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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

GHOST IN THE SHELL -- Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD Review by Porfle

Futuristic sci-fi thrillers such as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, BLADE RUNNER, and the more recent THE FIFTH ELEMENT used to amaze and astound us with their eye-popping visuals and stunning practical effects. Nowadays, such fare is so overloaded with CGI-generated artificial wonders jam-packed into every frame that we tend to get numbed by it all. 

GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)--a live-action adaptation of the original manga by way of the excellent 1995 animated version--starts out that way, cluttered with too many whiz-bang visuals that don't always seem to exist in the real world, with the ever-present advertising motif of BLADE RUNNER taken to new extremes and a sort of architectural imagination gone mad.

As the film progresses, however, we settle in and adapt to this frenetic, plastic vision of the future, mainly because the theme of the story is technology gone too far--people becoming willing cyborgs for vanity and convenience and all connected body and mind to a central core--and the main characters are meant to feel alienated by it as well. 

Our heroine, Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) of the anti-terrorist group Section 9, is especially attuned to such feelings, being that she is the first successful fusion of a human brain with an entirely robotic body (i.e., a "ghost in the shell") and thus constantly conflicted as to how much of her humanity remains and what percent of her is pure machine connected to the company mainframe. 

Her inner conflict is heightened when her group's newest nemesis is a cyber-criminal named Kuze who can hack into any system including all cyborgs--meaning just about everybody to one degree or another--and service robots. 

His goal is revenge, which he wreaks to the extreme in some explosive action setpieces.  But exactly why remains a mystery until Mira and her team manage to fight their way right into his sinister clutches and discover the truth behind not only Kuze but their own organization.

Scarlett Johansson strikes the right balance between robotic demeanor and inner conflict, which she underplays until it's time to delve headlong into her action scenes.  These lack the angular inventiveness and quirky choreography of, say, THE MATRIX, but are still packed with satisfying excitement in their own way, replete with gunplay and hand-to-hand combat with sci-fi elements such as invisibility and advanced weaponry. 

"Beat" Takeshi Kitano (BATTLE ROYALE, VIOLENT COP) lends his considerable presence as Mira's boss, Aramaki, as does Juliette Binoche--who will always be Catherine Earnshaw of 1992's WUTHERING HEIGHTS to me--as Dr. Ouelet, the head scientist who created Mira and regards her as a daughter.  Pilou Asbæk is also good as Mira's partner Batou, a gruff, bearlike agent who's just a regular guy beneath it all. 

Mira's quest to find herself, to uncover suppressed memories of her former life and get to the truth of why and how she was created, eventually takes GHOST IN THE SHELL to a place that's both powerful and tragic, lending emotional depth to its final chaotic showdown between good and evil (traits which will shift their meaning considerably before it's over). 

The 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD set from Paramount is in 1080p high definition (DVD is widescreen enhanced for 16:9 TVs) with Dolby 5.1 stereo and subtitles in multiple languages.  The DVD contains the feature film only.  The Blu-ray disc contains the feature plus three bonus behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Visually and emotionally compelling, the live-action GHOST IN THE SHELL never quite reaches the sublime beauty of its animated predecessor but tries its damndest to do so.  In this, it succeeds in being a lively, thought-provoking, and often dazzling entry in the dystopian-future sci-fi genre which fans won't want to miss.

Street Date:      July 7, 2017 (Digital HD) July 25, 2017 (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD) 
U.S. Rating:    PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images
Canadian Rating: PG, not recommended for young children, violence

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