The Matrix, Unloaded: Motoko Becomes Mira. Ghost in the Shell Becomes RoboCop. Hollywood Reboots into the Wrong Cyborg Body… Again.

2017 live-action Ghost in the Shell — a gender-switched RoboCop reboot starring whitewashed “Mira Killian” (not Motoko Kusanagi) with ethnically random cast, set in try-hard cyberpunk not-really-Japan?

After reading the reviews of Ghost in the Shell IMAX previews (here and here), the items mentioned in this article’s subtitle became clear.

Ghost in the Shell illustration by GUWEIZ.
Ghost in the Shell illustration by GUWEIZ.

At least two different people have seen the first fifteen minutes of 2017 Ghost in the Shell and written in-depth reviews that are highly similar. Those fifteen minutes contain more than enough footage to glean a basic idea of the plot — or in this case, what the plot basically is, and definitely isn’t. Reviews confirm that Motoko Kusanagi (oops, “Mira Killian“) is intentionally whitewashed; her backstory is a gender-bent copy of RoboCop, not Kusanagi’s background drawn from 1996 anime Ghost in the Shell.

Known facts:

– the 2017 Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell is designed as a big-budget blockbuster — not a mysterious indie noir thriller with some sort of complex, inscrutable concept and plot;
– the advance screening wasn’t a VFX exhibition; the footage was chosen to give people an idea of what the film is about;
– both reviewers independently agreed on the basic plot and the Motoko Kusanagi (oops, whitewashed “Mira Killian”) character’s strangely RoboCop-like backstory as shown in the footage.

Here is the newest trailer released on 01 March 2017:

This could have been a decent cyberpunk film without needing to:

– “prettify” the gritty Ghost in the Shell anime aesthetic with neon and giant holograms everywhere;
– blatantly whitewash a Japanese anime (Motoko is now “Mira”);
– or, as the reviews also suggest, dumb down and replace the real Ghost in the Shell concept with a blockbuster-friendly Hollywood plot.

Why not just create a female RoboCop starring Scarlett Johansson and the same ethnically random (“diverse”) cast, set in some imaginary future city?

Lessons Lost From The Way of the Matrix

They could have gone the way of the Matrix and lifted eighty percent of the plot from Ghost in the Shell itself, sprinkled in “deep” transhumanist philosophical moral dilemmas, and blended the other twenty percent with Dark City (or in this case, RoboCop).

People who hadn’t seen Ghost in the Shell or Dark City thought that the Matrix was brilliantly original. This 2017 Ghost in the Shell film could have followed a similar formula and at least tried to create something that seemed new.

Dark City Detour

We can’t definitively know what influence Dark City (1998) had on the Matrix (1999) during the intervening year after Dark City was released. It’s entirely possible that the Wachowskis took cues from Dark City in designing the style of the Matrix in post-production and maybe even reshoots. Three hundred and sixtyfive days is a long time, but it’s also true that today’s hype for virtual reality was already a trendy sci-fi trope back then.

All that’s clear is how many eery similarities exist between the two films’ style and subject matter, and the fact that the Matrix was released after Dark City.

The Matrix Was a Smart Blockbuster

It’s also useful to note that the Matrix wasn’t a small-budget indie film by any stretch of the imagination, especially for relative unknown directors as the Wachowskis were at that time.

From IMDB:

The Wachowskis approached Warner with the idea of the Matrix and Warner balked at the budget they had submitted, which was over $80 million. Warner instead agreed to give them $10 million. The Wachowskis took the money and filmed the first ten minutes of the movie (the opening scene with Carrie-Anne Moss) using the entire $10 million. They then showed the executives at Warner the opening scene. They were impressed, and green-lit the original asking budget.

USD$80 million in 1999 would equal $116,609,363.75 in 2017. That’s a fairly massive budget.

The Matrix proved that a sci-fi action blockbuster doesn’t need to dumb itself down in order to excite audiences and succeed at the box office.

How The Matrix Translated Philosophy Into Onscreen Action

What worked so well in the original Matrix (1999) was the abundance of symbolism from philosophy (“welcome to the desert of the real“), folklore (“buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy“) and religion (including Buddhism — “there is no spoon“).

This left the “true” meaning of the imagery up for interpretation.

The actual text itself (i.e. the script) was far less developed than the symbolism; that’s where the Wachowskis were at their weakest. The Matrix 2 and 3 often highlighted their inability to blend dialogue seamlessly with imagery. This culminated in the Architect’s plot-stopping speech, among several other “talking head” moments.

An unfortunate side-effect of “images above all” is that those images could be misinterpreted and twisted in any number of ways. The Wachowskis, two transgender women who (at least at time of writing) embody an inclusive mentality, created the “blue pill” and “red pill” symbol. And we know what happens on Reddit now when you talk about taking the red pill.

(The upside is that we got to see ahead-of-its-time moments like the Battle for Zion (Part 1 and Part 2), which showed us realistic combat exoskeletons over a decade before the Edge of Tomorrow (2014).)

There was literally a lot to see in the Matrix, philosophically speaking. The Architect’s speech was fine as a dramatic, theatrical monologue; it just didn’t work as part of a film script. The Neo-as-messiah myth is also an example of the “chosen one” archetype that you see in most Hollywood films; it’s easy to focus on and identify with a “hero’s journey” plot arc. Remember how ambiguous the ending of Matrix Revolutions was, though; there was more happening than just the sacrifice of Neo. It was a courageous way to end the series, particularly since it didn’t resolve to a typical “happily ever after” conclusion.

Neo Versus Motoko: Different Cultures, Different Challenges

None of this is intended to say that the Matrix was anywhere near as complex as Ghost in the Shell, because they operate in different media, designed to address and challenge different cultural expectations (1999 Hollywood film vs. 1996 Japanese anime).

Ultimately, the Matrix may have tried to do too much philosophically, rather than too little, whereas Ghost in the Shell infused the anime world with a near-perfect blend of non-glamorised futuristic Japan, cyberpunk, hardcore action and transhumanist adventure.

It seems clear now that 2017 live-action Ghost in the Shell won’t be the film that fans want, regardless of what Hollywood is trying to sell us. At least this leaves the door open for an indie production to create a faithful smaller-scale adaptation — without much fear of comparison to the big-budget “authenticity” of this one. Who could create such a faithful adaptation? Stay tuned.


Ghost in the Shell: Alive. Live-action independent film. Update on our art, community, world, and future.

Yesterday was the first anniversary for the Project 2501 homage to Ghost in the Shell, created by visual/motion designer and director Ash Thorp.

One of the goals of AltSciFi is to spearhead the creation of a project that builds on Project 2501’s homage. It seems apt, then, to write a status update for you about the “Ghost in the Shell: Alive” project.

Ghost in the …?

What is “Ghost in the Shell: Alive” (also abbreviated “G.I.T.S.:Alive” or “GITS:Alive”)?

GITS:Alive is an anticipated live-action interpretation of the seminal 1995 Japanese cyberpunk anime, Ghost in the Shell. The 1995 original film has found enduring popularity even among many non-anime fans, and has influenced a generation of filmmakers, including the Wachowski siblings’ concepts for The Matrix (1999).

To learn more about the origins of our Ghost in the Shell:Alive project, see the following two articles:

1. I Can Feel It In My Ghost: Toward an independent live-action adaptation of seminal cyberpunk anime Ghost in the Shell (click here)

2. Live-action Ghost In The Shell film. GITS:Alive. (click here)

The purpose of this project is to create an authentic live-action film that captures the cultural spirit of the original anime and is a faithful adaptation of the source material.

Pretty exciting…

So what’s the next step?

Building a New Community For Ghost in the Shell:Alive

You may know that I’ve started several social networks both from scratch and using other platforms such as Reddit, which is used by one out of every six Internet-enabled people. That’s a lot of people.

My experiments in social networking have led to a specific new approach: look for the artists and the fans will follow.

Find the Audience First?

I’ve tried a “build the audience first” approach, and found that:

1. Fans are a fickle herd.

If you build a community, they may show up. Given the number of distractions online and elsewhere, they may also be pulled away at a moment’s notice. The community’s organizer must constantly search for new members in order to account for the natural rate of attrition.

2. Beware the “90-9-1” rule.

You will have the responsibility of creating nine pieces of material for every one piece contributed by fans. Regardless of people’s claims, the average person will rarely create or contribute anything. This is a law of human behavior in life that is equally true over the Internet — which leads us to the next point.

3. Tending to a herd of fans is laborious, largely thankless, and surprisingly time-expensive.

The shepherd of a fan-herd has to create and/or find new content, shape it to fit the style of the community, mediate disputes between members, counterbalance the destructive influence of trolls (especially on Reddit), curate others’ submissions to make sure that they remain on-topic and generally keep a watchful eye on the community to avoid channel drift.

That adds up to a constant low-level amount of activity in addition to being engaged in the content creation process.

The creator of AltSciFi (hi — that’s me!) is (am?) also an artist, and art requires focused attention; focus requires time.

So what’s the most efficient and effective way to build a community?

The answer may be counterintuitive to you. There are three clear options:

1. Start with the fans first (see notes above);
2. Start with artists first; or
3. Try to build hype and get everyone to jump on some kind of bandwagon at the same time.

Hype tends to be expensive and creates a weak audience connection to the ideas at hand. That’s the reason why television, Internet and radio ads are constantly bombarding us all day and night; the strategy is efficient, but not as effective as finding people who actually care from the start. Plus, as someone who has studied copywriting, I can attest and protest that pure hype-writing just feels slimy after a while. It’s better for the soul to actually care about your work.

I challenge you to find people who care more about art than the artists themselves. Hence, we see the value of option number two.

Start With the Art

Here is the idea: start with the artists first, and build the fanbase later. This reversal of approach has the added benefit of creating time to work on the beginnings of the Ghost in the Shell:Alive project. Rather than only courting fickle fans, we’re immediately starting on the project itself.

I’ve noticed that several successful film projects began as storyboards or graphic novels. The Wachowskis, for example, secured the confidence of producer Joel Silver by creating a precise rendering of The Matrix characters and plot through detailed frame-by-frame illustrations.

(And, honestly, when it comes to all things Ghost in the Shell, my cyberpunk-loving art/design-nerd self really just wants to get started making stuff.)

Managing to create the time and space required for art — and especially something as extensive as an independent film pitch — requires a good bit of planning.

Building the Team

We also need to come up with a list of names for possible producers and directors. The optimal talent would be a team like Adi Shankar and Joseph Kahn (of recent Internet fame for their “seriously adult” and viciously fun fifteen-minute Power Rangers short film).

The ideal candidates would be an adventurous producer and experienced director who are not oriented solely toward making a quick profit. As a PR gamble, the Power Rangers short film stirred a fairly massive amount of controversy that ultimately garnered an avalanche of accolades for both Shankar and Kahn.

Ghost in the Shell:Alive can do the same. And if we play it right, it will be profitable, too, even if only due to the decades of dedicated fans who love Ghost in the Shell. In our dystopia-loving scifi era, the appeal is almost certainly far wider for a well-done live-action cyberpunk film.

Here we are, then. The concept for GITS:Alive is in the “precocious child” stage. We have the design and conceptual vision from Ash Thorp’s Project 2501. We have an entire Internet full of potential fans, thousands of whom read and discussed the previous blog entries about this topic across Facebook and Twitter.

The next step is to get started bringing this project to life — to nurture a precocious idea, to guide and grow it to become capable of taking the world by storm. We may even change the way films are made.

It all starts with the first piece of art.

Happy first birthday, Project 2501. Eternal thanks to you, Ash Thorp, for your vision and inspiration. For everyone else reading this (yes, including you, too), I write these ideas for you as well as me. Learn from the lessons taught to me by my mistakes. Either join the “Ghost in the Shell:Alive” project, or start one of your own. Either way, make your voice heard. Create something for the world to see. That’s what life is for, after all. Together we can create a Ghost in the Shell that is truly Alive for ourselves and the next generation, just as the original inspired us to think, move and create something new.

Time to Draw the Story, Create the Community and Build The World

On that note, I have a lot of reading, illustrating and building to do. Participate in the conversation here and on Twitter.

Don’t just “follow”. Add your thoughts and ideas.

Get your friends as excited as you are by showing them Ash Thorp’s excellent Project 2501 and support his work by buying posters of the gorgeous pieces that you’ll find there. Invite your friends to fully imagine what a feature-length live-action Ghost in the Shell film can be. Even if we fail, we will have succeeded simply by making our voices heard and traveling a new and different path.

There is no failure, only forward motion — and it’s time to take the next step.

Are you ready? Yes, of course you’re ready. You’ve read this whole article and didn’t skim or skip to the end. So pick up your pencils, pens and paints. Grab your mouse and get set at the keyboard. Recruit a friend, or two, or ten. Get your heart pumping fast and strong enough to get started right now. And remember to always stay in touch.