It Came From The 3rd Dimension: GHOST IN THE SHELL 3D Blu-ray Review

This week I‘m starting a new focus on notable 3D Blu-rays because even though the 3D fad has begun to fade a bit, it doesn’t mean there is any shortage of great releases to cover. I will be trying to spotlight those discs that are worth a pick up, whether they be IMAX 3D ports or just make great use of the technology, because filmmakers are still utilizing 3D to tell their stories in new and exciting ways.

This week sees the Blu-ray release of the controversial live-action adaption of Masamune Shirow’s seminal cyberpunk manga, Ghost in the Shell. Running from April 1989 to November 1990 in Japan, the original manga series was a lush philosophical meditation on the side effects to identity in a future where everyone is connected via a vast electronic network that permeates every aspect of life. The property that seems to become more and more relevant with every passing day has finally been channeled into a live action form, directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and starring Scarlett Johansson.

The film takes place in a place in a not too distant future where the world has begun to embrace the idea of cybernetic enhancement. Hanaka Robotics has unveiled the next step in our evolution through Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), the sole survivor of a terrorist attack whose brain was placed in a state of the art cyborg body to save her life. The first of her kind, The Major is assigned to the anti-terrorist bureau Section 9 where she is tasked with investigating a series of murders that are claiming senior members of the robotic company that created her. The trail of bodies seems to lead to a hacker known only as Kuze, and his ties with a mysterious Project 2571 that Major has to unravel before Kuze finishes his list.

The film pulls from the many different iterations of the property, crafting a coherent and satisfying narrative that feels equal parts pulled from the anime series and feature as Major races to stop Kuze before he kills again. The script here leans more on the action/techno-thriller side so as to not get too weighed down by the film’s philosophical underpinnings. While some may cry foul, I just have to point to Ghost in the Shell: Innocence; the sequel to the original film collapsed under its dense ideology since the film was so focused on ideas its forgot to tell a truly compelling story. Along the way the film culls some of the most iconic visual moments from the property to fuel this origin story that hopes to be a springboard for future films.

While some unfamiliar with the property have an issue with the casting of Scarlett Johansson due to Hollywood’s current epidemic whitewashing of Asian characters, I feel the film’s script is surprisingly aware of this and even addresses it. Also, I feel this take on the character actually makes sense since the Major could be anyone because the body is essentially nothing but a shell. We could also dig deeper in the property’s other questions on what constitutes an identity, a soul, and what makes us human that the series also plays with. But suffice to say Scarlett Johansson has already proved she has the action chops and does the Major justice. She is joined by a great ensemble as her fellow team members of Section 9 really fill out the world, including Pilou Asbæk as Batou, Chin Han as Togusa, and finally the iconic “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as Chief Daisuke Aramaic, who is a joy on screen.

The reason I picked this film for the first installment of this column specifically is that the film’s use of 3D goes far beyond simply a gimmicky post-convert. Say what you will about the film’s politics or the casting decisions; Ghost in the Shell is visually stunning and almost perfectly replicates the world of Masamune Shirow. The film also makes heavy use of 3D throughout the feature, and not for just extending the stage or simply making things poke from the screen. Key scenes feel like they were conceptualized with the technology in mind, such as the opening gun battle that has the Major taking on the cybernetic Yakuza, or when the Major deep dives into the cyberbrain of a corrupted geisha. The 3D is really used to bring the audience into the scene and give them something you’re simply not going to get from a standard 2D presentation.

3D is also used in the film to highlight particular special effects and add flourishes to the world director Rupert Sanders has created on screen. The holographic advertisements you see in the city and the computer user interfaces are all 3D and make some fun use of the space. You also have some of the story elements like Major’s glitches where she has visions of her former life and her thermoptic camouflage utilizing the 3D format to add another layer to this already visually rich world. This, combined with the reference quality transfer with a bright contrast and super crisp blacks and accompanied by a Dolby Atmos track, makes this one of the best home presentations I have seen so far this year.

The film comes from Paramount coupled with about 50 minutes of special features, the most interesting being the 30-minute Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell. The featurette is comprised mostly of EPK material just barely scratches the surface of the production and the film’s source. No director’s commentary. No look at that Anime or manga that influenced the film or their legacy as it stands today. I guess given all the coverage and interviews we saw online promoting this film I was expecting more. But barely any of that made it into this package, which was slightly disappointing.

When we talk about adaptations, what we assume is the director is going to take what we know as a base and then build heavily upon that, usually making the source almost unrecognizable. For Ghost in the Shell Rupert Sanders used much of the same look and design that fans know and love from the film and TV series, just punching them up a bit to translate to live action. It’s a very faithful take that could be one of the most faithful anime adaptions to be produced in the US to date. While the film felt a little rough in the first act, once the story gets a foothold the film falls into very familiar territory for fans of the series as Section 9 is forced to go rogue. Presented here in a reference quality home presentation, Ghost in the Shell is a worthy take on the iconic property and is the perfect vehicle for Johansson, who brings her action A-game for a futuristic thrill ride that won’t disappoint.

Get it at Amazon:
[Blu-ray 3D] | [4K] | [Blu-ray]

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