what movie are you watching now?


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Half Dome Village
Apr 2, 2017 - 09:01pm PT
I saw Ghost in the Shell today. It's been getting poor reviews so I didn't expect much, but it's not bad...it's not good either...it's just sort of average. The trailer and previews made it look like it was going to be a shot-for-shot remake of the anime, but it's actually a totally different story and film. But first let me provide a bit of context for anyone unfamiliar with the source material. This is all spoiler free.

The original manga was created by Shirow Masamune in 1989 and is a pretty remarkable piece of "hard" science fiction about a futuristic police force. The central focus of the book isn't in telling a story or developing characters; it's in bringing to life the futuristic setting of 2029's Japan. Shirow put an immense amount of detail and research into every aspect of the world, from technology and robotics to political organizations and international relations. Here's a quick quote from one of his footnotes (there are pages and pages of these) just to highlight this obsessive realism "Panels four and five show a screw-activated switch, the type used in bomb casings. But in this era, the system is electronically activated with only a half-turn because the shape-memory alloy wire is used. As a result, the easiest way to dispose of bombs is to cover them with a titanium shell and blow them up.".

In 1995, the manga was adapted into an anime and this film was met with even more critical acclaim than the original book. A lot of changes were made: the tone of the film is much more serious, the plot is simplified and easier to follow, and the weighty technical jargon is done away with in favor of a much more visual style of story telling. However I would not say that plot and characters are the main focus of the film either; rather it presents a vivid panorama of future Japan and lingers on the existential questions that arise in a society where humans are more machine than human. In general, I would agree with critics that the anime is an improvement over the manga and would recommend it to anyone. It is probably one of the more important philosophic works of the 20th century.

And that brings us to the live-action adaptation which again makes many changes. I would almost go so far as to say that it is the total opposite of Shirow's original work. This is both good and bad, but mostly bad. Plot and characters are now at the forefront, at least as much as they can in any big Hollywood action film. What I mean is that most scenes are set up to either advance the plot directly, or develop the characters in some way as to make sense of their later actions. This much the film does adequately. The plot is new (ie: a totally different plot than in the manga or anime) and at times interesting although it's mostly predictable. The characters feel more like "archetypes" than real people, but they're enjoyable characters none-the-less with tough likable heroes and a detestable villain. But because the story and action move along at such a brisk pace, no time is given for reflecting on whatever philosophical underpinnings might be in there.

The biggest problems comes from those moments when the film isn't concerned with plot or characters and instead becomes "spectacle". This is a criticism that applies to basically every big-budget film that has come out of Hollywood in the last 15 years. Most people maybe think of spectacle as being just gun fights and car chases, and those do often qualify, but really I'm talking about any scene or shot which doesn't serve any purpose other than to "look cool". While everyone likes a film that looks cool, the problem is that directors are so willing to sacrifice realism and continuity in order to force these shots into the film. Like, why is the geisha robot able to crab-walk up a wall? Because it looks cool. Why is the bad guy standing out on the balcony in the pouring rain and ruining a $10,000 suit? Because it looks cool. Why is Scarlett Johansson delivering these awkwardly contrived lines of dialogue? Because they sound cool, and we needed them for the trailer! And just to drive home this difference from Shirow's methodical realism, here is another one of his endnotes from the original GitS: "In movie scenes of special forces making indoor assaults, one often sees several people with guns drawn, charging down a hallway... In reality, they usually peek around a corner first and then, depending on the situation, make their move (like they did in CI5 and Silence of the Lambs). In the old days, they probably used a dental mirror or something. The most important thing is to make sure you have the advantage before the enemy spots you and to not just start blasting away." I'll leave it to you to guess how the special forces clear buildings in this movie...

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
Apr 3, 2017 - 08:20am PT

This is long on diatribes, short on nitty-gritty details or proof to back up his claims. And other posts by the dude are vaccine conspiracy theories. Even though there may be a fair amount of truth in what he says, there' no way to tell from this. If he's for real in his work and the lab he claims to have set up, I'd be interested to see what he fins. But for now I'm moving on.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
Apr 3, 2017 - 06:36pm PT

Just finished Black Mirror. Thanks for the heads up. Yeah, couldn't agree more... "San Junipero" was awesome! Grade A+. The entire season three was good. Really liked #5 (Men against Fire) and #6 (Hated in the Nation) too! So good!!

Beware those ADIs... Autonomous Drone Insects... :)

PS Yuval Harari on Sam Harris podcast talks about Virtual Reality capabilites and consciousness manipulation in the future... not just by psychotropic drugs but electronics interface (Men Against Fire). Brave new world!
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