Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano
Production: DreamWorks, Paramount, Arad Productions
Directed by: Rupert Sanders
After many years of development, the live-action remake of “Ghost in the Shell” has been released in theaters. Ever since it was announced, the film had been mired in controversy for everything from the casting to the liberties taken with the original film from director Mamoru Oshii and the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow.
One of the biggest wonders was how the film would perform at the box office amid the backlash from online commentators, and its seems the skepticism many had toward the project was justified. The film has opened at number three, with a meager $18.6 million against a reported $110 million budget. The results are below expectations, with the film losing out to the animated family comedy “The Boss Baby” at $50.1 million and the third weekend of the live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” at $45.4 million.
The film has also received a lukewarm reception among critics and audiences, with the film sitting at a 44 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing, less than half the 95 percent rating the original 1995 film received. The most common consensus has seen many praise the visuals and special effects but criticize the liberties taken with the original source material.
Among fans of the original anime and manga, the liberties taken with the story have been panned as dull and uninvolving at best and downright insulting at worst. In particular, several articles such as one on “Nerds of Color” lambasted the film for trying to justify the controversial decisions about the casting (said article contains spoilers for the film, so read at your own risk).
Even though the film was originally meant to be the first in a planned franchise, the prospect of further installments now seems unlikely barring some sort of miracle from international earnings.
While the original anime and manga will still be influential over the coming years, the live-action “Ghost in the Shell” will join infamous bombs such as “Dragonball Evolution” as key examples of how not to remake a beloved film. Despite the best efforts of the cast, crew, and even Oshii’s endorsement, the parties involved failed to realize on a fundamental level that the biggest mistake one can make is trying to please everyone.
With more competition on the way, the live-action remake of “Ghost in the Shell” is on track to lose over $60-$85 million and add to the growing list of box office flops that Paramount has had over the past year. Above all, the failure of this remake of “Ghost in the Shell” will also make the prospect of further live-action remakes of beloved anime and manga (such as the Netflix adaptation of “Death Note” later this year) much more uneasy.
In many ways, the remake has become the very thing people that love the original were worried about: a black-market, PG-13 knockoff of a genre-defining, R-rated classic. It’s akin to trying to sell the fans a velvet painting of Elvis Presley and telling them it’s the Mona Lisa. Its “ghost” has been hijacked by people who didn’t understand what made the original source material so beloved and planted into the “shell” of a film with all the nuance of one of the live-action “Transformers” films. It feels like a play-by-play of elements from the original mixed with “Blade Runner” by way of “The Matrix” trilogy. In an attempt to bring the film to a wider audience, the live-action “Ghost in the Shell” has become another bomb of a Hollywood anime adaptation, losing in Americanization what its Japanese source material did so right.
Column by Steven Pryor