge, the complicated matter of ‘representation’ as viewed by people in Japan versus Japanese-Americans (where those in Japan were largely thrilled at Scarlett’s casting, and Asian-American’s were largely disappointed and angry) was discussed. The director of the 1995 Anime version of Ghost in the Shell publicly supported Scarlett’s casting, but that didn’t seem to dampen the anger. The casting of Scarlett Johansson, who is striking in the role, came on the heels of a heightened awareness of ‘whitewashing’, everything from the proliferation of white actors in Alex Proyas’ Gods of Egypt, to Emma Stone’s casting in Aloha, to Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange, and others, the matter of white actors taking roles and characters that either historically were Asian, or were understood to be Asian in the source material, highlighted the blatant bias against casting minorities. Add to that the appalling lack of Asian roles in film and television (and the appalling lack of people of color, or the persistent lack of opportunities for minorities and women to have better quality roles), and you have an issue that demanded to addressed. The timing of Ghost in the Shell, and the complicated reason behind why the character of Major in Ghost in the Shell should (and for some, doesn’t have to be) Asian, conspired to be a thorn that could not be overcome.

Outside the controversy, how was Scarlett Johansson’s Major? In a word, magnificent. It would be easier if she were terrible, but she frankly reminds us of just how skilled and capable an actor she is. Portraying a human/machine hybrid, she walks with a strange gate, has none of the natural ticks or twitches humans display unconsciously, she cannot relax in a moment, be human the way others are, because she is something else, other, different. And Scarlett captures the restraint and core humanity of her character with an effortlessness only possible of a performer working hard to achieve that. She is magnetic, strong, vulnerable, and capable, with a captivating beauty and hint of wit. As we have seen of her as Black Widow in the Marvel universe, she has the physicality of fight-sequences down to a fine art, but in the quieter moments, little conversations here and there, her character’s contemplations become the draw into the film and what the film wants to examine. While the script doesn’t always allow that examination to take root in the way we might want-the challenge I suppose of feeding the action-movie spectacle and corresponding big-budget demands-it does at least begin to engage these contemplations. A sequel, I suppose, would have given us a better opportunity to explore the deeper questions at play.

Tonally, this 2017 film fits with the 1995 adaptation, and exalts a marvelously detailed visual-effects rendered future that will reward repeated viewings. The subject is brooding, and the state of the world, with its blurred line between technology and humanity (something that the world has been stridently moving toward since the story was first published), is a bleak indictment on lost humanity. But the world they have created is also punctuated with a beautiful neon brightness, artifice for sure, but stunning nonetheless.

Director Rupert Sanders, who demonstrated a sure feature-film directorial hand with the rather good Snow White and the Huntsman, continues to show that confident hand here. Working with cinematographer Jess Hall, Sanders creates a striking vision of the future, visual abundance and, taking cues from the original material (and the 1995 adaptation) as inspiration, some wonderful images. He also captures some great performances; Takeshi Kitano’s Aramaki, Michael Pitt’s (under-used) Kuze, Juliette Binoche’s Dr. Oulet, and Pilou Asbæk’s Batou primary among them. They each fully embrace the world and their characters role in it, but it is Scarlett Johansson’s Major that mark the center of this film’s story, universe, and reason for checking the film out.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

A technically excellent presentation of this film in High-Definition, Ghost in the Shell is terrific on home video. Deep saturated colors, impeccable black-levels, crisp, sharp, wonderful contrast, and impressive in its detail. The brightly colored neon, and the body suit worn by Major, with its reflective/invisibility, positively leap from the screen in 2D.

Shots that begin very wide, above the city, swoop down and through building structures and the cities holographic projections revealing excellent detail.

Audio: 5/5

Ghost in the Shell’s Dolby Atmos track (which presents as Dolby TrueHD for those not Atmos equipped) is superb. Rupert Sander’s choice of composers, a combination of Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell, produce a thrilling score, pulsing and throbbing with techno-marvel, suited very well to the film. It’s a terrific score that lives and owns the aural space.

This Blu-ray release also makes excellent use of surround sounds configuration to bring you in to the action, particularly with the sounds of electronics, whipping and floating across the sound design.

Special Features: 3/5

What’s here is good, anchored by the 30 minutes Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell, which covers the inspiring source material and the intent behind the adaptation. This is a good piece that examines almost every element of the production with costumes, weapons, action sequences, design elements, and everything else getting a moment to shine. Section 9: Cyber Defenders, clocking in just north of 11 minutes, takes a closer look at the Section 9 team as it related to the story, and some of the design elements. The Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy, examines the prescient nature of the original story and what this story portends for our future.

The VUDU redemption also adds an Inside the Shell special feature with a ground-level look at the production leading up to the premiere in France. This bonus content is combined with the other special features on ParamountMovies.com to create a single, 80 minutes special feature.

Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell.

Section 9: Cyber Defenders.

Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy. Feature film in standard definitio

Digital (UV and iTunes) version of the film.

Overall: 3.5/5

Ghost in the Shell is entertaining. Well made, interesting, and showing a future and a world well-worth exploring. The casting controversy proved too high a hurdle for the film to recover from, though the availability of the home video version (and streaming) will mean that more people will be able to discover the adaptation and evaluate, or reevaluate the film on its merits (and, yes, the casting controversy should be a part of that critical evaluation). This kind of film–action spectacle in a future where technologies abundance has reduced society’s humanity–isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (and admittedly has always been mine). For those who enjoy stories on that canvas, Ghost in the Shell is worth exploring. A well-made production with a brilliant performance at its heart.

I hope that Hollywood takes note that representation matters. While the matter of Major’s casting isn’t quite black and white, it underscores the lamentable (and unacceptable) state of characters and roles in film and television showcasing people of color and minorities. Things are getting better, but part of that is because of the ruckus vocal critics are causing.

Published by

Neil Middlemiss

administrator

11 Comments

  1. I'm so tired of hearing white washing. There are a couple of issues here, Studios want a blockbuster, they can't just stick any old name in there and be expected to spend $100 or 200 million for financing. Great Wall is a perfect example, I heard all the BS about Damon, and when I watched the movie the Asian actors take most of the glory anyways. I read several comments about the "white man" had to save the Asians, that wasn't even close, and the white man was actually a criminal that got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The $$$ take on Great Wall would have been even worse if the criminals were no name Asian actors, same can be said for if you had some no name instead of Johanssen. What it has done for me is make me completely ignore those accusations, and when I find out a studio is going to far the other way (Disney, female Ghostbusters, Dr Who) with established content, I won't spend a dime.

    End of the day, people only complain when "certain" stories are changed, but then turn a blind eye for any PC casting even if it changes a central character. Basically, only change a central character if you are going to cast a minority, otherwise you get blasted. Its sad when movie reviews take the same one sided stance as low rent world politics.

  2. gadgtfreek

    I'm so tired of hearing white washing.

    If you're tired of hearing about whitewashing, imagine how many people are tired of it happening. The piece from The Verge that Neil linked in his review is over a year old, but it addresses the issue in a very intelligent and nuanced way and is still quite relevant. And this is different from The Great Wall in a number of ways.

    At any rate, casting issues aside, I didn't particularly care for the new Ghost In The Shell. I felt it made a hash of the themes presented in the original film and source material, and despite some visual panache, it was lacking in energy most of the way through.

  3. gadgtfreek

    I'm so tired of hearing white washing. There are a couple of issues here, Studios want a blockbuster, they can't just stick any old name in there and be expected to spend $100 or 200 million for financing. Great Wall is a perfect example, I heard all the BS about Damon, and when I watched the movie the Asian actors take most of the glory anyways. I read several comments about the "white man" had to save the Asians, that wasn't even close, and the white man was actually a criminal that got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The $$$ take on Great Wall would have been even worse if the criminals were no name Asian actors, same can be said for if you had some no name instead of Johanssen. What it has done for me is make me completely ignore those accusations, and when I find out a studio is going to far the other way (Disney, female Ghostbusters, Dr Who) with established content, I won't spend a dime.

    End of the day, people only complain when "certain" stories are changed, but then turn a blind eye for any PC casting even if it changes a central character. Basically, only change a central character if you are going to cast a minority, otherwise you get blasted. Its sad when movie reviews take the same one sided stance as low rent world politics.

    The issue is real and studies and informed research back up the issue of lack of diversity casting and the casing of whites in non-white roles.
    Second, and you may not like it, but when minorities are cast in roles that may have originally been written as white (Idris Elba's casting as Heimdall in the Thor films springs to mind) it is a baby step to bring balance to the woefully imbalanced representation of minorities. And most of the source material, comic-books especially, originated when publishers refused to print anything that featured (especially in prominent roles) people of color. You'd do well to watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's 'Far Beyond the Stars' to get a taste of what that looked like. I'd hardly call this 'low rent' politics just because it doesn't impact you.

  4. The character Johansson is playing is a cyborg, therefore her body isn't human. The soul of character is Asian, but her shell is a creation of Hanka Robotics. I don't see how "whitewashing" applies to this particular character.

  5. Robert Crawford

    They did, it preceded The Wiz.;)

    Oh, that's just nonsense you're spouting. What're you gonna try to convince me next – that Blake Edwards once hired Mickey Rooney to play a grotesque stereotype of an Asian?

    Yeah, right – I'm not falling for that! 😀

  6. Neil Middlemiss

    The issue is real and studies and informed research back up the issue of lack of diversity casting and the casing of whites in non-white roles.
    Second, and you may not like it, but when minorities are cast in roles that may have originally been written as white (Idris Elba's casting as Heimdall in the Thor films springs to mind) it is a baby step to bring balance to the woefully imbalanced representation of minorities. And most of the source material, comic-books especially, originated when publishers refused to print anything that featured (especially in prominent roles) people of color. You'd do well to watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's 'Far Beyond the Stars' to get a taste of what that looked like. I'd hardly call this 'low rent' politics just because it doesn't impact you.

    All I read is blah blah blah. This stuff was already changing itself, it has been accelerated to far the other way. When you start changing established characters to women and minorities just to appease people, it is ridiculous. Especially for those of us who have followed them for a long time (Marvel and Disney are prime candidates here). Create NEW characters!!! How would people react if they made Blade or Luke Cage white? It would be a shit storm, but make Captain America black, or replace Tony Stark with an 18 yr old black girl from MIT, make Thor a woman, no one cares… Have you noticed they killed Wolverine and his replacement is a woman? So excuse me if I could care less Scarlett was cast as a cyborg over an Asian actor.

    Man in the High Castle vs the HBO Confederacy project is a whole nother example of how rabid this whole thing is. No one batted an eye at Man in the High Castle, but the media has been up in arms at HBO the last few days, once again, double standard. That is what I am tired of. And don't tell me the Nazi's winning is less significant than the South getting to keep their lands and slavery after the Civil War.

    I want to go see a movie, and enjoy it, I do not want to be bothered by racial accusations and I don't want to read reviews about a blu-ray with the crap you wrote. So as I already speak with my wallet, Ill just not read your reviews anymore.

    BTW, attached is just one image, at what point does Motoko's character look to be 100% Asian?

    [​IMG]

  7. Cameron YeeThanks for the review and perspective. The Emma in your review should be Stone, not Roberts, however.

    For some reason, every time I think of Emma Stone, I give her the wrong last name, and it's not fair because she is a terrific actress. Thanks for the correction.

Leave a Reply