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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

 

Introduction: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Blu-ray Box) [Blu-ray]

 

(Mamoru Oshii, 2008)

 

 

 

 

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Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Production I.G.

Blu-ray: Kodansha, Bandai Visual / Manga Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: FREE

Runtime: 83 minu

Chapters: 15

Size: 4 discs

Case: Three Standard Blu-ray cases in sturdy slipcover

Release date: December 19, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.72:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC

 

Audio:

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 6.1. Japanese PCM 2.0

 

Subtitles:

Feature: Japanese, English. Bonus: None

 

Extras:

• Theatrical Trailer in HD (0:52)

• Promotional Trailer in HD (0:42)

• Disc 2: Ghost in the Shell (1995) on Blu-ray

• Disc 3: CD of music from the soundtrack (newly recorded)

• Disc 4: Reborn: The Making of Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (42:43)

• 24-page high gloss booklet

 

 

The Film: 7
Ghost in the Shell, a story set in 2029 about cyber-terror and a special unit to fight it, began life as a manga by Masamune Shirow, first published in 1989. In Mamoru Oshii's imaginative hands, the manga became a feature film in 1995. Kenji Kamiyama developed the concept into a popular television series (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), starting in 2002. A second season (2nd GIG) finished airing four years ago. The feature film has since spawned two sequels: the first, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence in 2004, was also directed by Oshii. Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society in 2006 was directed by Kenji Kamiyama. Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. - The Laughing Man in 2006 is an OVA version of the original TV series. The feature films (excepting Laughing Man) and TV series have independent time lines.

So what's up with Ghost in the Shell 2.0? (an unfortunate title considering the existence of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which was better off without the "2" in the first place.) The promotional materials declare: This is not a remake. This is not a remix. This is another "G.I.S." It's a "2.0" I, for one, am not convinced. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating experiment, one that time and repeated viewings will offer the perspective needed to judge.

Though I feel the movie has problems with consistency, my feeling about the film is relatively positive – very much so as for the new audio mix. But after watching just the opening few minutes, I was convinced that purists wouldn't care for it much. In preparation for this review I scanned a couple of blogs and, sure enough, suspicions confirmed. To take one example, while Todd Brown at Twitch had good things to say about it, all eight of the comments were agin' it.

Devotees of the movie and the TV series will almost certainly not be happy with two things about the new film: it moves away from traditional manga semi-static drawings and into 3-D CG animation. And it does this inconsistently. The script seems more or less identical, as does the scenario. Some of its scenes have been dramatically reworked, many have not. The overall color scheme has been shifted from blue to gold, and the overall impression is than it is less drawn, more filmlike . Master shots permit considerably more space, while most of the frames that follow are cropped into the cell.

One striking difference is that, instead of the sparkling clarity that informs the original, the image is often seen through a dirty glass, reflecting Oshii's feeling about the story, it's time and place. 2.0 is darker, grittier. And, not unlike Blade Runner, it is also more beautiful. Dimensionality is always more palpable: Sometimes this is rendered with great subtlety, adding light to middle and background planes; other times the layered effect is stunning. The Major herself has been dramatically reworked: She is more fluid, flexible, more human, if you will: she appears to be her shell, rather than wearing it. When she tears herself apart in an effort to obtain entrance to an armored vehicle, the effect is heartbreaking in a way that the original, for all its explicit horror, only suggested.

 


 

Image: 6/8
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Very little of the film has been entirely reanimated, a good deal of it feels more or less untouched (but isn't). The color palette change from cool blues to warm golds and bronze is dramatic. There is at times a considerable amount of deliberate blowing out of the image, while in other scenes, only a suggestion of shadow detail. The dynamic range is greater than in the original film, which has more consistent contrast.

There are many frames that a side-by-side comparison would come down in favor of the original, if clarity of image was the intention – which it was then, and, for dramatic reasons, isn't now. On the other hand, there are fewer instances of edge enhancement on 2.0, though, sadly, some still persists. There is less noise - a cynical view of this might be that the new darkness simply serves to hide the pervasive noise that the original movie displays, as for instance at the movie's start, during the slow pan across the sky from the radar screens to the Major.

I offer a number of paired frames, using the Japanese Blu-ray edition of the original movie, included with this box set. While it was not always possible, I made every effort to locate the precise analogous frame on 2.0. I think you'll get the point quickly. The aspect ratio is less rectangular (I measured it at 1.72:1 as compared to 1.83:1 for the original.) Yet the image is not expanded vertically – that is, there is no more information. Quite the contrary. I also referenced both the original Japanese DVD and the most recent U.S. edition. I offer one comparative pairing which is representative and fairly consistent throughout: the U.S. version has deeper blacks and snappier contrast, while the Japanese is flatter but with more gradations of color, especially as to what might be called skin tones.

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

US DVD vs. R2 DVD

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Original Blu-ray (included in the set) LEFT vs. new 2.0 Blu-ray Rendition RIGHT

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/9
The audio mix has been expanded to 6.1 (from 2.0) in Dolby TrueHD. Note that Manga's U.S. 2-disc Special Edition DVD of the original film was offered in Japanese 6.1 DTS-ES as well an English dub in 6.1. There is no English dub for the 2.0 Blu-ray. The original mix was uncompressed PCM, so you would expect the main difference to be in the surrounds which would come into play with some frequency. The surrounds are here more for immersion and atmospherics than directionality and, as such, are most effective. I found the original soundtrack both thin and harsh, especially in the effects and music. This has been corrected completely: the gunfire is more realistic and the music far less mechanical. The music under (or over) the titles is probably rerecorded, so completely persuasive it is. Gone are those harsh gunfire attacks - in their place, subtle helicopter effects and awesome bass and silky trebles in the music. The music in general is most subtly and effectively used throughout, nicely supporting the new CG. Finally the entire dialogue mix has been reconsidered for a more realistic impression of internalized and externalized conversation. The resultant mix compares more closely with Innocence, which is benchmark for anime.

 

 

 

Operations: 7
The menu is in Japanese and English and easily understood, unless you are bewildered by the chapter titles, which only make sense if you're acquainted with the story and background.

 

Extras: 6
On the feature film disc there are two brief trailers in HD. In the third snapcase there are two discs: first, a mere 20-minute CD of 9 newly recorded tracks. I observed deeper bass and more natural treble extension. Also included are some meditative remarks by the Major and Batou that somehow become a part of the musical fabric. The other disc is Blu-ray and contains a single forty minute featurette about the making of GITS 2.0. It is not subtitled, but is not all that difficult to make some sense of if you know the original film – which you will, or why would you be buying this?

 

 

Bottom line:

If you're an anime enthusiast, prices like what is being asked for this set should come as no surprise. I've seen their like on Japanese DVD editions of television series. Despite my reservations about the 2.0 version of Ghost in the Shell (which might change in time), I have no regrets about the purchase. It is a fascinating and absorbing adventure to explore the thinking of this most fascinating director. But beyond the question of what we see is the no small matter of what we hear. And in this respect 2.0 is most remarkably improved – not merely different.

Leonard Norwitz
January 3rd, 2009

 

 

 

 

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