Tag Archives: Ghost in the Shell

Live Action Remakes of Animated Classics – A Discussion

Recently there has been a push by Disney and others to remake classic animated films as live action films.  With the upcoming live action versions of Ghost in the Shell and Beauty and the Beast, now is the perfect time to discuss if this is a good or completely unnecessary thing.  I would posit that it can be good, but is often unnecessary.  Let’s examine a few examples in alphabetical order:

Animal Farm (Animated 1954; Live Action 1999)

The British, animated version of Animal Farm still haunts my nightmares.  The live action, made for TV version does not.   That isn’t to say that the animated version didn’t deserve a live action update, it kind of does, but the version that they came up with just doesn’t work for me.

Verdict: Not a bad idea.

Beauty and the Beast (Animated 1991; Live Action 2017)

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a front-runner for greatest animated film of all time.  It is responsible for the Disney Renaissance of the 1990’s, features great music, and stunning examples of the lost art of hand-drawn animation.

That isn’t to say a live action version is a bad idea.  This spring’s release is highly anticipated, solidly cast, and looks good on the trailers.  I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve actually seen it.

Verdict: Still an open question.

Charlotte’s Web (Animated 1973; Live Action 2006)

Charlotte’s Web is an undisputed classic of children’s literature.  With source material this good, movies were inevitable.  The first attempt was a 1973 Hanna/Barbera production notable for the fact that it is one of the few Hanna/Barbera projects based on a preexisting property.

The animated version remains a classic due to Debbie Reynolds’ voice-over work as Charlotte and a few catchy songs (some better than others).  It’s not a perfect film, but it certainly captures the joy and sadness of E.B. White’s iconic novel.

Meanwhile, the 2006 version has way too many celebrity voices and is kind of creepy.  It’s not a horrible film, just a waste of time given that the original, animated version still exists.

Verdict: Unnecessary.

Cinderella (Animated, 1950; Live Action 2015)

The original Cinderella is a classic of the Disney catalogue, so much so that its reputation at this point is beyond criticism.  Even so, the story of Cinderella isn’t so unique that it can’t do without an update or two.  Arguably, remaking Beauty and the Beast has a higher degree of difficulty because it came out more recently and has a more unique take on a classic tale.

The live action version is pretty good.  It’s not quite as good as the animated version but a solid film that stands on its own merits.

Verdict: There was no reason not to do this, and no reason to do this.

Ghost in the Shell (Animated 1995; Live Action 2017)

I’m tempted to reserve judgment on this one, but I’m not going to do that.  First of all, remaking Ghost in the Shell with an American actress in the lead role is obnoxious.  That should be enough to consider this a problem, but there’s actually another good reason why one shouldn’t remake this particular property.

While Ghost in the Shell is a landmark of anime, the original film suffers from some of the problems of anime – it’s somewhat opaque and has a lot of nudity and violence for the sake of there being nudity and violence.  However, whatever value a live action remake could have has been supplanted by an excellent television series. The Stand Alone Complex television series does a much better job with the characters already without as many anime-related problems.

Verdict: Pointless Hollywood cash-grab.

Lord of the Rings (Animated 1978, 1980; Live Action 2001, 2002, 2003)

Let’s see.  Mediocre animated adaptation versus one of the best films every made.  Hmmmm.

Verdict: An absolutely necessary and brilliant idea.

There’s a few other examples, like 101 Dalmatians, but I’ll stop there.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe

The Empire Strikes Back and the Science Fiction Genre

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

1980, Irvin Kershner, USA

“The force is with you young Skywalker.  But you are not a Jedi yet.”

Most people that are familiar with the Star Wars series consider the Empire Strikes Back (“Empire”) to be the best film of the six.  Once in a while you’ll run into someone who finds the original Star Wars (1977) or Return of the Jedi (1983) to be their favorite, but I find it hard to argue against Empire.

And why not?  Empire succeeds in everything that it tries to do.  It moves the story along from the first Star Wars film, sets up a convincing love story, trains Luke (Mark Hamill) as a Jedi, builds tension, and ends on the perfect note to set up the next film.  There are none of the plot inconsistencies, or unsuccessful attempts at humor that you find in some of the other films in the series and far fewer issues with the dialogue.

So if Empire is an extremely successful and well made film – where does it stack up against the classics of the science fiction genre?  I would first argue that science fiction is such a versatile genre that it is really like comparing apples and oranges, but let’s give it a try anyway.

Besides Empire, three other great science fiction films include 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968),  Solaris (1972),  and Ghost in the Shell (1995). First, 2001 is a story about mankind’s place in the universe, contains groundbreaking visuals, and gives the audience a chance to soak in the concepts of the film with its long shots and minimal use of dialogue.  It’s nowhere near as entertaining as Empire (I personally find it boring), but it isn’t intended to be – it’s intended to make you think about reality whereas Empire exists in a self-contained, fantasy universe.

Solaris is about human isolation, nostalgia, and loneliness.  It is the story of a cosmonaut who is tempted by a living planet to exist in his past rather than his present.  It isn’t so much a science fiction film as a fever dream.  Empire isn’t interested in peering deep into your soul the way Solaris is, and with good reason.  Could you imagine Han Solo (Harrison Ford) getting nostalgic about, well, anything?

Ghost in the Shell, of course, is not about a fantastic galaxy far, far away, but about our present relationship with technology.  It is a commentary on the line between man and machine, and, at base, what makes us human.  Granted it has a lot more action than Solaris or 2001, but its psychological themes are in some ways encompassing of both films.  Like 2001, Ghost in the Shell asks to what extent can we become dependent on machines/computers and still be human? Like Solaris, it explores isolation by asking if we can have constant access to the “net” yet still feel isolated?

Is Empire a “great” film?  Like 2001 or Solaris or Ghost in the Shell, it is well made and executes its goals without obvious flaws.  The issue, I believe, is that Empire’s success occurs in the mythological universe of Star Wars.  Rather than provide commentary on the present human condition, it instead builds upon a mythological story filled with basic and accessible themes about good and evil, fathers and sons, and friendships helping us overcome adversity.  It doesn’t reach for the philosophical as much as these other films, but that’s not a flaw in my opinion.

Too often we are compelled to assign “greatness” to the most philosophical works and dismiss films with simpler themes as mere entertainment.  I would argue that a film’s “greatest” exists in how well it achieves its objectives – not by what those objectives are.  If you use that as a measure, indeed Empire is a great work of science fiction and one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe