Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ghost in the Shell

2017, Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) -- cinema

Yes, I went to see it. By myself, at 10:30am on a Saturday morning. Of course, I wasn't seeing it in the first few weeks, nor in 3D, but not long after it had been bombed down into only a few theatres. And the only one accessible to me was downtown, with showings while I was at work. So, this weekend, I made the effort, got up for the only Saturday showing and sat as the Only Other Person In the Theatre to see it.

And I enjoyed it.

But let me get this out; I am a rather big fan of the franchise. I saw the original anime movie ages ago, Ottawa ages ago, cinematically and adored it. English printed Manga was not big back then so, other than a few American comics out since, it was all I knew of it. And not until here in Toronto, many years later, the two TV series came out, Stand Alone Complex and  SAC 2nd Gig, and I bought them faithfully as soon as the DVDs hit the shelves. Eventually I did read the Manga, but to be honest, Motoko's even more overt sexualization turned me off, and of course, the books are incredibly dense reading -- there are almost more addendum and footnotes than there are main story. But still a fan. Action figures everywhere, and a little plastic tachikoma travels with me from desk to desk wherever I work.

So, when a movie was coming out, live action starring Scarlet Johansson, I was simultaneously excited and bothered. The early visuals seemed to capture a lot of the intent which made the original movie so popular. But why white wash her? Theoretically I know why, as its obvious for there to be American appeal, an American actress has to play her. Or so the industry keeps on  telling us. But no, they didn't really have to cast her that way. Anywayz, I moved on, cuz to be honest, I like ScarJo --- remember, I am the one who really enjoyed Lucy.

But the lingering bit that really bugged me was the idea that her name was now Major. Not Major Motoko Kusanagi, and not even as a rank. But her first name seemed to be Major. "This is Major, " the character says while standing on a rooftop, in the trailer. And as more data came out, her name had been further revealed to be Major Mira Killian. But still, not always used as rank, but as name. And then Marmy played me a bit where Sanders mispronounces a supporting character's name. Bleah. Losing further hope.

But still, I knew I would see it, and pretty much expected to like it. And I was right, but... there were as many raising of expectations as there were minor disappointments.

Let's get the spoiler stuff out of the way!

The whole white washing turns out to be a misfired intentional plot and marketing campaign element. Her character is actually white washed in the movie itself. If you don't know already, the idea is that Major (or Mira) is a full body mod, the "first of her kind". They have taken the brain from a dying girl and transplanted it inside an incredibly advanced robot body. The process wipes her memories. But in fact, they actually kidnapped a girl, the young Moto Kusanagi (Japanese refugee) and stole her life from her. The Evil Corporation actually does white wash the person into the cold, white, beauty that is ScarJo. So, not exactly the best way to handle the situation, but at least it is clumsily handled.

Also, despite the Director, everyone else knows how to pronounced Batou, which rhymes with gateau. And his character is rather well portrayed, right down to his dog. The actor gets his character

But how is the movie?

Meh.

Again, it looks good. But Rupert seems intent on recreating some of the most memorable scenes in the anime (like the hand to hand fight in the inches deep water) but only tenuously connecting the scenes together into a viable story. Gone was the density of plot from the anime, replaced by a simple, accessible story of it being bad to kidnap people and force them to become your new ultra-cyborg military source. Like I said in my post about Passengers, there could have been more dialogue about the ramifications and the questionable terms about how much can be replaced, and leave you still "human" but those are reduced to a handful of snippets of conversation and mournful looks from ScarJo. In the end, the whole story is rather pedestrian.

As a nod out the door, I am known to blame the producers for reducing movies to lower than their original intent. While much of the blame lies heavily in Sanders hands, I think I am noticing a new trend -- Chinese producers. This movie is another in the growing line of Hollywood movies funded by Chinese production companies. This time, inserting Asian actors was not the requirement, but the evening out of dialogue sure was. There are many scenes that reminded me of the dramatic structure of a Hong Kong action flick, with characters speaking in short sentences, strong enunciated, interspersed by dramatic pauses. Places that could have had dense dialogue were reduced to one liners and stares. Cultural transpositioning? Perhaps. Or just bad direction.