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Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Paramount Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 7/25/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/20/2017

Alchemy is defined as "the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir". If I were to say Hollywood is obsessed with this kind of practice, you A) would not be surprised, and B) would focus on that "turning things into gold" part. And while that is certainly understandable, let's also look at the overall idea of turning one thing into something else. Hollywood loves doing this as they can't leave well-enough alone and will take something which has been popular in another medium and transforming it. The 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell is considered a touchstone in the genre and has been cited for influencing many science-fiction projects. So, we now get a live-action version of Ghost in the Shell.

Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a member of an elite police force in a future city where robots and humans with synthetic enhancements live in harmony. The thing which makes Major special is that her brain (referred to as her "ghost") was implanted into a wholly synthetic body. This makes her super-fast, an accurate shot, and (for some reason) invisible at times. As the story opens, Major and her team arrive on the scene as an executive from Hanka Robotics is attacked and hacked. This starts an investigation into hacks which leads Major and her partner, Batou (Pilou Absaek), into some seedy and dangerous places. They learn that Kuze (Michael Pitt) is the hacker behind the attacks. However, when Major learns who Kuze is and what his motives are, it will rock her world.

As someone who has been around the industry for a long time, I'm familiar with the fact that Ghost in the Shell is a famous and popular anime, but I've never seen the original film or any of the various iterations. As stated above, the anime is often cited as having influenced many other movies and shows. Be that as it may, and even given the fact that the feature film is based on the anime, one of the first things which struck me about Ghost in the Shell is how unoriginal it feels. The city, with its skyscrapers and mid-air digital advertisements, looks like a relative of Blade Runner. Major's intermittent invisibility reminded me of Predator. But, it was the central story which really felt recycled. One of the main points here is that Major's "ghost" was placed in a synthetic body and she has difficulty remembering her past. Does that sound familiar? It sounds just like RoboCop to me. Fans can accuse other things of stealing from Ghost in the Shell, but there's no debating the fact that RoboCop predates the first Ghost in the Shell manga by two years. So, watching Ghost in the Shell became an exercise in identifying which parts of the film reminded me of other things.

At least that gave me something to do, as this movie is incredibly boring. It literally took me five tries to get through the film, as it kept putting me to sleep. The lack of originality aside, the movie is very slow-paced. Director Rupert Sanders, who has proven in the past to be a poor decision-maker, apparently thinks that he's doing the right thing by mixing action scenes with dialogue-driven dramatic moments. But, neither of these ingredients work. The action sequences look OK, but they don't offer anything new or exciting. (And they do little to motivate to plot.) The dialogue scenes are mind-numbing, as they go in circles, droning on about the hacker or Major's memories. I suppose that there are supposed to be some surprises in the third act, but nothing here is shocking.

When Ghost in the Shell was being made, there was a "white-washing" controversy because Johansson was cast as a character who was Asian in the original anime. Having seen the film, I can tell you that this isn't an issue until the ending. The bigger problem is that Johansson may not have been the proper choice due to her acting style. I get that Major is a robot and therefore shouldn't have strong emotions, but Johansson is so stoic here that she seems to be sleepwalking through the movie. Of course, she doesn't get much help from the script, which presents Major as a badass cop, but she gets taken down and captured every few minutes. In a world where we need more intelligent science-fiction, I really wanted Ghost in the Shell to be a smart movie...and it certainly thinks that it is. In reality, this is dull, re-tread sci-fi which has nothing new to say or show.

Ghost in the Shell can't decide if it wants to be nude or not on 4K UHD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an 2160p HEVC transfer which runs at an average of 60 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is excellent, as we can make out textures on objects. The depth works very well, most notably in the exterior shots. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects abound during the action set-pieces, delivering some nicely detailed sounds at times. The subwoofer effects are strong, punctuating each explosion and gunshot.

The extras for Ghost in the Shell are found on the included Blu-ray Disc. "Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell" (30 minutes) is a fairly standard featurette which contains interviews with the cast and filmmakers, on-set footage, and concept art. It also includes clips from the anime which shows that the film is a shot-for-shot remake of the anime at times. "Section 9: Cyber Defenders" (11 minutes) take a closer look at Major's team, including their talents and their job, as well as the diversity of the team. "Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy" (11 minutes) looks at the themes of the film, especially those which concern the integration of human and technology.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long