[Editor’s Note: Adam left the Bay semi-recently to sup on fine foods, watch great movies and educate the children of South Korea on the importance of canted angles and expressionism. JK, JK. He’s teaching out there. Here’s the first of hopefully many dispatches from abroad.]
A couple of months ago, I saw the Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell, which stars Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese woman whose brain inhabits a weaponized robot with Caucasian features. I had read plenty about the casting controversies around the film, and some tepid reviews too, but in my moment of weakness, I didn’t care. I wanted to watch CGI explosions and Scarlett Johansson in a wetsuit, so I went. It was the worst viewing experience of my life.
I don’t mean the movie itself, which was decent as far as focus-tested Hollywood remakes go (other than the problem of Johansson and Pilou Asbæk’s casting). All the iconic scenes from the 1995 anime are repackaged in a derivative, bloodless adventure that’s mostly okay. The acting, pacing, action, etc. are all fine. It has enough watered-down copies of Japanese psychedelia to let you know they were trying.
What made the movie so horrible was my unintentional choice to see it in “4D,” an option that in America is reserved for theme park rides but in South Korea (where I live now) is apparently more of a thing. My ticket was expensive even for a 3D movie, but I didn’t put two and two together until the lights dimmed and something sprayed water on my face as a CGI butterfly emerged from a pond onscreen.
The next two hours were sensory overload of the worst kind. As the opening credits rolled over slow-motion shots of ScarJo’s robot body, my chair pitched backwards and forwards, I guess to mimic the sensation of floating. But being rocked back and forth against your will doesn’t feel like floating, it feels like clutching your popcorn so it doesn’t fall out of your lap while also firmly gripping the armrest so you don’t fall out of your chair because there’s no seat belt. Every time there was a tracking shot of “Neo-Tokyo,” the rocking happened and I struggled to sit upright and keep an eye on the movie I had paid for.
The “4D experience” didn’t stop there. Every time there was a gunshot in the movie, something under my ass would vibrate—never the hands, never the part of the body that was shot onscreen, only my ass. Every time there was an explosion, bright lights on both sides of the screen would blast the audience for a full 3 seconds and completely wash out the picture. And yes, during the updated “water fight” scene, I got splashed like I was in the first row at SeaWorld.
I have no idea who Ghost in the Shell 4D was for. Every bell and whistle that was supposed to make the movie more “immersive” did the exact opposite. The “4D” elements put a wall between me and the sounds and images, the only things movies have to work with. If I’m roleplaying as “grouchy old film critic,” it was rock bottom for a blockbuster culture that treats movies as human gyroscope rides and not vessels for stories (I should mention here that I’m not talking about South Korea specifically—Busan has an amazing film scene and you should check out the Cinema Center if you’re ever in town).
Still, it was funny to see a movie about the downsides of cybernetic gadgets, only for the movie’s own technological upgrades to ruin my day. One thing’s for sure: if the singularity, or lifelike virtual reality, or some other dystopian nightmare ever happens in the real world, there will always be culture critics to complain about how lame it is.
Adam is an Oakland native with a sad compulsion to put his opinions online. He hopes that you like them, but what’s really important is that you like yourself. Twitter