Some would probably say that the visuals were stunning. And I won’t disagree. The visuals of Ghost in the Shell were magnificent. But they were also overwhelming and overstimulating. I came out of the movie house with the beginnings of a bad headache so as soon as we got home, the first thing I did was to make coffee. Strong coffee.
It’s not because I’m not a fan of Japanese sci-fi. I’ve seen Edge of Tomorrow so many times I’ve already lost count and I didn’t know until my younger daughter, Alex, told me after I’ve seen it maybe five times that it was based on a Japanese sci-fi novel. It’s not because we’re no fans of Scarlett Johansson either. We are. My husband, Speedy, and I both think she’s a great actress and one of the sexiest women alive.
Ghost in the Shell had a good, albeit rather thin and not so original, story to tell. The threat of technology vis a vis the impending loss of humanity, the rise of artificial intelligence and the use of technology to manufacture the perfect soldier are movie plots that have been around for a long time. Blade Runner, Total Recall, The 6th Day, The Matrix, Ex Machina, Her, The Terminator… I’ve seen them all and loved them all. Given all that, I should have loved Ghost in the Shell. But I didn’t. I found it, well… hollow is the best description I can provide. The curious thing is that my daughters didn’t like it so much either. And they’re into anime and sci-fi more than I am.
I tried to contextualize my negative reaction to Ghost in the Shell. It’s not the computerized visuals, that’s for sure. Gee, the computer work done on the film was so amazing that I felt, after seeing Beauty and the Beast just a day earlier, that such high standard is something that Disney, at this point, can only aspire to emulate. But, in the end, what made Ghost in the Shell so spectacular proved to be its undoing.
In almost every scene, there were too many elements on the screen that the brain was often confused as to what to tell the eye to focus on. Not good. Because instead of the visuals complementing the storytelling, they were distracting the viewer from focusing on the story. Granted that there was very little story anyway, still, understanding that little story was essential to, in turn, understand what all the explosions, shooting, kicking and thrashing were all about.
Ninety-five per cent of the scenes were dark. Alex has this theory that, perhaps, they’re not really all that dark but the lens of the projector at the blasted movie house is either so filthy or so old that all the scenes appear darker than they should. And Alex might be on to something there because when we saw Beauty and the Beast (yes, in the same mall), when the Beast was fighting Gaston toward the end of the film, it was hard for the eyes to follow the movements of the Beast because… well, because everything was so dark. It didn’t help either that the movie house installed blue floor lights on both sides of every step of the stairs. My older girl, Sam, who was seated nearest the stairs, was so annoyed by the lights that she kept shifting on her seat. I should mention too that the aircon was turned off a full half hour before the film ended.
But the condition of the projector in the movie house (and any argument that neo-noir movies are essentially dark) notwithstanding, almost every scene in Ghost in the Shell strained the eyes with so much darkness and with very little respite. I dozed off three times. After the third time, I reached for Alex’s bag of popcorn to give both my hand and my mouth something to do to prevent me from dozing off again.
The film, sad to say, was both visually exhausting and mentally unchallenging. It’s just a never-ending stream of mind-blowing computer-generated cityscapes and ass-kicking. Not even the larger-than-life presence of Scarlett Johansson could cure the defects. She delivered, as usual. I’ve never known her to deliver a bad performance anyway. She was deadpan, as the role called for, but still with that sensuality which she seems to exude as naturally as she breathes. Never mind all that controversy about casting a white female for the role of a Japanese woman. Ghost in the Shell is a westernized version of the Japanese manga/anime obviously but whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on which part of the world you’re from.
Driving home, Alex asked if I had read any news about a Ghost in the Shell sequel in consonance with the manga series. No, I told her, I haven’t read anything about the sequel. If there’s going to be one, I’ll pass. Rewatching Lucy would be a much better deal.