I have to hand it to Hollywood, what they did with this movie was kind of brilliant. If you’re someone who had no clue about Ghost in the Shell before seeing this film, but felt compelled to see it anyway it was probably because you liked action films and this looked like something you could vaguely get into; or maybe you’re a sci-fi fan that was just looking for something different to get lost in for over two hours; or maybe you just like Scarlett Johansson and wanted to see her in something that didn’t involve the Avengers. However, if you are a fan of the three Ghost in the Shell anime films, the two season anime T.V series, the reboot to the anime T.V series, and the three mangas (graphic novels) that tie the whole universe together, then the only motivation you most likely had for going to see this adaptation was to find out if it was bad. The audience that walked in cold would get a competent, stylistic and action packed sci-fi film that seemed kind of high brow, and was pretty fast paced. Those that came in with the fan baggage (like me) were in for a condensed, mish-mash of the main plot of the first film and a story arch from a separate season of the T.V series both of which got whirl-winded together into a spark notes recap with subtle inaccuracies and stilted acting. Both interpretations are technically correct: both audiences came in with specific expectations and got exactly what they expected and (more or less) walked out satisfied that their assumptions were correct. It seems like a strange thing to take away from such a film, but it also tells you a lot in terms of how dialed in Hollywood seems to be when it comes to getting an audience to come into the theater for any kind of genre film.
Paramount Pictures hedged their bets properly when they finally decided to bring this adaptation out of development hell and into the light of day. After the debacles that were Avatar the Last Airbender and Dragon Ball Evolution, Hollywood has more or less given up on appealing to this elusive demographic of Millenials who watch “cartoons” well into their twenties and don’t trust Hollywood with their white-washing, Americanized versions. The films appear to be “faithful” adaptations that seem to look and feel like the thing fans would love, but the nerds among us can smell its synthetic, copy-cat quality a mile away. Like a mother bird that refuses to feed her chick when it is touched by another human, the anime nerd (with some righteous anger followed by pensive mourning) must leave his or her beloved live action adaptation to die in the wilderness after being appropriated and tainted by the hands of American movie executives.
However, Hollywood has flipped the scripted and turned this particular movie going experience into a perverse game that no fandom seems immune from. Movie executives have pretty much decided that us fans will hate the adaptation anyway, but know that most of us are too tempted not to go in and see this film. They know we’ll go because we want to know “just how bad it is” and that means putting another ten to twelve dollars on top of the growing pile of monied validation to gleefully vindicate both sides in this transaction of consumerist nihilism.
I might be coming off as melodramatic, if not incredibly heavy handed, and you’re most likely right. Truth be told, I don’t see this movie as some kind of nadir that will lead to our demise culturally (American politics has made it clear that that’s their job). Nor is this film going to taint the good name of the original Ghost in the Shell and its countless other anime iterations. However, it kind of makes you wonder just how much contempt these American movie Executives must have towards these particular consumers and their niche interests.
It’s obvious that they had not intention of making a sequel for this film, judging from the amount of plot they crammed into it without so much as offering a cliff-hanger or an after credits plot Easter egg. I felt like I was being lead through a bloated, three-course meal with the wait staff, chef, and restaurant owner all leaning over my shoulder and badgering me to eat my meals, stop looking at the fly in my soup, and hurry the fuck up so I can pay my bill and get out of there without a to-go box. Of course, if they’re the only restaurant in town that serves steak dinners that you’d have to drive to the next city over and play twice as much for the experience, you can kind of expect that the owners can afford to act like assholes. And that is what it feels like watching Ghost in the Shell, except Paramount Pictures thinks that by throwing a bone to a bunch of connoisseurs – even if it’s a literal bone – they think they can get away with calling it a four star meal. The fans are looking with confusion as the rest gnaw on these scraps with Paramount telling us to get down in the dark ally with the rest of them and chew on the morsels as if it’s some kind of privilege. They act like this because these anime adaptations happen once in a blue moon and we don’t get a lot of love unlike the DC and Marvel fans that get tailored to year after year. And while I might get flak for saying that Ghost in the Shell is an objectively better anime adaptation compared to what’s come before it, even then, it barely measures up.
It makes me wonder if there’s something horribly wrong going on in Hollywood right now. How can something as scrappy as Amazon produce critically acclaimed AND financially successful films like Neon Demon and Manchester by the Sea, while a legacy studio like Paramount pictures is stuck making sub-par reboots to better films made twenty years ago and making questionable sequels like Zoolander 2 and XXX: Return of Xander Cage? They seem to really want our money, but are loathed to work any harder than they have to in order to earn it. And just like the Ghostbusters reboot, they’ll enable an army of sycophants to blame the fans for not stepping up to the plate and giving this the support it deserves.
If Ghost in the Shell does fail, Paramount may blame the fans for the flop, but it’s not as if we all did a mass boycott, or anything. I went, and I even predicted that it might start a new trend in Hollywood. We’ll know for sure by Monday. Until then, Hollywood is still allowed to laugh all the way to the bank, while the fans nitpick, and the rest of society shrugs and goes about their business.
On March 31st, 2017, come rain or shine, sleet or snow, my butt will be firmly in its seat at the local theater to watch the Hollywood adaptation of one of my favorite animes: Ghost in the Shell. It’s no secret among my friends that Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite animes and manga series to come out of Japan since Akira. I like the anime so much, that I even posted a video on Youtube in the form of a short poetry-ode to the original animated film to the collective chagrin, troll-baiting, and amusement of several people. I still haven’t died of embarrassment over that stunt, but there’s still a chance if tags attached to the vid net any extra traffic.
There is reason to be excited about the film. Unlike other western adaptations of previous animes, this one has been given, a rumored, nine-figure budget to ensure top quality throughout the film’s production (Scarlett Johansson alone has been paid $10 Million and given top billing to star in the film as The Major). Even Mamoru Oshii, the director of the first original anime film from 1995 endorsed the adaptation, for what it’s worth (although there has been no word from the original creator of the series, himself, Masamune Shirow, which is troubling, but not suspect). And considering the source material, which not only involved action sequences that inspired The Matrix, but also included philosophical intrigues that drew from the likes of Rene Descartes, Jean Baudrillard, and Friedrich Nietzsche it also makes good on being a thinking-person’s action film. Simply put: it’s a series too cool and too clever to easily screw up.
However, this film’s success probably fills me with even more dread than its failure. After the stinkers that were the Chun-li movie and the Dragon Ball Evolution film, I’ve come to expect this to be the best Hollywood could do in terms of adapting anime for the American screen and calibrated my expectations accordingly. Having said that, Ghost in the Shell comes into the fold at a unique time in Hollywood.
The elephant in the room, which has only gotten bigger over the past year, is that Marvel and DC films have been doing okay, but not stellar. Just looking at the budgets and revenues of films like Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, both made their bottom line in terms of dollars (thanks in part to China and Europe). However, both also received poor reception from both fans and critics. Not only that, but countless other superhero films have been coming in fast and furious to the point where some comic book fans can’t even keep up. Fans are getting bombarded with so many superhero films, that movie studios are now strategizing on how to combat the movie consumer’s growing “superhero fatigue.” Knowing the movie industry’s knack for marketing, I’m sure this will probably work in the short term (or as long as they can keep releasing sequels to the Avengers and rebooting Batman), but the writing on the wall is clear: some other trend is going to have to pick up the slack.
Ghost in the Shell, I believe, represents Hollywood’s first true dip into doing a legit, high-budget, and highly marketed anime adaptation aimed at America, as well as targeting the Ghost in the Shell fans who live here. If successful, there are dozens and dozens of other anime series that the Hollywood machine may be more than happy to appropriate, repackage and pass off as something fresh and exciting (because, seriously, how many people outside of reddit and anime conventions know what the hell Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, or Gundam Wing are?). For Hollywood, Ghost in the Shell may be their quiet hope that they can start the pivot to sell “new” franchises and create new “fans” of future anime adaptations made for Westerners, by Westerners, and featuring Western actors.
They’ll do this because Hollywood knows something that most diehard fans seem to fail to comprehend which is that most people who watch these comic book films, like myself, never made much of a connection with DC and Marvel outside of the movies that got released for mass consumption. Sure, there is loyalty (I happen to be a fan of the X-Men films), but that extends only as far as theater ticket buys with accompanied Blu-Ray releases. The last time that I even bought any comic blatantly Marvel or DC was back in 1999. I wouldn’t have even known what Guardians of the Galaxy was (much less that it started as a comic by Marvel) had there not been a movie about it. I consider myself a fan of X-Men, but I can only count on one hand the number of comic issues I actually read of that series. The X-Men movies and the animated T.V series are, truly, my only way of having any real knowledge about the X-Men universe. When I admit to these kinds of things, it tends to piss off the more die-in-the-wool fans who actually did the work. Even the more polite ones often try and fail at hiding their internal eye-rolling. I usually deal with these encounters with polite indifference at best and passive-aggressive trolling at worst.
But now I may finally get a taste of my own medicine. Which brings us back to the dread that I’ve been feeling. This movie may fail, and I’ll be upset, but I’ll live. This movie may also become a success and spawn a whole new wave of fans who gush about Scarlett Johansson’s role as The Major without caring or even knowing that there were three graphic novels, four anime films, and two anime T.V series that preceded it, much less seek any of that out. I don’t know if I’m ready to confront the me that may have to face that kind of world sometime soon.
Either way, whether I like it or not, I’m just going to have to deal with it; and, hopefully, it won’t take me that long. We’ll all just have to wait and see.