I'm sure the original Ghost in the Shell movie doesn't require any introduction, nor does it need plot synopsis or discussion as to the subjects it covers. It's the movie which started my love affair with anime (yes, I watched it before Akira), it's spawned countless works that look to be inspired or even imitate it (most notably The Matrix) and... well, it just so happens to be a fantastic poster boy for Japanese animation and writing. Having spawned both a sequel and the excellent spin-off Standalone Complex series, we return to the beginning of it all with Ghost in the Shell 2.0, a "remake" (although remix is probably a better word) of the original movie.
While Gainax's Rebuild of Evangelion movies have gone the whole hog, recreating and reimagining the series from the ground up animation and all, Production IG's efforts here are largely far more subtle. The most obvious visual change is the introduction of numerous CG sequences to replace scenes in the original version of the movie, and as you might expect this is a hit and miss affair. On the one hand, the CG diving and various HUD/GUI scenes actually worked well thanks to their CG facelift, but on the other we had two scenes featuring Major Kusanagi that were also translated into computer graphics, and these stood out like a sore thumb against the original artwork. Indeed, I'd personally say that the opening scene where we see the Major carry out an assassination was actually ruined entirely in every way that it is possibly conceivable for it to be ruined - The mix of brand-new 3D against older cel animation was all wrong, and the added CG actually destroyed the pacing of that scene, slowing it down to the point where it became far less exciting than the version I remember from times past. Somewhere inbetween those two polar opposites are scenes where CG helicopters have been inserted into the original animation - These actually work okay most of the time, and I dare say if this is your first time watching the movie then you wouldn't notice at all.
The other largeish change for devotees of the original movie is the change in colour palette for 2.0 - While the original was all about green hues (again, cue comparisons to The Matrix), this time orange appears to be the order of the day. I wouldn't say this change makes things better or worse, merely different, although I don't see much point to making such an alteration I must confess.
Probably the biggest boon to Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is the reworking of the movie's audio. For starters, I don't ever remember the film's audio being so precise and powerful, with a much wider, grander sound stage that's noticeable both when heavy weapons are being fired through to more subtle background audio elements - All in all, it's a definite win for me. In a similar vein, all of the movie's dialogue has been rerecorded, although this side of the audio equation is a little more controversial, with the Puppet Master's voice artist replaced (and made female - I can't think of many things more insulting than replacing an original voice artist) and some elements of dialogue changed, and dare I say "dumbed down". The dialogue changes don't dramatically alter the tone or plot of the movie, and I supposein a sense they have helped with the overall pace and flow of the film, but I can't help but feel a little sad for the loss of some of the more philosophical moments, which in many ways is what makes Ghost in the Shell what it is.
Overall, Ghost in the Shell is still Ghost in the Shell, and so great is its quality that it would take a massive amount of effort and incompetence to ruin it. Thankfully, Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is a long way away from ruining this classic movie, although by the same token I'm not especially convinced that it's improved it. Yes, the new audio track is excellent, and some of the CG additions are quite nice, but is that really enough to make it a worthwhile project? My gut feeling is no, but then again I'm more than a little thankful for this release for the simple reason that it gave me an excuse to watch Ghost in the Shell one more time. If you're a lover of this movie or the franchise that it spawned, then it's probably worth making use of that excuse too.