Wednesday, 22 October 2014

ScarJo for GITS? Alternative Actresses (Image Montages) & Thoughts on the Remake

Recoloured sketch augment by me (2009)
'News' of the possible casting for Ghost in the Shell seemed rife the other night (Guardianio9, IGNetcetc). Probably because Facebook's algorithm can clearly see that I've LIKED the GITS film and SAC pages. Dipping briefly into the milieu of rabid fan comments, some alternative names cropped up that sparked me to think I might feasibly use this topic to squeeze a few film reviews into a single post (but then time and length over-ran, so they got their own posts).

Firstly, let me apologise for abbreviating Miss Johansson's name in the title, since she's reported as stating that the contraction "...sounds tacky... lazy and flippant... violent...[and]...insulting..."; a press convention designed to diminish women. This according to The Atlantic on "Scarlett Johansson's [Subversive] Vanishing Act" Note the partially redacted title! lol.

I would actually be fairly pleased with this casting choice in general. I have been pretty impressed with the direction she's taken with her acting roles (aside from the big Marvel money makers): oozing charisma through voice alone in "her", then reversing that completely with the disturbingly cold, emotional sparsity of "Under the Skin" (both 2013). The latter film could be taken quite literally as a metaphor for how the media industry feed on male weakness, using up successive starlets; all lust with no real intimacy pay-off.
Scarlett Johansson's shown she has the intensity. (Left: Under the Skin. Right: GITS 1995)
Whether she's deliberately challenging herself or even being a feminist heroine via clever casting choices is debatable. Obviously her sexuality never goes unnoticed, or uncommented. Supposedly it is flaunted in "Lucy" (2014 - though I've yet to watch it), in which her character uses "looks... as a utilitarian instrument of revenge" [Atlantic]. Obviously these 'looks' also woo a certain audience segment, too. This sounds just fine for Motoko's role, in certain respects. If this live action film leans towards the more overtly sexualised Major of the TV series (even more so the original manga...), then Johansson's reputation may be even more fitting (for better or worst).

My enthusiastic review extended into a whole blog post.
My concerns with Scarlet are more on how convincing fight scenes might look; I remember Scarlet's secret agent action role in "Iron Man 2" broke the 4th wall for me, in terms of believability for the physical capabilities of her body shape. Actually not so terrible, reviewing that scene. But the major generally goes toe to toe, rather than mauling opponents like a demented, Kung Fu squirrel. Maybe this inflexibility is a sexist failing on my part; "refus[ing] to embrace women in their entireties." [Atlantic].

Emily Blunt - has greater stature and already filed a military command role as Rita Vrataski (image above). She also has under her belt (the pretty decent) sci-fi action "Looper" (2012), with "Adjustment Bureau" (2011 - blogged here) rounding out the A-list of male action stars shes played support to. She actually turned down the 'Black Widow' role that now lets Johansson net serious money as an establish action star ($10M on the table for GITS). So if the current casting falls through (again), maybe history will be mirrored.

My blog post with analysis and criticism.
Blunt reminds me strongly of Keeley Hawes (in Ashes to Ashes): aside from being somewhat identical, both are type cast as indomitably assertive women with posh English accents. Which is all good. But I've yet to see Blunt in a lead role, and she seems to have a tendency towards hanging slightly agape, rather than tight lipped, steely determination.

Rinko Kikuchi - you might have hoped, would be more of an obvious choice, given that she's a japanese actress who has starred in a number of (English language) action blockbusters, (including 'Mako Mori' in the terrible Pacific Rim, see linked post below). Sadly, I think her accent is too strong to deliver the necessary philosophising with any serious weight (in a language I can comprehend, anyway).

'Whitewashing' is pretty depressing phenomena, but in the case of this particular film remake it would  be pretty excusable. The context for the original is an entirely fictional metropolis, in Japan, but heavily multicultural. The Section 9 team is comprised of members from all over the world, who met up during (non nuclear) WW3, or thereabouts. The major's ethnicity is never firmly established, in fact her original humanity is even left ambiguous in the 1995 movie. She can look however she wishes, in that she wears a cybernetic body, and that body happens to look fairly generically caucasian. Equally then, there's no technical reason she could not be played by a black actress, or any other skin colour.

My critical review. Image, right: 'Hello, my name is Commander Shepard Mako Mori, and ARRRGGGHH!...'
Eliza Dushku - the wonderful "Dollhouse" (2009) was created by Josh Whendon as a vehicle for her talents. Plus she always fit her action role in Buffy far more convincingly than Miss Gellar (in the lead role). Obviously Dushku would lack big screen draw, probably too embedded in her cult niche for marketability, etc.

Natalie Portman - definitely has the acting and box office clout. Maybe "Black swan" (2010) proved she still has the physicality for convincing action scenes, having been away since "Star Wars Episode II" (2002). Her filmography of late has included the doe eyed (supposed scientist) wench to Thor, the forgettable "No Strings Attached" (2011) and the supposedly tongue in cheek (but in practice just cringworthingly terrible) "Your Higheness" (2011), which I've not forgiven. Her portfolio has sunk in my estimation as Johansson's has risen, perhaps passing by around the time they co-stared in "The Other Boleyn Girl" (2008).

Girls with Guns - Dushku, Portman, Rapace, Moss, Glau.
Noomi Rapace - as the plucky heroine in "Prometheus" (2012), she showed that petite ladies can rule big budget action flicks. Perhaps this merely echoed, rather than surpassing Sigourney Weaver's epic intensity in "Alien(s)". She garners even more credibility from the original (Swedish) "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2009) adaptation, where she really got the sullen/serious look nailed.

Carrie-Anne Moss - I bet could totally still pull this off, and would make a great counterpoint to the list of 30 year olds* I seem to have made here, let alone the Jennifer Lawrence aged kids. (* Motoko is supposedly 31.)

Summer Glau - Prima ballerina skillz worked perfectly for fight scenes in the Firefly"/"Serenity" role of enigmatic psychic ninja - 'River Tam'. Less impressed from what little I've seen of her as a Terminator and I can't help but feel that while she might still nail the disquieting (creepy girl) stoicism, she would lack the Major Kusanagi gravitas. Couldn't not include her promo picture for "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (right) which is clearly heavily GITS influenced, although it would appear to put her more in the role of Project 2501...

[?] - My ideal preference would be for someone totally unknown, or at least unrecognisably cast, completely out of the blue. Removing the distracting baggage of recognition and previous exploits. I also can't help but feel that none of the lovely actresses I've listed above are really the right fit. Things are far more difficult when the voice and body have to be sourced from a single individual.

Rachel Nichols - should actually have been my top choice, but I nearly forgot her altogether! She is perhaps less well known than she deserves, due to bad luck and casting: She was being groomed to take over the lead role in "Alias" (where she first received combat training), right before it was canceled (2006). Embarrassingly unrecognisable as Uhura's green skinned, slutty dorm mate ("Star Trek" 2009). She also starred as one of the live action dolls in silly CGI-fest G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra that same year, before co-starring in the long troubled and stillborn production of "Conan the Barbarian" (2011).

Near perfect for any fight scenes, she's like an action hero version of Jodie foster. Her lead role as plucky anti-victim in the small budget "P2" (2007) reminded me of "Panic Room" (2002)... plus their faces are similar. Generally fairly conservative; she's not one for revealing all, but there's no reason the remake need be too explicit. Others above might be considered better at delivering lines, close up, but, in her favour, she already plays a hard nosed, future super-cop!...

Actually, I only knew of Nichols as the central protagonist in "Continuum" (2012 onwards). This relatively low budget, but ambitious, Canadian TV series is a shining example of a new wave of sci-fi. I'd even say that, as 'Kiera Cameron', Nichols is already the spiritual successor Major Kusanagi. She's always convincing when taking a kicking, but keeping on ticking, with some brilliantly choreographed fights later in series run. Certainly one can see several obvious (and some more subtle) echoes of the influential work here (I already made comparisons in the post linked below). But it goes way beyond skin tight invisibility cloaking, update and pulling in fresh sci-fi tropes...

My brief impressions of the show up to end of series 2.

Cameron is a cyborg-lite, with an embedded computer enhanced central nervous system, rather than a heavy handed full body prosthesis. Super robots might have seemed more plausible to a Japanese audience at the top of the 90s, after decades of seemingly unstoppable economic and technological growth. (Of course, no one country can sail that far ahead of the rest of the world; their bubble burst in the crash of 1991, soon after Shirow published the original manga, with a "lost decade" or two following, now Japan has, by far, the highest national debt ratio in the world!)

The potential evils of Corporate hegemony, encroachment of authoritarian police control and terrorist ethics are the bread and butter of this series. The increasingly blurry balancing point between these is where we dwell. I think this dimension of moral ambiguity was not really seen in GITS, where the members of "Section 9", despite being the government's secret hit-squad, are actually all straight up heros. The plays for power generally come from top government brass and other sections of it's military. More about tyrants than a the nebulously corrupting ultra-capitalist paradigm, that is more relevant to us today.

While Continuum does deal with the question of personal autonomy verse manipulation (and indoctrination), it stays well away from AI. Because of this, there's no philosophising about the 'ghost' (i.e. consciousness) or super-human intelligence, so there's still plenty of ground for a contemporary GITS to re-explore.

Timing Of the Remake - The renewed activity on this live action remake coincides with an apparent resurgence in the public's appetite for, and film industry's interest in, (something not entirely unlike) space opera. Certainly Marvel's move towards superheroes in space has got some (at io9) excited, with James Gunn's GOTG (2014) proving a somewhat unlikely hit.

Theres the imminent release of the very promising "Interstellar" from Chris Nolan (Memento, The Prestige, Batman, Inception), although Mark Kermode's more excited about it's premiere on celluloid film. Then the much anticipated (i.e. delayed) "Jupiter Ascending" from the Wachowskis, hopefully at the beginning of next year. Looking slightly further out, I'm still very interested in the "Avatar" (2009) sequels, estimated to start around 2016.

This excellent Guardian piece (that I've just stumbled upon), points at 9/11, foreign wars and environmentalism as prime movers prompting the cultural distaste for space. Which isn't wrong. But I feel the resurgence may echo the move out of recession into a period of growth... Vampiric indulgence seems more prevelent towards the end of an economic cycle, with complacent thoughts of staling immortality. Zombies obsession overruns the depths of the down-swing (perhaps escapist fantasy epics too). Now these get overlooked, against a background of grassroots recovery, as the population gazes further afield, into the unknown and the future.

I lamented, 5 years ago, the dearth of decent films and TV of my prefered genre. After the triad of 2nd Gen Star Trek shows closed out in 2001, there was a void in which shows like "Firefly" (2002) didn't stand a chance (that was below my exacting 'hard' sci-fi standards of the time, anyway). But it looks like this trend is coming to an end.
Beyond the Death of Silver Screen Space Operas
This blog post is also where I first got excited about Spielberg's 2008 acquisition of the intellectual rights for Dreamworks, even though it was to be 3D fodder, originally slated for 2011. Boy, how time flies!
Closing Thoughts - I'm not a fan of continually re-hashing existing IP, but the 1995 GITS movie really added something new to Masamune Shirow's original 1989 manga. It faithfully collected together many facets, but presented them in a poignant, new light, with it's own unique tone. So, although my expectations are low here, I'm pretty excited for the possibility that, 20 years on from the first film, another medium transformation might add something new too.

Maybe it will update the work, sharpening it's edge of prescience. Of course, a relative dumbing down seems far more likely (big budget releases tend to play it safe). And the spectre of a "The Last Airbender" (2010) type travesty is always a worry, particularly when transgressing cultural context. Even in the worst case, it should still bring renewed attention to the existing versions, and let me feel somewhat vindicated that the work was something worth being marginally obsessed with.

Of course, one can argue that Ghost in the Shell already was remade, shot for shot in places, by the Wachowskis!

[Edit 2015-01-06] Looks like Scarlet is confirmed for role, so hopefully production will get the go-ahead.

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