A Recap of Tonight's Ghost in the Shell IMAX Fan Event
Arriving in theatres just over a month from now, Ghost in the Shell is poised to be one of the biggest films of the spring moviegoing season - bringing the world-renowned manga by Masamune Shirow (and later 1995 anime film by Mamoru Oshii) to life in a way we've never seen before.
Tonight, in fourteen select markets, Paramount and IMAX teamed up to show audiences a select preview of 15 minutes of footage, to give a better, focused sense of how the film looks and plays in terms of visualizing what has only been done before in animated form. I was there to catch the preview in Toronto (at the Cineplex Yonge-Dundas theatre - technically not an 'official' IMAX-size screen), and am here now to tell you what was shown and the general audience reaction.
A total of three sequences taken from the film's first act made up the bulk of the footage, capped off with a new trailer that should be arriving online soon. The first scene shows the Major, after the fatal accident which claims her human body and leads to her being reborn as a cyborg. There's a heavy emphasis on CGI here, in this painstaking recreation of the iconic sequence that was shown in Oshii's film, but it is breathtaking in terms of how it is portrayed and realized.
The next scene is one that occurs shortly afterwards, as the Major awakens from her resurrection and realizes that she has no control over her physical body, aside from her mind. The scene also features actress Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ouélet, who is responsible for saving the Major's life through these means. After a near-heartbreaking moment between the two, Ouélet speaks to one of the higher-ranking officers in the counter-cyberterrorist field which the Major is assigned to, in which he intends to bring her up to speed in this new form as quickly as possible.
Cutting to a year later, we are taken through a sweeping view of the futuristic Japan landscape, dominated by massively rendered holographic ads and brightly lit, towering skyscrapers, finally closing in on the Major as she's monitoring a meeting that quickly turns deadly, as a rogue infantry and evil robo-geishas quickly take hostages and several lives too. This is the scene that gets lots of crazy shots from the first trailer, where the Major bursts through a huge plane glass window and starts firing at every target with complete precision. She is also joined by Batou (Pilou Asbæk), the second-in-command of the Major's infantry, who assists in the firefight even though it's the Major who is doing all the ass-kicking.
I noticed that despite all the action there was hardly any blood, leading me to think that Ghost in the Shell is probably getting a PG-13 rating (so as to not limit a large amount of the moviegoing population from paying to see it), though this seems a little disheartening given that Oshii's anime is known for being so aggressively violent. There is an incredible sense of stylization here and it was near-impossible to not be reminded of the Wachowski's work on films like The Matrix and Cloud Atlas while watching this preview, which is interesting given those filmmakers cited the anime as being a big inspiration on their 1999 breakthrough hit.
I can't avoid addressing the elephant in the room, which is actress Scarlett Johansson's casting in the lead role as the Major (who is now known as 'Mira Killian' instead of 'Motoko Kusanagi') a cybernetically-enhanced policewoman who attempts to bring down a ring of cyberhackers in a futuristic Japan where everything is dominated by artificial intelligence. There has been a large outcry from die-hard fans who are offended that, for the purpose of appealing to a global audience, that the film's creative personnel would rather cast the biggest actress in the world rather than an Asian actress, as the character has been portrayed in every iteration thus far. Johansson recently defended her casting in an interview, stating that its more important to view the film as the start of a female-led action blockbuster franchise, where the aspect of feminism is more important than that of race. While she is trying to look at the bigger picture here, watching these scenes I couldn't help but feel like I would be so much more hyped if the role were played by someone that didn't take me out of what I was watching every time they were shown on screen.
Either way, the visuals alone in this are stupendous and should you decide to see the film, IMAX 3D would be a solid way to do it based on this preview. I have no idea how this film is going to perform, given that the fans I've talked to about it feel like the essence of the original has been diluted, and those who are only finding out about it from recent trailers and commercials think it looks too far out to commit 2 hours of their time (and $15) to. While I'm happy the film looks great, I personally hope the philosophical nature under all the violence and suspense is preserved - the one aspect that has made returning to and introducing the 1995 film to others so remarkable, and why it has a place as one of the best films in its subgenre.
There's no denying that this is going to be one of the more risky big budget films of 2017 and in complete honesty, this fan event felt like a bit of damage control to get more people interested before the start of the final phase of the promotional campaign. Fingers crossed that it delivers.
Ghost in the Shell opens on March 31st, 2017.