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Ghost in the Shell (2017) — Review/Editorial

After a troubled production history and amid a storm of controversy and cries of ‘whitewashing’ 2017 has finally delivered a live action adaptation of the iconic 1995 anime.

In taking on the beloved sci-fi property the filmmakers had too choices. Either use the framework and themes of the original material to create a bold new vision of Ghost in the Shell in a post-Matrix, post-Westworld marketplace, or do a straight beat-for-beat remake. Unfortunately director Rupert Sanders and his team have attempted to do both and what we are left with is a watered down mess.

Where the 1995 version was very much a movie about high-brow ideas this new version is far more driven by plot and character. The plot however bears little resemblance to the original and is decidedly unoriginal.

As the cyborg cop Major (Scarlett Johansson) delves into her mysterious past it becomes increasingly apparent that we’ve seen this all before (Blade Runner, Ex-Machina and even RoboCop have touched on very similar plot points).

While the story is unoriginal it’s not without its merits. In some instances the new film successfully expands on the decidedly one dimensional characters of the original anime (Pilou Asbæk’s Batou is a particular highlight). The very nature of live action brings renewed humanity to the characters and there are a number of genuinely well acted scenes, no one is disputing that Scarlett Johansson is a good actress.

Every time the new elements of the story start to become remotely engaging though the film digresses into slavishly recreated versions of memorable scenes from the original animation (Major’s swimming scene, the garbage truck chase) regardless of whether they fit into a coherent structure or not.

Both versions of Ghost in the Shell have their strengths and weakness. While the original is a deep and visually engaging reflection on the advance of technology and the concept of the singularity, it often suffers from a meandering pace and a lack of character development. Equally while the 2017 version gives more backstory to the characters, it has none of the groundbreaking originality of the anime that has allowed it to stand the test of time.

In my view the world of Ghost in the Shell would be best served by TV adaptation from the likes of HBO or Netflix. This would allow the time and budget to expand on the deeper concepts left on the cutting room floor this time around and build strong characters and plot lines. A sci-fi police procedural featuring android cops wouldn’t even be unprecedented, as the underrated and now cancelled Almost Human already touched on the potential of a television show to explore the crimes of the future.

While the 2017 Ghost in the Shell will likely go down as a failure I definitely don’t think we’ve seen the last of the property, especially as the technological concepts of the source material become closer and closer to reality.

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