Ghost in the Shell Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

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Striking but a little too safe

by Casimir Harlow Aug 7, 2017 at 8:37 AM

  • SRP: £24.99

    Film Review

    Visually striking, this faithful but safe adaptation of the beloved anime/manga property Ghost in the Shell spends too long explaining origins.

    It looks amazing, painting an imaginative futurescape; a fully-realised universe where seamless CG brings the original animations to life using a mix of Blade Runner future Tokyo-noir (real-life Hong Kong) and The Fifth Element wide-eyed colour. But it sometimes feels like just a shell. At once likely appealing most to fans of the anime franchise - the geisha robot, spider tank and stealth cloak scenes are almost shot-for-shot ripped from the classic movies, and there are plenty more, as well as a plethora of nods to the TV series' too - the film is also likely to frustrate them the most, spending far too long attempting to explain the Major's roots (arguably the least important element of the franchise) when it should be embracing the sometimes baffling complexities that were part-and-parcel with everything else Ghost in the Shell.
    The cast are well chosen - Johansson gets to spend her usual contractual amount of time in a near-naked state, which works for the role, only really leaving character when she hunches over and scowls, whilst it's nice to get to see the legendary Japanese auteur 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano on the Big Screen - but the film suffers from the distinct lack of a strong villain, instead relying on some admittedly powerful setpieces (the ones ripped from the anime) with a basic origin plot stringing them together. Ultimately it feels like the focus on visual wonders, action sequences and origin story is designed to ease us into the heady environment of non-vocal coms, cyber-hacked bodies, memory-diving, AI humanity and mind-based terrorism. This makes it quite a weak standalone effort, which will only really work if there's more to come.

    Picture Quality

    Ghost in the Shell Picture Quality
    Ghost in the Shell hacks into UK 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presented in 3840 x 2160p with a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, using 10-bit video depth, a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR), encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec. The UHD Blu-ray was reviewed on a Samsung UE55KS8000 Ultra HD TV and a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

    The film was shot digitally using Arri Alexa 65 cameras at a source resolution of 5K, so it should have been one of the absolute best looking Ultra HD Blu-ray releases of the year - perhaps of all time. It should have stunned in its use of HDR and WCG, with pop that brought the 3D-designed elements to life in 2D in such an impressive way that you barely missed the extra dimension. The vibrant neon colours should have burnt your retinas, whilst the clinical cyborg detailing should have been given a new level of precision on this release, courtesy of a 4K Digital Intermediate (DI). Which is why it's all the more shocking that not only do we have the limitations of a 2K DI to contend with, but we also have to face a surprisingly flat and muted look that is far from flattering for such a gorgeous production.

    Technically it's a good looking film but it's surprisingly flat and muted

    Detail is strong, and there is plenty of clarity and fine texturing, but - in direct comparison - very little discernible difference between this and the 1080p Blu-ray counterpart. And that theme follows through for the rest of the video presentation, with only a few glimmers of tangible improvements caused by the implementation of HDR and WCG, and actually hints of thinner black levels are a result. Indeed it's tough to say it, but some may actually prefer the look of the Blu-ray, with the added benefits of the Ultra HD Blu-ray so thin on the ground that it makes a mockery of the potential of the new format. Technically it's still a good looking film, and perhaps much of this comes down to the director's intent, but considering the film's rampant focus on visuals it's somewhat surprising that, rather than make the most of them, the decision has been made instead to almost mute them. It certainly doesn't make for the gorgeous visual presentation we were all expecting.

    Sound Quality

    Ghost in the Shell Sound Quality
    Cas Harlow reviewed the audio using a standard 5.1-channel setup – No such complaints on the aural front, with a tremendous Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack. All of the key elements are promoted with verve and distinction - the dialogue, effects and score coming together in a near-perfect confluence of superior ingredients afforded superior presentation. Dialogue gets the front row seats for the majority of the runtime, given clarity and coherence throughout, whilst effects are superbly observed, lapping up the minutiae of the future tech on offer in a way that only shows up the video presentation even more. It's finely tuned, and discretely channeled, giving power and direction to the more bombastic elements - as gunfire and, in particular, the spider-tank's shells - punch holes in your living room walls. Bullets spin around right in front of you, landing hard with LFE impact, whilst body blows carry weight too as the Major's super-enhanced powers crack skulls. The score fluctuates quite dramatically between thematically sound and just outright derivative and generic - a fact which is only further emphasised when the original anime score plays out over the end credits - but at least it gives the surrounds yet more to play with. It's an impressive offering, whatever your sound system capabilities.

    It's an impressive offering, whatever your sound system capabilities

    Steve Withers reviewed the audio using a 7.2.4-channel Dolby Atmos setup – In much the same way as the UHD image offers little improvement over the regular Blu-ray's picture, so the Dolby Atmos soundtrack fails to add much when compared to the excellent 7.1-channel Dolby TrueHD version. Yes there is a touch more precision in the steering of effects thanks to the object-based mix but the sound designers appear to have made little use of the overhead channels, with sounds rarely emanating from above. When you consider the built-up nature of the future cityscape that seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, which is a shame. In most other respects the Atmos track appears to be identical to its 7.1-channel equivalent, with well prioritised dialogue, plenty of effects, lively use of the surround channels during the numerous action scenes and really deep bass that underscores certain key sequences. The Atmos soundtrack does add a bit more ambience to the crowded street scenes but it's never used in a genuinely creative way – the 'non-vocal coms', for example, could have really benefitted from the more precise spacial cues afforded by Atmos. Ultimately it's not a bad soundtrack but, much like the film itself, could have been so much better.


    Ghost in the Shell Extras
    Again Paramount's Ghost in the Shell release is another example of lazy disc production, with an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc that boasts absolutely nothing in the way of extras, and everything that is on offer - which isn't exactly a great deal - is relegated to the accompanying, Region Free Blu-ray.

    Everything on offer is relegated to the Blu-ray

    The most substantial extra and headlining piece is a fairly comprehensive half-hour Documentary, Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell, which looks at just about every aspect of the production, from its often abortive, long-gestating planning history, to the vision the director saw for the live-action interpretation, the characters and the cast that were brought in to play them, the look, the effects work done and distinctive setting, and the attempts to stay faithful to the source material. Accompanying this, there are also a couple of 10 minute offerings, Section 9: Cyber Defenders, which looks at the elite covert organisation, and Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy, which looks closer at the portentous future themes.

    Ultra HD Blu-ray Verdict

    Ghost in the Shell Ultra HD Blu-ray Verdict
    Quite a weak standalone effort, which will only really work if there's more to come

    Almost entirely missing the point of its source anime, the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell is a mixed bag of great visuals and superb nods to the original, strung together over a weak and unnecessary origin story plot which loses all of the heady complexity that made the anime so damn unique.

    Even this Ultra HD Blu-ray release comes as something of a disappointment, at least on the video front, seemingly not making the most of the potential afforded by the stunning visuals, but at least the soundtrack is generally good, and there are a few extras too, even if they're relegated to the accompanying Blu-ray. Fans of the franchise should tread carefully here - there's plenty to smile knowingly at, but more to be disappointed by - but, by the same token, fans will need to at least check it out, even if this Ultra HD Blu-ray arguably offers little upgrade over the Blu-ray.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99

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