Steven Spielberg has apparently picked up the rights to remake the anime classic, Ghost in the Shell, in English and live action. Now, even as an unreconstructed dork-nerd-geek, I generally have only limited tolerance for anime. I tried watching a couple of episodes of Tank Police a few months back and realized very quickly that I’d rather be clearing out spam from my inbox. With a few exceptions, that’s pretty much how I feel about the medium as a whole.
But both Ghost and, to a lesser extent, its more recent sequel, are many grades above the genre’s usual Cartoon-Network-at-2am-fare, and the first one, especially, has long been begging for a live-action remake. I worry, though, about who Spielberg will tap for director. Spielberg could do it himself, but he’d have to resist his usual mawkish, saccharine urges. It’d have to be a Spielberg who didn’t tag the opening and closing of Saving Private Ryan with scenes that might as well have read TIME TO TEAR UP, one who refused to cut the original the final line in Minority Report about all the murders there were in DC the year after Precrime’s closing, a Spielberg who let the son in War of the Worlds die. Somehow, it’s a Spielberg I don’t think we’re likely to see.
I can think of only a handful of other plausible candidates: James Cameron, Ridley Scott, the Wachowskis, and Francis Lawrence. The first two probably wouldn’t do it. They have their own brands and their own projects. The Wachowskis are (fairly obviously) anime fans, and I have no doubt that they’d enjoy remaking Ghost in the Shell — an action heavy, visually spectacular sci-fi pic with ponderous philosophical overtones. But somehow I can’t see them — notoriously weird and press-shy — working with Spielberg. (Michael Bay, who did Transformers for the Beard last summer, was a much better fit.)
So that leaves Lawrence. He made a big splash with I Am Legend last year, a flawed film, but also a remarkably well-realized one. And his 2005 debut, Constantine, is thoroughly underrated. He’s got both an eye for spectacle — witness the opening car crash in Constantine, or Legend’s nearly flawless vision of a deserted Manhattan. But he’s also generally restrained — and, most importantly, visually coherent. Partly, he’s just easy to follow, an unfortunately rare thing in big effects films these days.
And unlike most of the mid-budget action hacks working today, he takes time to establish mood and character. Most directors would’ve rushed John Constantine to the scene of that film’s opening exorcism; Lawrence had the patience to let him step out of his car, drop a cigarette, and approach the building first. The shots he chose — an overhead long shot, close-ups of his feet, an upward titled close up of his hand — were perhaps too obvious in their attempts at iconography (this was no Raiders of the Lost Ark). On the other hand, the fact that anything like this made the film at all — and both of his films are full of these moments — is evidence that he’s willing to go beyond the usual explosions and one liners that comprise the majority of what mid-list action directors have been putting out for the last two decades.