Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell

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Let me give you the short version first. I have no idea what is wrong with audiences or critics who have been complaining about this film. It is very timely. It is gorgeous, and it is a good movie.

Actually, I can very directly tell you why this movie has been torpedoed by critics. It has essentially been plagued by issues with typecasting, whitewashing, etc. that have been blown way the heck out of proportion, e.g., in reviews like this. I’m not going to go into that. It’s a waste of time. Instead, let’s focus on the film itself.

My first point is that the film is timely. It’s about your personality and your privacy in the digital age. Republicans are pushing a bill that allows for your personal data, history and possibly even content to be sold by ISPs. Similar to how Major has no real rights to her mind, her thoughts, and even her own body. We’re incorporating devices into our lives that are going to be even more personal than smartphones. Implants, though they seem so farfetched, are not that far off in our future. There is already so much pressure on teenagers and young people to conform to a certain type of beauty and a certain type of online, social intelligence, that it is not farfetched to believe that a social pressure might be exerted to enhance beauty with implants. In South Korea, the rate of plastic surgery is astronomical to conform to beauty standards within the society.

As more of our job market is taken over by robots, there is going to be an incredible amount of pressure on the next two generations to push themselves scholastically to be able to get a job. Is it so farfetched to believe that people might resort to implants to store more information, help them process data faster, and learn faster? Do jobs faster? Be stronger? Be smarter? Be better? And who owns that data? According to our current congress, it’s going to be the companies. So, this movie is extremely timely. You should watch the movie if for no other reason than to keep that idea fresh in your mind.

Second, the movie has a solid flow and is comfortable to watch. The characters are reasonably well-defined on a sci-fi concept that is markedly different from our world today. World building in a 2 hour movie can be a hard thing, but the director did a good job of not just world building but also character development and story plotting (editors I’m sure had a lot to do with that).

Third, the movie is downright beautiful. The robots, such as the geishas, are really well done. It presents the ugliness in humans as well as our softer features and beauty, in a way. It presents the scenery of a Shanghai or Hong Kong or Tokyo built to the extreme that all anime and cyber punk books have pushed since the 80s. My wife didn’t like the 3D projections on buildings, but it’s not that far off from what you would expect to see after visiting a major Asian metropolis right now.

The movie is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. There is absolutely zero reason to avoid it in theaters. My wife and I both enjoyed it, and she absolutely hates anime. I doubt she could have sat through the original movie. This movie SHOULD have opened up American audiences to these important themes about digital privacy and self in an age of implants and cybernetics (which is fast upon us), but because of whitewashing conversations run amok, we’ll have to wait longer to have that conversation on a large scale. I would still recommend seeing it.

About Rex Jameson
Rex Jameson is the author of the three novels in the Primal Patterns series and half a dozen short stories. An avid history buff and an unabashed nerd with an appetite for science fiction and fantasy, he loves to create complex speculative fiction with layered characters. He earned a PhD in Computer Science at Vanderbilt University and researches distributed artificial intelligence in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. Rex and his wife Jenny live in Pittsburgh where they enjoy hosting family and friends.

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