Ghost in the Shell: the Resurrection and Suffocation of a good Movie

When the Ghost in the Shell anime came out  I was in love with it. Back then, I was in love with everything cyberpunk: the attitude, the esprit of it, and the concept of cyberware in general. Guess it is safe to say that I am sucker for a good prop. I also loved anime, adored Akira and was deeply impressed by the pictures that Ghost in the Shell delivered. The meanings of some of them I only became able to realize later in my life.

As I saw the trailer for the remake (I will not call it a re-visioning) it already gave me the feel that something was very wrong there. To some of my friends, I am the incarnation of nerd-rage when it comes to movies, and thereby my opinions are and were discarded as quickly as those of a person who is known to rage for rage´s sake is to be discarded by somebody with poise and rationality (thank you, Fall Out Boy).


As I saw the movie, I found my apprehensions to be justified, every single ounce. They took this beauty and drowned it, pushed it under the surface of mass-market-compatibility till everything of it that breathed stopped to do so. The still beautiful corpse I had seen on display, on a very wide movie theater screen: it moved with all the grace of the original and with all the skill that professional editors and filmmakers are known to deliver. And this husk is beautiful in its own right. But if you know what it used to be, and when you are able to compare this to what it has is been turned to, if you felt anything for what it used to be, you have to have a strange taste in your mouth: that of embalming fluid and salt, for you danced with, embraced and kissed a mummy.

In the process of mummification all inner organs are removed, and replaced with materials that are meant to preserve the now hollow corpse. Those who were in control of this movie took out all of the inner workings that used to make it an experience, and replaced it with some sterile and shallow filling that was meant to preserve the financial investment into it, to generate profit. Funny that this was done to a movie about corporate crimes…

In the anime, the opening scene sees our main protagonist carry out an assassination on a “cyber criminal” that tried to gain diplomatic protection, but was about to be arrested by a different law enforcement branch of the same country our assassin belongs to. In short, our “hero” was introduced to us in her function as a cold-blooded, authorized cybernetic killer that did what she did “for the cause”. Later on, we would follow her through the movie, watch many scenes and idioms for mankind being unable to adapt to the possibilities it created, and thereby ended up lost or consumed by what the world has become, out-run and overrun by the dynamic development it kick-started itself. While the protagonist follows a case, it begins to question itself, its own position in the world and the way of the world. In the end, the protagonist is confronted with an offer and a choice: stay what you are, who you are and were you are in this world, our be sure to lose parts of what defines you to merge with and become something new that is part you and part something different, but something completely new and ready to merge with and live in what the world has become. The movie ends with the choice of the protagonist to evolve and to change.

In the late movie, the opening scene sees our main protagonist rescue a cyber criminal who is about to become the victim of a assassination while said criminal prepares an illegal technology deal with some official mediator of a nondescript third-world-country. She is the typical hero with troubles in a troubled world. Later on, we follow her through a movie that is a beautiful arrangement of picture, scenes, sound and action that features lots and lots of cool props while she follows the case, and have a plot line about “disturbances” in her persona evolve into an important part of the main plot. In the end, she finds out that she has been in the center of a great evil-corporate-scheme to begin with, a victim of a cybercrime herself, and decides to reclaim her old memories, to get back to what she was before.

These are two different movies. One of them was new and delivered a new plot with a new solution to it, the other is “more of the same, with a different dressing and flavor”.

The late “Ghost in the Shell” is a good cyberpunk action movie, it has wonderful pictures, good actors, wonderful sets and does a lot of things right. But it is more icing than cake. A 6/10 movie, and perhaps a 7/10 for those who are nostalgic enough to swallow it or are simply a sucker for cyberpunk (as I am). But to become what it is, it suffocated something that was art. It hollowed it out and decided to wear it as a beautiful mask. I cannot call that an accomplishment.


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