We all know that box office receipts are not a good way to determine if a movie is good or bad. The problem is that if a movie does badly at the box office, the studio making the film’s Blu-rays and DVDs will skimp on the extras. Which, sadly, is the case with Ghost In The Shell (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, 3D Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, 4K Ultra HD, DVD), the cyberpunk action flick that has its fans — myself included — but not enough box office clout to warrant the extras-packed discs its fans want.
Inspired by Masamune Shirow’s 1989 manga, the 1995 anime of the same name, and both seasons of the animated spin-off show, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Ghost In The Shell: S.A.C.: 2nd GIG, this live action adaptation introduces us to Major Mira Killian (The Avengers‘ Scarlett Johansson), a woman in the not-so-distant future who’s had her entire body, save for her brain, replaced by human-looking mechanical parts. But while she now works for a counter-terrorist squad called Section 9, and is very good at her job, she’s still plagued by the fact that she can’t remember her life before the terrorist attack that destroyed her original body.
Like the original manga and its anime adaptations, this version of Ghost In The Shell is an action-packed cyberpunk story in the vein of Blade Runner, the Deus Ex video games, and such novels as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It’s also a visually-stimulating one. Not only did director Rupert Sanders (Snow White And The Huntsman) ape the aesthetic of the animated movies and shows, but he even sometimes lifts whole scenes from them, though always with a different set of plot points driving them. Though he does put a slightly different spin on things by having much of the movie take place on clear days, as opposed to at night or during a downpour.
Where this version of Ghost In The Shell differentiates itself from previous version is that while the Major in the previous books and cartoons has been a skilled soldier for years, and has long been comfortable with her cybernetic enhancements, Killian’s only had hers for a year, and is not entirely comfortable with her new body. It’s much more of an origin story, her version of Batman Begins, if you will, though it’s clearly not set up to be an origin story for manga or animes.
Driving Ghost In The Shell is the always likeable and capable Johannsson, who has shown she capable of handling action, and the implications of it, in such movies as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Lucy. Though it helps that she’s joined by the sympathetic Juliette Binoche (Godzilla) as her helpful doctor, the iconic Beat Takeshi (Battle Royale) as her rather Yoda-like boss, Chief Aramaki, and Michael Pitt (Criminal) as her wonderfully creepy foil, Kuze.
But while Ghost In The Shell is exciting and compelling, it is slightly undermined by some irritating flaws. For starters, this doesn’t have the philosophical undercurrent that help drive the animes, especially Stand Alone Complex, though that’s somewhat understandable given that this is a two-hour movie and not a fifty-two-episode TV show. Similarly, most of Killian’s coworkers in Section 9 are also given so little screen time that they might as well have been M.I.A.
There’s also rather glaring leap in logic that comes when Killian goes to see someone from her past, and this person invites her into their home for no reason. It almost feels as if some critical dialog was accidentally edited out.
As for how this take on Ghost In The Shell compares to previous incarnations, well, it’s my least favorite of the bunch, but I still enjoyed it and found it intriguing. Mostly because, as an origin story, it’s a side of The Major we haven’t seen before. Though, as I said before, it also helps that Johannsson is always fun to watch, especially when she’s kicking ass.
Sadly, for those of us who enjoyed the movie, the Ghost In The Shell Blu-rays and DVD are a bit lacking. Doubly so for the latter format, which only has the film.
First up on the Ghost In The Shell Blu-rays is the self-explanatory “Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost In The Shell.” Lasting thirty minutes, this has the movie’s cast and crew talking, obviously, about making the movie, as well as the manga and animes that inspired it. It’s fairly typically for this kind of thing, especially if you’re familiar with the source material, but it’s still informative, especially when they show the scenes that mirror ones from the first anime.
Next, the Ghost In The Shell Blu-rays presents “Section 9: Cyber Defenders,” which spends eleven-plus minutes discussing the characters in Section 9 and the actors who play them. The irony being that we learn more about them in this than we do in the film.
The Ghost In The Shell Blu-rays also has a ten-minute featurette called “Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy,” in which the cast and filmmakers discusses the philosophical implication of the movie’s technologically advanced world. Again, it’s interesting, but it’s also rather ironic given that the movie isn’t nearly as philosophical as the animes.
It’s also not hard to think that “Section 9: Cyber Defenders” and “Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy” would’ve better off incorporated into “Hard-Wired Humanity.”
As informative as those featurettes may be, the Ghost In The Shell Blu-rays and DVD are missing some key extras.
For starters, the Ghost In The Shell Blu-rays and DVD would’ve benefitted from a commentary track, especially if Sanders and Johansson did it together. Though it would’ve been even cooler if this also had commentary by Shirow with Mamiru Oshii, who directed the first anime, and Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex director Kenji Kamiyama.
There are also no deleted scenes on the Ghost In The Shell Blu-rays or DVD, nor a director’s cut of the film, despite the fact, as I mentioned, that it seems like the movie is missing a scene. This also doesn’t have the movie’s original trailers, nor the ones for any of the animes or the upcoming video game Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex: First Assault Online.
Finally, there’s no mention of the casting controversy that many blame for killing this film’s chances with fans, and thus at the box office. Which isn’t not surprising, but as someone who feels Blu-rays and DVD should present the complete portrait of the film — hence why I always complain when the trailers are left out — I would’ve preferred if it had been addressed somewhere.
In the end, Ghost In The Shell is not as good as the previous adaptations of this story, but it’s also not as bad as some people have made it out to be. Not that it matters, the damage is done. Which is why this movie’s Blu-rays and DVD are not as good as they could’ve been.