Anticipation Killed the Cat
A review of Ghost in the Shell, without having seen the movie.
If you are like me, you have a stream of information coming at you from all your social media accounts, mostly about things you have liked and are interested in. Like sucking down a mint chocolate chip milkshake too fast and getting that brain freeze, we continue to do it because it fills that instant void. When is too much of a good thing too much? I’ll use the example of the upcoming movie Ghost in the Shell as the example.
For me the world of Ghost in the Shell is only second to Star Wars. Meaning, I love this franchise and own as much of the English products I can get my grubby hands on. I watch the series and movies and read the novels and graphic novels once a year, and play the games, too. It’s a series of stories that are clever, fun, exciting, and more thought provoking than most television or movies we have had to choose from until recently. I’m not going to give much of an overview of the plots and characters, as you should really have already seen or read these by now. If you haven’t –go do it, now.
Ever since I saw the 1995 movie I’ve been hooked. When the Stand Alone Complex series came out, it solidified my love of the franchise, not to mention the manga. The stories in the manga are great, and the anime series takes from the manga, and has their own stories as well. And that is really the point. The world that Masamune Shirow created is so rich and adaptable to fit old story arcs – and of course, new ones – that it is a shame the upcoming movie seems to take too much from material already done and merged it with story tropes that have been beaten to death.
This is the disclaimer for the article. I have not seen this movie yet, and reserve the right to eat my words with acid milk, or simply change my mind. We believe in the scientific mind around these parts. New information equals new analysis and conclusions. But the point is not whether or not this movie is good. The point is how the daily trailers, news feeds, analysis, opinions, and behind-the-scenes looks has given me cause to decide whether or not to see it in theaters. And I know with the state of current affairs in the world right now this is something that is quite trivial. I’ll agree to that to a certain extent, only considering the amount of money used to create movies and opportunities for new writers and actors.
So, moving along. I’m hesitant to see the new movie in the theaters for two reasons. One, I’m not sure I want to use my reasonably hard earned cash to see a movie that, from the looks of it, might have glossed over the more philosophical aspects of the original anime and is more style than substance. I mean, I understand that directors, producers, and studios want that blockbuster money from as wide an audience as possible. If that’s the case, keep making more Furious Transformer movies. But leave the well written stories that have a cult following alone because they are thought provoking, inventive, and should remain as such. If you’re not improving the franchise you’re wasting time and money.
In all the trailers I’ve seen, Scarlett Johansson seems to be playing Black Widow with a Japanese name. She is a good actress in certain roles and you can’t take that away from her. I’m not touching too much on the casting of her as the main character; I am not sure if it is really white washing by the true definition when we are regarding an ambiguous cyborg, but I will say I think it would have been better served to find a Japanese actress. And not like Memoirs of Geisha, which mostly cast Chinese actresses. There are some interesting interviews out there with Japanese fans saying they never really considered the main character to be Japanese. But do your own analysis.
What I’m trying to get at is, what is the damage to the arts by supporting something that may be (remember, I haven’t seen it yet) sub-par? The damage is this. If I go to see this movie and it is bad or not what lifelong fans deserve, I will have given money to the machine that will probably adapt more live action movies from anime. If Ghost in the Shell does well in the box office, how soon can we expect Akira starring Zac Efron? (Nothing against him, he is funny in some things.) But, what if the movie is good? Do we get rewarded with more good adaptations of anime, comic books, and video games? And for an industry that has a junkie’s habit of reusing old stories (most of Tim Burton’s features and most things Disney), rebooting perfectly great franchises (The Crow, Big Trouble in Little China, Highlander), or making embarrassing TV series from decent movies (Limitless, Time After Time, Lethal Weapon) – they seem to hate new stories. And even if you get a new story, how many of them have the same tropes as other movies? I mean, how many times can we see a movie where the country’s greatest spy or soldier is now being hunted by his former comrades? Too many is the answer.
Look, Hollywood and the industry is all about making money. That’s why they use big name actors and directors. Only well-established franchises like Stars Wars are able to have a few relatively unknowns play the lead roles. But this is an outlier. I think the legitimacy of the Ghost in the Shell movie would have been better preserved with actors and actresses of lesser fame in the west. Perhaps Hollywood needs teams of analysis to think critically about these things. I mean, how many movies have flopped because of taking an older movie and rebooting it with a gimmick? The newest Ghostbusters is a good example. Beloved movie, lots of star power, a gimmick, but terrible writing. And by gimmick I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be in lead roles. But why is it so hard to write original roles for women? The answer is, it’s not. Women should be starring in more original content instead of revamped roles that men have already played.
In the end, the over-saturation of information, hype, and opinions (the irony is not lost on me) has led me to play a little game theory exercise.
I’ve given the personal values of seeing it and it’s good a value of 3 because even if it is good there are still many reservations about seeing it and it won’t live up to the anime. Seeing it and it’s bad has the lowest value, because I will have wasted time and money; dissatisfaction leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. And by suffering I mean, now my money is going to be counted as the success of the movie and Executives will see the success and determine which other beloved stories they can exploit (if they touch Cowboy Bebop, Anonymous may have to pay a visit to their servers).
Not seeing it and it’s good is a middle ground, as they will still eventually get some money. Finally, not seeing it and it’s bad gets the most personal value because I get the satisfaction of not spending specific money on a movie that is bad and will usher in the Hollywood treatment of cherished franchises. How do you know it is bad if you don’t see it? Well, I’ll eventually see it on a movie channel or borrow it from a friend. I just mean I won’t give the box office money. The personal values of not seeing it out weighs seeing it 3-2.
As you can see, I gave Hollywood all 4's for all scenarios. This is because the most probable reality is that enough people will see it that they are going to make their money anyways. In turn, the secondary and tertiary efforts are inevitably going to happen regardless of my Woolongs being forked over. But you never know.
The point is regarding the lack of original material being used, though I can point to several things that were better than the original movie. Take the 2012 remake of Total Recall, which in my opinion was far superior to the 1990 adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. However, even if a reboot, remake, re-envisioning, blah blah blah is good, it still negates the fact that there are many great stories and ideas out there that have not or will not become movies. Of course, as a writer at the beginning of my career I can acknowledge my biased opinion.
Nowadays we know that there is a movie of our favorite whatever coming out in two or three years. In terms of comic book and in particular superhero movies, it seems every A-list celebrity and even some talent-less 'famous for being famous' people want in on the action. Either way, there is not much to stop the big machine except bad reviews and shaming. So don’t feel bad if a good actor continues to play in bad movies for a big paycheck (cough cough Mr. Depp). But apparently a lot of people seem to love giant robot semi’s and cinematography of sweeping postures.
So, will I see Ghost in the Shell in the theater? No, probably not. Will I have a moment of weakness and curiosity that leads to the theater? Yeah, probably so. Either way, it’s just a movie, there are more pressing issues at this point in our history. I feel like I already know exactly what will happen based on the source material, all the trailers, the interviews, behind the scenes, etc. Though I could have just ignored everything and been blind to it all. But curiosity has killed my anticipation and that has stunted my hopefulness that it will be good.