Ghost in the Shell (2017) movie poster

GitS Live Action: A Pretty Shell Lacking Heart and Smarts

Hollywood has a reputation for taking a well-loved franchise, digesting it, and vomiting out a movie that their confused producers think will look close enough to the original to appease audiences.

They did it again with the latest Ghost in the Shell movie.

In this particular take on one of the most influential fiction franchises* to come out of any country, Hollywood made a movie whose storyline I’ll summarize as:

Zombie kids rebel against a disorganized police force and an evil businessman.

This summary, however, might make the movie sound better than it was. This movie wasn’t only a huge disappointment, it made me feel ill similarly to how I felt in November. I felt the theater wondering how the producers were fine with taking an intelligent, well-loved collection of stories and making into a work that (as far as I can tell) could only appeal to fans of mindless action.

Here were a few of the big issues with the live action version of Ghost in the Shell (GitS):

  • The violence necessary in previous versions of GitS* went unjustified and even glorified by the emotionless action scenes. Even as characters talked about the importance of retaining their humanity, they demonstrated no concern for other humans outside of they could be used to serve individual goals.
  • While it looks like a mashup of cyberpunk tropes, it become a copy of copies that can replace none of the originals. Nothing in the setting surprised me.
  • Technology and culture presented as far-future at times appeared outdated. The text introduction read like something out of the 1980s.
  • The story failed to take advantage of the medium.
    • We’re supposed to care about memories that are never shown. A few flashes of Major’s family could have established an emotional connection.
    • The lack of people in public places is never explained, is counter to the crowded city in the animated versions, and contributed to the sense that humanity is absent in the movie. A seconds-long explanation could have taken the form of clips of average-looking people hooked up to their homes.
    • The settings too often looked fake–especially the vehicles, which looked like moving stage props. Again, the absence of people in the background contributed to this. So did the inexplicably clean home interiors.
  • Characters, who are supposed to be a part of an elite policing team, repeatedly made rash decisions that unnecessarily endanger their lives. Section 9 often feels disjointed, unprofessional, and dangerous to the general public, especially in light of Major’s tendency to disobey orders without any negative consequences.

The praise I can give this movie:

  • most of the actors did a good job,
  • the writers pulled together elements from previous versions with their own twist in the second half, and
  • the directing allowed me to focus on the prettier shots.

In particular, Michael Pitt as a broken cyborg was lovely enough that I cringed when his character complained of being ugly, and all of the closeups of Scar-Jo provided welcome distractions from the story.

*For a relatively brief overview of the GitS franchise:


Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

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13 thoughts on “GitS Live Action: A Pretty Shell Lacking Heart and Smarts

  1. Fair points. This is probably the closest we’ll ever get to a Deus Ex movie so I can’t complain too much. =D

    Technology and culture presented as far-future at times looked outdated. The text introduction read like something out of the 1980s.

    Well that’s the double edged sword now isn’t it? I mean the original manga WAS released in ’89. So what do you do? Update the technology and then it’s accused as a shadow of itself (see: nuStar Trek) or do you leave the technology so its recognizable from the source – and looks dated. No easy answer, but I thought the movie did pretty well making old tech look a bit newer.

    The lack of people in public places is never explained, is counter to the crowded city in the animated versions, and contributed to the sense that humanity is absent in the movie. A seconds-long explanation could have taken the form of clips of average-looking people hooked up to their homes.

    Hm… I never thought about it but you’re right. That was bothersome now that I think about it. I guess the budget ran out for extras of the human or cgi variety.

    Characters, who are supposed to be a part of an elite policing team, repeatedly made rash decisions that unnecessarily endanger their lives. Section 9 often feels disjointed, unprofessional, and dangerous to the general public, especially in light of Major’s tendency to disobey orders without any negative consequences.

    I thought several of major’s actions were indicative of a suicidal tendency. Also given that she is “too valuable to lose” it made sense to me that she would lash out in some ways to test boundaries like a child. Even more so since part of the movie’s motif is that she is a child – a newborn.

    I’m only partially familiar with the source (mostly from SFDebris’ review) and I get it, the original was a lot more complicated and less black and white. But as I like to frequently point out, the more people one wants to appeal to, the more one usually needs to simplify things (well it’s more complicated, but let’s put it that way), so I get why the creators really streamlined down the plot into a more traditional structure. I thought it worked well enough for their goal.

    What bugs me more is the repeated tendency of action movies to dress friends and foes into near identical clothing. Take one of my favorite videos:

    What does Jackie Chan do? Dress in contrast! Yet in movies like this, what do people do? Everyone dresses in black! The single best action scene in the movie is the one where the sides have the most contrast – because Major is invisible! The opening had her fighting in her mostly white stealth suit against figures dressed in black – and it was a gun battle not even hand-to-hand like in later parts. Ugh, so frustrating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Well that’s the double edged sword now isn’t it? I mean the original manga WAS released in ’89.”

      Nooo, I wasn’t clear. The technology seen in the original manga, in the first movie, the animated series–all of what’s come before–is still considered by futurists as the technology of our future, and I agree that GitS is still our best tool for understanding what’s coming.

      Unfortunately, what the movie creators did was ignore current tech culture and developments. I wish I could remember the wording in the movie’s introductory text, but I remember thinking that it dismissed the existence of current cyborgs and military experiments. That was my second disappointment while watching the movie. (The first was the boring opening credits.)

      In the new movie, Major (Kusanagi) is the only recognized full cyborg. Batou doesn’t even have his cybernetic eyes in the first half. There’s no talk of brain cases or how much time the average person spends online. It looked to me like what someone who had never heard of GitS might imagine for our future.

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    • You suggested that “several of major’s actions were indicative of a suicidal tendency. Also given that she is ‘too valuable to lose’ it made sense to me that she would lash out in some ways to test boundaries like a child. Even more so since part of the movie’s motif is that she is a child – a newborn.”

      It’s reassuring to know that her motivations made sense to viewers who are new to the franchise.

      For me, it was challenging to see Major as a child. I had to fight off my preconceptions of the character. Motoko Kusanagi is usually older than anyone else on her team, though she’ll occasionally use a child’s body. The rebellious adolescent in the new movie runs counter to the mature soldier/professional who pushes boundaries on her own terms.

      That conflict for fans, however, doesn’t justify the adult characters’ unintelligent actions. I felt as the other characters were made incompetent to make Major look better. That was frustrating, and it’s one of the reasons that the movie can be best viewed as generic Sci-Fi Action.

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      • Less new and more “casually acquainted with.” lol

        doesn’t justify the adult characters’ unintelligent actions. I felt as the other characters were made incompetent to make Major look better.

        Yeah I’ll have to see it again to really argue this. Nothing readily unintelligent leaps out to my memory and I can’t watch CSI (or other cop shows) without yelling at the screen. Additional viewings might get me to spot what you mean.

        The rebellious adolescent in the new movie runs counter to the mature soldier/professional who pushes boundaries on her own terms.

        I think that may be one of the themes the movie is examining. Since the Company(TM) suppresses her memories, I think it was examining the question of “how old is she then?” If our identity is taken from us, will we act like teenagers trying to find their identity?

        Of course this movie at least had a sliver of an excuse. Don’t even get me started on other movies/tv shows where everybody acts like teenagers anyway.

        Now I liked seeing how Bato got his eyes. In some ways my filthy casual brain could see this movie easily being a prequel/setup to the main series or whatever. Maybe that’s it, eh? This movie is to hardcore GitS fans as the Star Wars prequels were to Star Wars fans. ;)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Re: “This movie is to hardcore GitS fans as the Star Wars prequels were to Star Wars fans.”

        Yes. As someone who suffered minor emotional trauma from seeing SW: Episode I after years of anticipation, I think this is an apt analogy.

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    • Okay, I’m catching up. That Jackie Chan video is glorious. It brought up issues I hadn’t even noticed but were evident in the GitS live action, like most Hollywood action movies.

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  2. RE: Deus Ex

    Ok, so if you’re too busy to play video games. Here’s a short, live-action film based on the 3rd game that will give you a taste of it.

    If you honestly think you’ll never get to play it… someone took the 3rd game and made a movie out of its cutscenes and gameplay which pretty much spoils the thing.

    The first two games (which were released in the 90s but timeline wise happen after the 3rd game) are much deeper. Here’s their summation but you’re probably better off delving into the black hole of a wiki.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Nate, this week has been more choatic than I’d planned for. So far, I’ve watched the short film, and I’m not sure I understand what’s happening or what connection the characters have to each other. Watching it did help me understand a problem in one of my short stories. Thanks for that.

        I’ll try to finish watching the other two videos this weekend.

        Like

      • Nate, this week has been more choatic than I’d planned for.

        I know how that can be. :)

        So far, I’ve watched the short film, and I’m not sure I understand what’s happening or what connection the characters have to each other.

        Yeah, it’s definitely more of an “inside joke” with fans of the game but I thought just the look of it would give you a sense of how much it ends up having in common with GitS.

        Watching it did help me understand a problem in one of my short stories. Thanks for that.

        Huh. Got to admit I’m curious about what and how. lol But then good writers take lessons from everywhere and keep learning. :)

        Liked by 1 person

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