25th Anniversary Steelbook Treatment
Ghost in the Shell Blu-ray Review
Striking and spectacular; haunting and atmospheric, director Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s seminal original manga is indisputably one of the greatest animes of all time.A cyberpunk classic, even almost 20 years on it stands up as futuristic in both technology and themes as it follows a special black ops Government unit established to crack down on cyber-terrorists and on the hunt for a target – the Puppet Master – whose mysterious agenda has ramifications in both the real and the digital world. Their leader, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is a cyborg super-cop who frequently considers how much of her is still human, and whose confrontations with the Puppet Master only bring with them signs of a much larger conspiracy which may change the face of public security forever.With the backdrop of a richly adventurous future cityscape – that reminds of Blade Runner – and a series of fantastic action sequences which are interspersed between bouts of occasionally dense cyber-philosophy, this is one of those rare anime features which transcends its animated origins to remain one of the greatest sci-fi action thrillers of all time. Crafting an iconic – and eminently sexy, despite the desexualisation associated with her cyborg body – heroine in Kusanagi and playing out some remarkably tense set-pieces, all set to a stunning and haunting score by Kenji Kawai, this is an unmissable work of art; one which directly inspired The Matrix (the Wachowski’s reportedly remarked of Ghost in the Shell that they “want to do that, only for real”) and one which remains a classic even to this day.
Ghost in the Shell Blu-ray VideoGhost in the Shell was last given the 2.0 treatment – reissued in a completely revamped form which replaced the CG elements but maintained the rest of the old cel-based structure. Although this certainly made the end product look considerably more slick, and although the new CG elements were eminently pretty to behold, fans were quite rightly concerned about the Lucas-style tinkering and, ultimately, largely stuck to the original. The trouble is that the 2.0 Blu-ray release, whilst sporting a gorgeous 2.0 HD video presentation and accompanying audio tracks, only boasted the original unaltered Ghost in the Shell film in 1080i, and with limited PCM-only audio tracks.
This new 25th Anniversary package strangely eschews the opportunity to provide a more complete package – both versions of the film with HD video and audio all-round – and instead focuses merely on the original unaltered version, promoting it with a sparkly new 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, and some revamped audio tracks.
The resounding good news is that Ghost in the Shell looks absolutely spectacular. Sure, it’s almost 2 decades’ old (the manga is celebrating its 25th Anniversary, hence the misleading title), and animation has come a hell of a long way in all that time, but many of the elements don’t betray that age. And the ones that do still look better than they have ever done before. Line integrity is maintained throughout, with strong edges and shape definition. Characters are better rounded, and the cityscape comes to life with minute observation into the bustling city.
It was never going to polish up perfect, but the original, unalterered Ghost in the Shell has undoubtedly never looked this good before.
Sure, there’s still a softness around the edges, which affects some scenes more than others, but it arguably looks more natural than the integrated scenes in the 2.0 version – which was given a remarkably soft overhaul in order to bring everything together into a more cohesive whole – and it looks leagues better than the 1080i version which came as an extra on that earlier disc. Images look more fluid in motion, line detail is more stable, and the colour scheme richer. This was never a vivid movie – primaries stifled and muted more often than not – but this remastered version looks more like the stunning painting that it was always meant to be, with gothic blood reds and deep purples; dirty greys and dark blues and greens. Black levels are strong and deep for the most part too, with a few more washed out elements, but nothing too frustrating.
Although it was not possible to do a direct comparison between anything other than the two versions offered on the 2.0 release, and the remastered version here, it seems highly likely that this new version is identical to the relatively recent Japanese remaster of the original version.
Ghost in the Shell Blu-ray AudioThe cracks start to appear when we investigate the audio options which start well, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 flavour for the English track, but then only an LPCM 2.0 track for the Japanese. Although the 2.0 edition of this movie sported HD audio for both languages, the original cut, which was included as a supplemental, only offered PCM 2.0 versions of either audio option, so technically this is still a noteworthy upgrade, but it’s understandable that fans will be distinctly non-plussed by this news.
Although most dedicated fans of foreign features abide strictly by the original language / no-dubbing rule, animated features are perhaps less clear-cut, even for completists. Since lip-synch isn’t as much of an issue for animated features, having an alternative language track isn’t as objectionable. The question is more to do with the quality of the tracks on offer, and the competency of the translation. Often the script for the English dubbing isn’t anywhere near as good as the English subtitles on offer.
The ideal option would be to allow fans to make the decision themselves, but unfortunately this release doesn’t make that so easy. Although the LPCM 2.0 version of the Japanese track is still a technical upgrade, it’s positively muted and muffled in comparison with the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 counterpart. Background sounds are stifled and frequently non-existent; traffic noises disappear into the ether; gunshots are strangled; and even the superior score itself doesn’t have anywhere near the same presence. Sure, the English counterpart is still a front-dominated affair, but it has some much more punch and potency; depth and vibrancy. It’s undoubtedly the better overall experience, which will frustrate those who would prefer to watch the movie in Japanese.
If you watch it in English, you'll be pleased by this HD upgrade, but those seeking an upgraded Japanese counterpart will be disappointed.
There are further issues though. The English track closes out the movie with a totally incongruous audio piece that has been randomly included to play out over the closing credits – ridding us of the pleasure of hearing the original Japanese score theme once again; the same one that plays over the opening credits and at several points during the movie. It’s an odd change, and utterly unsuitable for ending the movie with. And the final point to note is the subtitles. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as saying ‘the English subtitles are better than the English dubbing’ because neither is perfect, and neither as good as their counterparts on the 2.0 re-release. It’s a shame they didn’t upgrade the subtitles at least.
Ghost in the Shell Blu-ray ExtrasNon-existent. Fans will have to keep their old 2.0 release.
Ghost in the Shell Blu-ray VerdictAlthough fans will quite rightly be over the moon about finally having their beloved thriller released in its original, un-tinkered form and with remastered HD video, they will still be scratching their heads over the release's shortcomings - where's the original language HD 5.1 audio? And what happened to the kind of extras that a 25th Anniversary package deserves?
I'm sure many will struggle to resist this shiny, special steelbook release but it retails at twice as much as it actually should when you consider that it's ultimately a massive double-dip which will almost certainly leave you unable to part with your old 2.0 copy either. Still, for such a classic, perhaps it's worth any price.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.