Ghost in the Shell: 2.0
Are you kidding? Another Ghost in the Shell review… This is my third for this site, and you have to wonder if I'm beginning to let a perfectly healthy obsession spiral out of control. In fact, I'm going to rein that obsession back in, and point you to my previous review of the Special Edition so you can get a quick idea of what the movie is about. Back already? Let's get down to the confusion then, as Ghost in the Shell 2.0 isn't the sequel (That was Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence), this is the current vogue in cinema for directors to revisit past works and update them for the 21st Century. It isn't a new phenomenon certainly, with George Lucas the most famous proponent, when he went back to the original Star Wars trilogy, and cleaned them up, inserted new effects, made them look brand new, and made a million fanboys cry in terror when Greedo shot first.
Mamoru Oshii is no stranger to the practise, as he's already revisited his Patlabor films and given them an aural upgrade. But when it came to Ghost in the Shell a few years ago, he went for the full Lucas, upgrading the audio and the visuals, inserting new effects and generally remaking the film from the ground up. He also altered the dub slightly, offering an Easter Egg for fans of Stand Alone Complex. I can see three reasons for doing this. In an industry where visual effects technology changes by the day, there is an argument that what may have been cutting edge CGI ten months ago, looks hopelessly dated today. Ghost in the Shell was one of the earlier films to use CG animation, albeit for the computer displays alone, and that's the part of the film that looks the most dated. Upgrading these scenes alone would make the film relevant to modern audiences once more. The second reason is continuity. Innocence redefined the state of the anime art a few years ago, and as a sequel to Ghost in the Shell, in some way reinvented the world and the characters. Upgrading the original movie goes some way to restoring continuity between the two films. Finally there is the old 'bums on seats', keep the tills ringing motive. I think there is an element of all three in Ghost in the Shell 2.0. I just hope there's no Greedo moment.
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 gets a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, and I once thought that the Special Edition had a good presentation on the DVD format. This blows it away, with a consistently smooth and seamless transfer, with none of the usual problems with compression and noise. I didn't even notice the usual anime blight of colour banding. This is an excellent transfer, and can probably only be surpassed by the Blu-ray disc.
The movie has undergone a substantial overhaul, with perhaps the most contentious issue, a couple of blatant CGI moments looking a tad out of place with the rest of the animation. Another point of debate will be the upgrade of the computer graphics and displays that were in the film. Gone is the green and blue colour theme of the original, and in comes a profusion of red and gold, to provide continuity to the Innocence sequel. The quality of the graphics has also entered the 21st Century, and it looks a substantial jump forward in technology. The rest of the film appears to be the untouched 2D animation, until it becomes clear that not a single frame of the movie has escaped renovation. The 2D animation now feels softer edged, the quality of light is subtly different, as if the film has an inner glow, and the colour timer-ist has been at work, toning down the primary colours, and giving the film a more realistic, nuanced palette. For want of a better word, Ghost in the Shell now seems less cartoon-like.
Third time's the charm for Ghost in the Shell via Manga. The first time there was that sound sync error, the previous disc had the LFE channel missing, this time the audio is all present and correct. And this time I'm going to tell you to ignore the English dub. This isn't the usual sub vs. dub debate, it's just that the English dub is the same as before, getting close to 15 years old now, and even with the changes to the film, I noticed little difference in the English audio. This time, I'm telling you to choose the Japanese audio because it kicks arse. Mamoru Oshii took the whole kit and caboodle to Skywalker Ranch, and now the Japanese audio is so well defined, loud and dynamic, that this disc really ought to have one of those teeth loosening THX logos at the front end. I switched the disc on last night at my usual DVD listening levels, and had to turn the volume down when the helicopters passed by overhead. Then I had to turn the volume down some more when the SWAT team was fired upon.
I think the audio has almost been completely reworked, certainly there are new sound effects to appreciate to go with the new visuals, the dub is different in places, most apparent with the new voice of the Puppet Master, and I get the feeling that Kenji Kawai has revisited some of his music as well. Either that, or the 5.1 mix was revealing musical instruments I had never heard before. There is a problem though, and it wouldn't be Ghost in the Shell without a problem. The English dub is the old one, and it seems that the English subtitles are from the old release as well, albeit in a much more appealing white font. It means things get a little screwy when the Puppet Master is revealed. The character has changed gender in this 2.0 version, and the new Japanese dub reflects that, with characters referring to the Puppet Master by 'Kanojo' instead of 'Kare'. However, the old subtitles still refer to the Puppet Master as 'He' and not 'She', indeed it's still that way in the English dub, so it may offer a second or two of confusion. Also, the film would have benefited from a signs only track.
It's all on one disc in the Blu-ray release, and for the first time you'll be able to see the original Ghost in the Shell in HD, albeit 1080i HD, as opposed to 2.0's 1080p.
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 on DVD is a 2-disc release. I received only disc 1 to review, and that hosts Ghost in the Shell 2.0, language select, scene select, and that's it. It doesn't matter, as I already own disc 2. It's called Ghost In The Shell Special Edition. Yes, the original movie DVD is bundled with the upgrade, and with it you'll also find the making of documentary and some other assorted snippets. You can click on that review again if you missed reading about the extras.
What's sorely missing from this release is something more recent, explaining just how and why this 2.0 upgrade was conceived, and offering more on how it was accomplished.
A brief chronology of my reactions follows…
Insert disc, press play, and the 'In the future' scene-setting caption has been replaced with a poem. Interesting…
Ah, the beginning. The major is atop the roof, listening into the defection in progress. Except she's in 3D CGI! The scene switches to the 2D SWAT team sneaking up the stairs, back to the CG major, then to the 2D diplomats (except that the fish in the background are CG now, subtle compared to the major). The pre-credits sequence plays out, alternating CGI and 2D, and it looks horrible. Plastic major is out of place here, and it may be referencing the opening credits of Stand Alone Complex Season 1, but it's not a credits sequence. It's Ghost in the Shell's Greedo moment. I hate it. But at least it's out of the way first.
Ah, the credit sequence. Lot's more CGI and 2D being blended. I get my first look at the new computer graphics display scheme, with the absence of the blues and greens, and the abundance of gold and red. It ties in nicely with Innocence. Except… The green scrolly text is gone. You know, the stuff that inspired the Matrix movies. That was iconic Ghost in the Shell. How could you lose the green scrolly text?!
The film starts, and thank God! It's the same film as before. The story has been untouched. Oh, it sounds absolutely divine now, and the visuals are warm, lush and inviting in a way that the film never has been before. It's not just the new 3D graphics displays; it's the actual cel animation as well. It's all been colour corrected and enhanced to make the film feel more real.
Except, the original tilt rotor has gone, and been replaced with another CG monstrosity that sticks out like a sore thumb. It happens again later in the film, with another helicopter, but fortunately none of the other mecha have been so replaced. In fact, most of the changes are subtle, to the backgrounds or to the furniture in the frame, not the central characters.
Except, CG major is back. It's the diving sequence. Thankfully it's one whole sequence, and isn't intercutting with 2D animation like the opening. But she still looks like one of those real dolls. It just isn't as wondrous and breathtaking as it was in the original animation.
But that's the last of the egregious upgrades. The rest of the film plays out just as I remember it, albeit with that awesome new kick arse soundtrack, and those warm and lush, enhanced 2D visuals. Is that a new arrangement of the theme over the end credits?
I thought this would be a travesty. I thought this would be a mistake of the worst order, an unnecessary and wasteful revisiting of a classic of anime. Yet somehow, I wound up enjoying this film more than I have in a long time. It's still the same film, still the same story, but somehow most of the visual enhancements have worked to make the film more of a cohesive whole. It probably has more to do with the fact that I was paying more attention this time, to see where the cracks were.
There are only two flubs in this whole movie, when the major turns into a computer generated mannequin. There was no need for that, and it's enough to have you rolling your eyes in despair. But that's two, short scenes out of a whole movie, and it's not as if there has been a Lucasian rewrite of the story here. This is still the same Ghost in the Shell. Should you double dip, however? I wouldn't have said so before, but having seen this film, having experienced the new Japanese soundtrack, and more importantly, the enhanced cel animated visuals; I have to offer a resounding yes. Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is absolutely divine, even with the horrendous CGI. It does actually improve on the original in every other respect. The great thing is that unlike with the reversionary George Lucas, you get both versions of the film in this release.
Now turn the page for some comparison shots, 2.0 on top, SE below.
The Good - Upgraded Displays
The Bad - CG Major
The Nifty - Enhanced Cel Animation