Friday, 31 March 2017

Review: Ghost In The Shell

Ghost In The Shell (2017) (3D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 107 mins / Dir. Rupert Sanders / Trailer

I'm not going to lie, when the BBFC card appeared and the screen-sides didn't expand out to 2.35:1, I was surprised. To say the least. Imagine visualising a film this aesthetically gorgeous, having the means and technology to realise it, then at some point saying out loud "Oh, I think 16:9 will do for the aspect ratio. Don't want to go mad, do we?". But hey ratio's not everything, it's what you do with the screen-space you've got, right? And damn, this film looks good, even down to the usually-problematic 3D rendering.

In an alternate near-future and after a near-fatal accident, the operative known as Major is rescued by the enigmatic Section 9, transplanting her still-functioning brain into a resilient synthetic body. But a series of escalating incidents uncovers fragments of a larger conspiracy, and Major begins having flashbacks to a past she can't remember…

It's Robocop. There, I said it. Ghost In The Shell is never a bad film, I feel I should also point that out at this early juncture. Not least because my notes contain nothing but tuts and grumbles. If it's not my perceived cross-referencing with other genre movies, it's the niggle-points which make little or no sense*1.

Scarlett Johansson's on good form (although she's rarely anything other), but you can't help feel that her acting here is just a combination of Black Widow and the alien from Under The Skin. Fascinating, just nothing new. Elsewhere, Juliet Binoche stars as Captain Exposition, Pilou Asbæk plays his role as Batou like it was written for Keifer Sutherland, and Michael Pitt's Kuze delivers dialogue like he's channelling Stephen Hawking and Max Headroom at the same time. It's all an odd mix, but it works for the movie.

My main problem, as I intimated above, is that nothing really feels new here. Even though it's based on a 1995 animation from a 1989 comic, the story itself doesn't feel like it ever invented any of what's happening*2. Now there are reasons that that shouldn't matter, and indeed reasons that it doesn't. But those reasons weren't sitting with me in screen 5 tonight, unfortunately. When [redacted] is working in her office browsing incriminating files, you just know from the very first frame of that scene that this is where she dies. And the moment Major picks up that cat? The entire audience instantly knows where that's headed, even before the characters sit down for a cuppa. But damn, this film looks good.

Without wanting to damn with faint praise, this is perfectly acceptable popcorn-fodder. Wanted to love it, but came away liking-with-reservations.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the absolutely stunning cinematography, effects and production design here feel slightly wasted on a standard procedural conspiracy thriller.

Ghost In The Shell looks superficially amazing, but feels mechanical and spiritually empty. That's either entirely fitting or deeply ironic…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well, Robocop, The Matrix, Blade Runner, and the Alice-thread of Resident Evil.
Although if you enjoyed all of those, you don't really need to see Ghost In The Shell

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the visuals, absolutely.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I imagine so.
It's the scale of the ambition itself I'm unsure about

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Good, sure. Best, no.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The visual effects supervisor is none other than Star Wars legend, John Dykstra.
And sure, I normally keep this section reserved for people in front of the camera, but his name's in the opening titles. Plus, he's a bloody legend.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 SPOILERS, highlight-to-read: Okay, when Cutter leans forward on Aramaki's desk, his hands are in a different position between the intercut front and rear shots. And when Batou gets the news about Dahlin in his car, he goes into a skidding 270° from standing when he could have saved time by just turning left and accelerating as normal. And the animation where Major is jumping away from the spider-tank looks atrocious. And if Motoko's brain is in Major's synthetic body, why does she have a flawless American accent? Sure, she'd have "Johansson's" vocal cords, but an accent comes from the social-conditioning in the brain. I mean, it's not inconceivable that Motoko spoke another language un-accented, but after meeting her mum, it's not very likely, is it? I probably shouldn't notice all these the first time I'm watching a film… [ BACK ]

*2 The worst part could be that I haven't seen the 1995 version and deliberately didn't watch it in advance, preferring to see the live-action version with no (or at least minimal) preconceptions. It still held no surprises, like listening to a cover version of a song that you've never heard but realise you know anyway. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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