Film review – Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders, 2017)

When the live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell was announced, the online rhetoric centred around the fact that the remake was in itself completely unnecessary, whilst also questioning why lead Japanese character Major Kusanagi was being portrayed by Scarlett Johansson. The studios’ responses at the time were that they wanted a bankable star and that was the main reason she was cast, but that word was out there. Whitewashing. Once it’s there, it’s hard to shake.

A similar issue befell the 2011 film Under The Skin, also starring Scarlett Johansson. True, there was no need accusations of racism, but Johansson was cast for similar reasons. It later emerged in an interview with Gemma Arterton that the British actress had been first choice by the director Jonathan Glazer. However, Johansson was eventually cast in order to secure the funding to complete the film to the director’s vision.

In both cases, it is a sad reflection on the current state of cinema and its attitudes towards so-called non-bankable stars. Clearly the studios involved were nervous about a film being able to sell based on a high quality script, good direction and a solid marketing campaign. Instead they brought in Johansson, and presumably part of their reasoning was that they didn’t have faith in the audience to see past the lead character. Perhaps this is correct.

However, in neither case was the film damaged as a result of the casting. Both plots lend themselves to having an otherworldly-essence to the lead female. 

Crucially, Johansson isn’t just a bankable star. She’s a truly phenomenal actress at the top of her game.

In Under The Skin, the fact that Scarlett Johansson was driving around the streets of Glasgow and getting real reactions from the general public whilst speaking in an emotionless English accent played into her role. She was, ambiguously, an alien preying on men, so her not being British gave a mysterious element to her performance that justified her casting.

Equally in Ghost in the Shell, the fact she isn’t of Asian origin doesn’t necessarily play against the script. She is a cybernetic being, with the brain of a human inside a robotic body. This is a future where cybernetic modifications are a part of normal life. The brain inside her body is that of a Japanese girl, but her body is Scarlett Johansson. 

I don’t agree with the feeling that her casting is whitewashing of the original story. The studio saw a way to make the plot more appealing to American audiences in a way that didn’t compromise the story – the wider lead cast covers a wide variety of races, primarily either American or Asian. They would have been foolish not to go down that route.

Clearly, the Japanese market doesn’t seem overly bothered by her casting. Nor do the South Korean and Chinese markets. In China, for example, they currently have a total box office taking of $23.39m (as of 09/04/2017), approximately a quarter of the global takings. This is a total which pushed a disappointing US box office performance into a profitable outcome.

Ironically, one of the primary reasons offered by the studio for its domestic failure was that Scarlett Johansson doesn’t have an online presence. 

The humour of this entire situation shouldn’t be lost and I can’t help but feel that the backlash against this is looking for an argument where there isn’t one. At the very worst, the filmmakers can be accused of bringing in a superstar to sell the film and this deviates it from the original vision from 1996. The faithfulness to the original story is so strong though that this change shouldn’t be held against it. Certainly no complaints can be levelled at Johansson, who puts in a stellar performance in her starring role.

The environment the characters inhabit is rich and believable, with a mix of CGI and real shots used to create a new universe. It is visually stunning, a full 3D remodelling of the vision created in 2D by Mamoru Oshii and the original animation team from 1995. 

The city is modelled on Hong Kong, but it feels like it lives in the same universe as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, with spawling cityscapes and futuristic advertisement boards threatening to submerge the life within it.

Indeed, the musical cues that Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe provide are clearly influenced by Vangelis. This I see as an indication of how much of an influence Vangelis has had on futuristic science fiction cinema, rather than a lazy bit of theft from the musical pairing. Mansell is very much carrying the Vangelis baton as evidenced by his excellent scores for the likes of High-Rise, Black Swan and Stoker.

If the action sequences seem a little dated, it is because Sanders has been put in a near-impossible situation by the Wachowskis. There are rumours that the only reason The Matrix was made was because they wanted to make a live-action Ghost in the Shell but couldn’t get the rights. Whilst there are similar themes in both films, it is the action sequences that were so iconic that The Matrix is remembered for. These were lifted straight from Oshii’s masterpiece. So, heaping this remake with too much of them would make casual audiences feel like they were utilising a technique that debuted two decades ago and has been parodied ever since. If anything, Sanders has probably underused it, but it is nonetheless a visual spectacle.

Taking on a film that is seen as a defining point of the genre is always going to be tough. The original really wasn’t a box office success in its original release, making just $2.28m globally. It did eventually become a cult classic. This 2017 remake has already made its money back ($130m and counting), but will doubtless also be considered a box office flop by its detractors. 

This is not a masterpiece of a film, but it is extremely impressive and engrossing. Arguably, the plot is much clearer than the original too. It’s a shame that it looks unlikely to be given a chance by most a large portion of the potential market.

Note: the version watched was 3D IMAX.

What About 2045?

Whilst everyone compares what has happened in 2015 to what was predicted in Back to the Future Part II, I thought it would be more fun to make a few predictions about what 2045 will be like. Here goes…

Franchise Films

Whilst Jaws 19 still hasn’t been released, the prediction that 30 years on from 1985 franchised films will be the most popular was a very accurate suggestion. By 2045, I don’t think much will have changed on this front. The most likely franchises to still be churning out big films are Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, Marvel or DC superhero films or, most pertinently, James Bond. Sadly the person playing Bond at that point may not even be born yet.

Back to the Past

Another film prediction: a film production company lacking in imagination releases the film “Back to the Past”. Set initially in 2045, the film sees the grandson of Marty McFly, Marty McFly Jnr. Jnr. travel back to 2015. Using footage from Back to the Future Part II, he set off a chain of events that make the plot so convoluted and impenetrable that the film is an instant flop. Plans to travel to 1925 in Part V are instantly shelved.


Flying cars are still a thing of sci-fi cinema and have failed to hit the market, although luxury hoverboards briefly hit the market before being banned due to health and safety and a lack of control over the speed and direction of the devices.


Coldplay release their 17th album “The Chosen Sword”, again announced as their final album. They headline Glastonbury for a record 8th time, bringing out Tim Rice Oxley for a duet of “Somewhere Only We Know” to a bemused crowd.


I schedule in a blog post for 2045 to see how I did and forget about it, only to see the post not go viral, much like all my other posts here.

Upcoming Crowdfunded Films Preview Part Three: Elstree 1976

Elstree 1976 charts the lives of ten people who were featured in some way in the original Star Wars film. This includes people we know already: David Prowse (the body of Darth Vader), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) and Paul Blake (Greedo) are all involved. There are also a few people who were extras only, including one who was in the film for less than a second. They didn’t realise at the time but their involvement with the film would come to define their lives, something that they have forever been associated with and can’t get away from, whether they like it or not.

This film promises to find out their side of the story, through a series of interviews with all of them and footage of them at conventions, giving a side of the story never seen before. The filmmakers are keen to stress that this is not just a film to provide Star Wars fans with loads of new stories about the making of the film. I think this is a wise move – the stories have been told so many times and if you’re really interested in that side of things you probably have all of the various DVDs and Blu-rays with their respective bonus features.

It will instead fell the stories of the forgotten men, those whose lives are now ruled by a seemingly inconsequential decision to take up a lowly paid job as an extra. Judging by the trailer, some clearly enjoy it whilst others detest the fact that their best way to earn money is to play into the hands of the geeks who desire their autographs.


It doesn’t promise to be a laugh-a-minute, but rather a humorous and sometimes painful look at the lives of people who otherwise never get any attention. Jon Spira – who has already proven himself as an excellent filmmaker with the much celebrated 2011 music documentary Anyone Can Play Guitar – has spent months and months getting deep into interviews with his ten subjects and judging by the updates there’s plenty to go on, with editing and post-production beginning in earnest in February 2015. As documentaries go, this is bound to be quirky but I predict it will find a wide audience if the momentum can keep building, especially with its release schedule set to coincide with Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens next year.

Elstree 1976 is set for release in November 2015.

Mayhem Presents The Created Woman (Broadway Cinema, Nottingham, 2014)


This weekend I’ll be heading over to Mayhem Presents The Created Woman at Broadway Cinema, Nottingham. The festival is “a three day journey into Sci-Fi with film screenings, events and discussions”. So far I’ve only got tickets to the Friday night screenings of Terence Fisher’s 1967 film Frankenstein Created Woman and John Hughes’s 1985 cult classic Weird Science. There’s also a free screening of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde later on in the cafébar, which will be an interesting experience.

The events are on all weekend, including screenings of two different versions of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis on Saturday. I was lucky enough to see the original robot from Metropolis last month at le Musée de la Cinémathèque in Paris and it has reignited my interest in this picture, so I’ll be going to at least one of these screenings. The discussions and introductions look set to offer a lot of insight into the films.

At £5 a ticket, you can hardly go wrong!

Mayhem Presents The Created Woman runs at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham from 5th-7th December 2014.