Ghost in the Shell (1995) is an artful rumination on the nature of humanity. Questioning what makes us human isn’t exactly uncharted thematic territory, however the film was a groundbreaking moment in modern movie history. Its influence on American culture is most readily seen in the Wachowski sisters’ 1999 film, 'The Matrix'. As producer Joel Silver explains in the video below, the Wachowskis essentially presented Ghost in the Shell as a template for what they hoped to achieve with, 'The Matrix'. For all intents and purposes, we’ve already seen an American live-action version of Ghost in the Shell and it’s called, 'The Matrix'.
Meanwhile, for those who are already familiar with the material, whilst the film does offer up a few surprises, it also falls into the trap of attempting to recreate the original’s most iconic images and set pieces. There is an attempt to tell a slightly different story, but ultimately it clings far too closely to the original film. Whilst I may have handicapped the film further by seeing the original the day before, most of it can’t help but feel like a pale imitation.
Speaking of pale imitations, the most controversial aspect of the 2017 remake is the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role of Major. When it was announced there were accusations of whitewashing and calls to boycott the film. There is an attempt to address this through a plot twist that, whilst seemingly designed to appease, may only exacerbate the issue. However, judging the performance rather than the performer, Johansson simply plays the role far too robotically for Major to be a compelling protagonist. Atsuko Tanaka’s voice work in the original exuded humanity and Major felt like a character, whereas here she feels like a hollow shell. Johansson has given better performances in service of similar themes in films such as, 'Lucy' and, 'Her'. Unfortunately her performance here is representative of the film itself, dull and lifeless.
Whilst the overhead shots of cityscapes are impressive (This is one of the only times I wish I’d seen a film in 3D) there is nothing as evocative as the 3 minute and 20 second sequence in the original where we get to truly explore the world of the film. The surrounding environment feels like window dressing rather than an integral part of the narrative. Below, is a fascinating analysis from the NerdWriter, which shows how meaningful the exterior shots in the original were. I doubt you’d be able to make as compelling a case for the remake.
This American remake feels like a hollow shell, which is haunted by the ghost of its far superior, and far more human, predecessor. It settles for stylistic action over philosophical substance and for a film that is meant to be about humanity, it fails to pack any emotional punch.
By the time the film reaches its conclusion, it offers a simple answer to the questions it raises and avoids taking the next step that the original does, which culminated in a much more powerful and thought-provoking ending. It is emblematic of everything that came before and of the differences between the two films. Where the 1995 anime represented a step forwards, this feels like a holding pattern and a film that is out of date, which is unforgivable considering how the material it’s dealing with becomes more relevant by the day.
If you haven’t seen the 1995 version of Ghost in the Shell then I highly recommend it, particularly if you're a fan of science-fiction filmmaking. It is thematically prescient, being more relevant today than it was then, whilst also containing some hauntingly beautiful imagery and a hypnotic tone. It is also deceptively emotional and offers more to think about in 80 minutes of screen time than most 3-hour films can muster. If you want to see a live-action American version, then just watch, 'The Matrix'. A film that wears its inspirations on its sleeve, yet still manages to have its own identity.
Movie Parliament Rating: MAJORITY GOVERNMENT
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,