Based on Masamune Shirow's legendary late '80s manga series of the same name, this Hollywood production of Ghost in the Shell follows the exploits of the Major (Scarlett Johansson), a highly-advanced cyborg working for counterterrorist taskforce Section 9. The first of her kind, the Major is an entirely artificial body housing a brain rescued from a dying young woman.
Investigating a series of cyber-terrorist attacks on executives at Hanka Robotics (the company that 'made' her), the Major discovers that they were orchestrated by a mysterious hacker known as Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), who will stop at nothing to stop the company continuing its experiments and churning out more cyborgs. But the more the Major digs into the case, the more she learns that things are not what they seem – leaving her wondering if she can even trust her own memories, or if they are in fact every bit as artificial as her new body.
Even if you aren't already familiar with the various animated Ghost in the Shell films and TV series that have come out of Japan in the past two decades the core setup of this US live-action take on the material should surely sound pretty familiar.
Yes, we're back in Blade Runner and RoboCop territory once again. And once again the whizz-bang action scenes are anchored to some rather weightier philosophical concerns, such as how much we allow technology to take over our lives and how much our humanity (or lack thereof) can be defined by the body we inhabit. Thankfully, these themes are rich enough to merit yet more exploration.
It also doesn't hurt that director Rupert Sanders doesn't fall into the usual cyberpunk trap of dark, dystopian futures. The version of Hong Kong that Sanders gives us is a striking world of gigantic three-dimensional holographic adverts that fill the screen with rich, vivid colours.
However, this Hollywood remake's biggest strength is also the source of its main controversy – the casting of Johansson as the Major. While accusations of 'whitewashing' that have been thrown about have plenty of merit (not least because it highlights something that happens all too frequently in Hollywood), it's also impossible to deny that Johansson is perfectly suited to the role. As well as the athleticism and action chops she brought to the Marvel movies, she also brings an almost Kubrickian sense of isolation and vulnerability to her soulful cyborg.
Backing Johansson up is an excellent supporting cast that adds even more weight to the film. Pilou Asbæk's Batou and Juliet Binoche's Dr. Ouelet are the standouts, bringing some much-needed camaraderie and compassion to an otherwise cold and technology-obsessed narrative.
Providing you can overlook the rather generic plotting there's heaps to enjoy about this Hollywood take on Ghost in the Shell. It's just a pity that there wasn't as much work put into the film's 'ghost' as there was into its spectacular 'shell'.
Picture: In case you haven't already got the point from the comments made above, it's worth reiterating that Ghost in the Shell is an absolute stunner from a visual standpoint. Thankfully, this Blu-ray release succeeds in recreating the film's eye-popping imagery (shot using the Arri Alexa 65 camera) on your home cinema thanks to a superb 1.78:1 Full HD AVC encode.
From the vivid colours that illuminate busy city streets to the intricate detailing in the augmented features of its enhanced inhabitants, the disc's 1080p picture never falters. Facial close-ups reveal every single imperfection, while shots such as the slow-motion image of the Major smashing through a window as she interrupts a terrorist attack (Chapter 2) are sharp and detailed enough for you to start counting the shards of glass.
Despite a handful of slightly murky shots, black levels are also very good and reveal plenty of near-dark detail. This strength is vital with low-lit sequences such as the showdown with the Spider Tank (Chapter 15).
Picture rating: 5/5
Audio: The Blu-ray's Dolby Atmos soundtrack is another success. While action scenes naturally benefit from the expanded soundscape, the mix comes into its own as the camera prowls the urban landscape; surrounds are filled with the hustle and bustle of everyday life while the height layer gets to play around with the sound accompanying the giant holographic adverts that tower above. Meanwhile, vocals are precise, music is rich and well-balanced and low-end effects offer real depth.
Audio rating: 5/5
Extras: Bonus features included on the Blu-ray are interesting and informative – the problem is there simply aren't enough of them. Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell (30 minutes) gives an overview of the production, with specific focus on the cast, production design, stunts and shooting locations. Section 9: Cyber Defenders (11 minutes) profiles the main characters. Finally, Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy (11 minutes) explores the themes the film and original manga tackle.
Extras rating: 2/5
We say: This flawed but enjoyable sci-fi flick delivers an eye-popping vision of the future on Blu-ray.
Ghost in the Shell, Paramount/Universal Pictures, All-region BD, £25
HCC VERDICT: 3.5/5
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