By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas, US)
Charles Caleb Colton is famously known for saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” In this case, the refurbished Ghost in the Shell is uniquely flattering to its predecessor. With very little added to the original narrative that is worth singling out, the 2017 rendition of Ghost in the Shell is a prime example of why certain art forms lack the ability to carry over to the big screen. Following the narrative of the original with many new additions to the developments of the plot, Ghost in the Shell takes place in the near future where cybernetics and humanity have become intertwined. Major, the first of her kind, must find a hacker who has taken control of many ghosts while trying to uncover her mysterious past.
Ghost in the Shell initially hit the theaters of the United States in 1996 with Mamoru Oshii at the helm of this action-centric masterpiece. The first film focused on themes of defining humanity, vulnerability, and whether technology is dispensable or fundamental. In 2017 those themes couldn’t be more relatable than any other period in history. Instead, the recent film focuses more on the concepts of greed, trust, and whether memories define us or do our actions characterize who we are. This loss of the core message of the original causes its rebooted sibling to present itself as inexpressive and unsatisfactory. The film opens with the creation of the Major providing a glimpse at her backstory. While in comparison to its former that begins with the Major executing one of her missions, introducing us to her lack of humanity in which she feels no pain, no remorse, but wishes too.
The current version of Ghost in the Shell loses that suspense and intriguement of its ancestor by ruining the gradual unfolding of Major’s past. In which the inaugural anime never reveal the entirety of Major’s former self. Instead, we learn of this history in the final acts of the renewed version of Ghost in the Shell. The other fault at hand is the lack of reanimating or reinvigorating the thematic ideas of the first film. Failing to explore the philosophical and thought provoking ideas of gender identity, defining humanity, or even the awakening of someone discovering who they are. This fault could have been counterbalanced with the new inventive motif, but the 2017 adaptation of Ghost in the Shell fails to create that same sense of thought provocation or magic that is ancestor did. The filmmaking qualities are dull as well with a heavy reliance on standard constructions of CGI. The direction is stale as well focusing on establishing the environment instead of the characters or the themes of the screenplay.
Rupert Sanders, most notably known for Snow White and the Huntsman, fails to use the art of camera work to develop an interest in the script of this 2017 reboot. Relying on this average form of CGI that presents itself as mediocre and unconvincing that not only distracts from its story, but it also creates a barrier that doesn’t allow the strengths of the film to stand out such as its performances. Starting with Scarlett Johansson, who delivers a strong performance that is subtle and at times purposefully lifeless. Just as her character is, Johansson attempts to portray this sense of a departed character who desires to discover her humanity. She does a beautiful job of capturing the essence of Major’s character by providing that dullness to her words that gather emotions as her character grows closer to her Ghost and strays further from her shell. Pilou Asbaek is strong as well as he portrays Batou with an accurate representation of the beloved anime character. Chin Han and Takeshi Kitano are both amazing as well even though Chin Han’s character is not given nearly the proper character depth of the 1996 anime. Further exemplifying the criticization, many are making of this bland, unimaginative remake of a beloved anime classic.
The modernized interpretation of Ghost in the Shell comes as a flat imitation of its predecessor. Attempting multiple narratives into one, Ghost in the Shell fails to be the first example of a popular art form crossing over to the mainstream. Once again the cinema reminds us that underutilized art forms, while astonishing, will fail to recreate the passionate reaction if it is modernized for newer viewers. Making me questions whether these art forms should remain in the shadows or is it still possible to bring them to the light and display their magnificence to the masses.