In the past 20 years, many scholars of pop culture have noticed that Japanese animation has become increasingly popular to Western audiences. Examples include works such as “Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Only Yesterday,” etc. In response, Hollywood has tried to adapt a few animated films into live-action movies, with increasingly mixed results, and the newest one to hit cinemas is “Ghost in the Shell.”
Some critics consider the film one of the most famous animated films of all time, and the film has been very influential in the genres of science fiction and cyberpunk. Having digested my viewing of the live-action adaptation of the famous Japanese animated film, I can honestly say I had mixed feelings walking in and a mixed reaction walking out.
The live-action adaptation is not awful, mind you. In point of fact, many of the good parts of this film lie in the metaphorical background and foreground. You can tell that many people on the production team and the cast cared deeply about the project, and it certainly shows. The musical score by Clint Mansell is borderline fantastic, particularly in the opening credits of the film.
As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that it perhaps surpasses the score for the original animated film. The animators and set designers also managed to faithfully recreate the setting of the original film right down to a fine point. The polished skyscrapers and high-rise buildings with holographic billboards form a unique and pleasing contrast with the dirty and trash-ridden streets of the sprawling cyberpunk landscape of the setting. Believe me when I say that this film is gorgeous to look at and listen to.
The most vital part of any film adaptation, though, is bringing the characters of the source material to life on the silver screen, and the acting has mixed reviews. The performances by Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbak, Takeshi Kitano and Michael Pitt are decent, but there is something holding the actors back from doing more with their characters: the writing. There just isn’t enough meat in the script for each of these thespians to work with; there are no quotable lines and no deep conversations between characters that could’ve allowed the cast to give a more memorable performance.
Before I continue with the writing, I want to make a point of contention. The film has some serious problems holding it back besides screenwriting: the directing.
Yes, director Rupert Sanders does a decent job of recreating some famous scenes from the original animated film, but aside from a few particular sequences, Sanders doesn’t do anything noteworthy. In other words, he does a mediocre job at best.
The real crime lies with the screenwriting, though. Rather than try to do anything meaningful like explore the dark noir setting of the source material, delve into the idea of how technology has changed our world or even talk about what it means to be human, the writers don’t do anything nearly as interesting. They instead opted for a much more streamlined and dumbed down superhero-type origin story, where anything philosophical or remotely interesting is junked and thus treats movie-going audiences as too stupid to figure out any complex storytelling.
This is not to mention the quite laughably bad dialogue which includes such tired quotes like, “Everything you know is a lie” or “They didn’t save your life, they stole it.” Speaking of which, they include a plot twist so cliché it feels insulting, but I won’t do what the trailers did and spoil it.
To summarize, “Ghost in the Shell” is just an “okay” film. It’s a shame because you can see some people in the cast and crew cared about this film, and the setting was a literal gold mine for potential philosophical musings. Unfortunately, not enough people cared for it. I would normally give a film like this six stars out of 10, but since I’m feeling generous, I give the film a seven out of 10.