The Weight of Adaptation: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

spanish language poster for Ghost in the Shell, featuring Motoko bursting through a window with gun in hand

The 2017 live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell is best understood more by what it lacks than by what it offers. A pleasure to watch, it is so much in love with its own visuals that it often forgets to have characters, motivation for those characters, or indeed a point. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a pleasing diversion and not much else, the very definition of an unnecessary remake. Seeing it again last night, I was struck by how badly it suffers from adaptationitis, trying to bring the source material to a new medium in overly faithful fashion.

The first half of the film involves people running around, jumping off of buildings, jacking into networks, battling modified yakuza, and other things that add up to an nth-generation loss version of Blade Runner and the like. While influences on the film and its source manga were many and literary, all of it’s by this point been strained through hundreds, if not thousands, of transmedia sieves. The result is a beautiful, shallow melange of forty years of cyberpunk. Ghost in the Shell (1995) did it first, better, and without the weight of a quarter-century of descendants.

The story actually begins shortly after the nightclub shootout, quite a distance into the film. Motoko and Batou have both lost things they wish to recover (or at least notionally recover from the loss of), and they have actual reasons to do things. Scarlett Johansson, who has up to that point ably pretended to be a robot pretending to be a person, seems to breathe anew and actually inhabit the role. Her character has a genuine conflict, not mere annoyances or programming errors.

All the scene-setting and worldbuilding that belabor this film could and should have been wrapped into the story as it developed after the first act. While this film wants you to believe that it begins almost in medias res, barring a brief origin story opening, it does not. The res comes long after, and all of the skyscraper-sized holograms in the world cannot make something out of nothing.

A pleasure to watch, Ghost in the Shell (2017) could have been genuinely good instead of merely profitable, in ways that are trivially easy to identify. Motoko’s quiet interactions with her mother, Aramaki’s final scene with and execution of Cutter, Motoko & Hideo’s multiple charged interactions: all are effective. These are not original comments, but seeing these things on screen, still shining years after the hype, make me wish there had been more of them, incorporated into a coherent work.

A Few of My Favorite (Pandemic) Things: Horror Movie Edition

Here are a few horror movies that really floated my boat over the last 16+ months…

movie poster for ready or not
Ready or Not (2019) missed me when it came out, but it’s a delightful, thrilling, winking part of the “the real horror is the rich” micro-trend, with a supernatural side order.
dvd cover of 2014 the grudge
Had never heard of obscure indie flick The Grudge from 2004, so thought I’d check it out. Not bad!
poster for doctor sleep
I wasn’t eager to see this or read the book it was based on. Living up to the legacy of a classic horror novel, and a classic adaptation that’s a genuinely great film that the book’s author never liked… seemed a difficult proposition at best. Turns out, what do I know? Doctor Sleep is the real deal.
movie poster for angel heart
Angel Heart was a fun, strange watch for me. Many people love it, and it is good, but lacking any sort of nostalgia for it? I thought it was an 80s supernatural thriller, with Robert De Niro mustering big Alec-Guinness-does-Star Wars energy.
I really enjoyed Hold the Dark. Lots to like, and I’m still thinking about it a month later, including the performances and dialogue, but this is one flawed film. Weird editing, lots of things way out of proportion, story-wise. If you like brooding, atmospheric A24 biz, check it out. (Maybe look around online for the opinions about how well Yup’ik language and culture are or aren’t represented here. Apparently the answer is complicated.)
the green knight poster
I’m grouping The Green Knight here because it’s A24 and vibes thoroughly with a lot of other A24 stuff. It has the darkness that underlies many, many fantasies and is a sumptuous watch. We saw it in the theater, and it was a sight to behold.
film poster for rebecca 2020
Apparently every die-hard Rebecca or du Maurier fan hated the 2020 version of Rebecca? Whatever! It’s great, and they’re all wrong. Check it out. (And if you don’t think it’s horror… watch it again.)

When Novels Attack

Reader, it’s been a minute.

When last I wrote, horror movies were on my brain, and so they still are. Since then, horror I’ve watched includes The Grudge (2004), Doctor Sleep, Black Christmas (2019), The Thing (2011), Angel Heart, Dark Was the Night, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Cruel Intentions, The Girl With All the Gifts, The Block Island Sound, and As Above, So Below. You’ve probably heard of all of those, except maybe Dark Was the Night, which was pleasantly uneven and featured some unusual monster action. Also since then, the U.S. has resumed a semblance of its previous on-fire-everywhere normalcy, I’ve found a new love of musicals and a revived love of board games, summer has come, and the writing continues.

I finished the first draft of a novel in late April, and there was much rejoicing! The last time I did that was indecently long ago, and it feels good to be already on my way with Draft Two. As all the writers out there who hop between genres know, it’s a weird stretching sort of feeling when you’ve paused on writing shorter works and are no longer in the hum & fray of constant submissions. Still doing the thing, but most of the paddling is under the surface. What spurred the novel?

Around 2005, my intention was to write novels, with maybe a few other things along the way. Between then and now, I got published, translated, anthologized; became enamored of short stories and their writing; and experienced prolonged dejection over lack of getting an agent for said previous novel. I also went through Big Life Changes, in the form of years of elevated stress due to illness and deaths in the family. That’s mostly in the rear view mirror at this point, but I’ve come through it a different person.

Anyway.

Last year I acknowledged to myself that I was starting to get truly burned out on writing short. (Editors to whom I owe stories or essays: I will still come through!) I wanted to read and write stories I could roll around in, and for me that means novels. I was considering possibilities for a longer story… something about nuclear-powered vampire llamas… and then the pandemic hit. After the shock started to wear off, I realized that it was time to get going. I was going to be at home for a while, I’d been wanting to write long again, and the threat of mortality was here. With a vengeance.

And so I’ve been trying to Make Good Art. It’s going all right, and I hope that this book will land an agent when I query, hopefully later this year. If not? Whether a given story or novel finds a home, it’s on to the next.

All I have, as they say, is time.

library of congress photo

Halloween Season and WFC 2018

Greetings, all you ghouls! Here’s hoping your Halloween Season has been as creepy and disturbing as mine… I’ve been reading Orrin Grey‘s Guignol and Other Sardonic Tales lately, along with watching things like Night Tide (1961), Hocus Pocus (1993), and other dark delights. So, actually, a little more witchy-ghosty than stabby-despairy (those are the official horror taxonomies, don’t you know?).

Late summer/early autumn has seen the release of a number of publications including my work. For all that I’ve only completed a few new pieces this year, it’s been a bumper crop the last month or so…

  • book coversAs I wrote previously, volume one of The Silent Garden, a new annual publication from Undertow, contains an essay by yours truly (“Translating the Ritual”) about the move of Adam Nevill‘s The Ritual from page to screen.
  • This year’s edition of Nightscript (volume four) contains my “There Has Never Been Anyone Here,” a semi-epistolary story that goes down as probably the most complicated story I’ve ever written, from research to formatting. My thanks to Nightscript editor C.M. Muller for doing such a lovely job in retaining my intentions for the final version.
  • My first peer-reviewed piece of literary scholarship has now been published in Sean Moreland’s New Directions in Supernatural Horror Literature: The Critical Influence of H. P. Lovecraft. “Reception Claims in Supernatural Horror in Literature and the Course of Weird Fiction” took some time to get right, and I’m proud of it. (Please note that this volume is priced for the academic market, and you might want to consider suggesting your local/institutional library purchase a copy.)

In the next month or so, I’ll have work in Dead Reckonings and a reprint in Pseudopod. A few other things floating around out there might yet appear before 2019.

Last but definitely not least, I’ll be at World Fantasy in Baltimore this year! I’m attending with both my writer and my librarian hats on, so I’ll be swanning around and doubtless asking questions about writers’ research practices. I’m delighted to say that I’m scheduled to read on Thursday, November 1, at 5:30 p.m. in room Federal Hill. Please come to witness the spectacle of…

Terror in Glover-o-Vision!

Well, perhaps not quite all that, but I do loathe a dull reading! Hopefully attendees will be at least entertained, and perhaps even encounter a bit of pleasing terror on the journey…

A Few of My Favorite Things, May 2018 Edition

What’s good? Many things, new and old, that I’ve gotten to so far this year. Not pictured are:

  • The Ritual, which I liked and thought interesting enough to write an essay about for the forthcoming first issue of The Silent Garden: A Journal of Esoteric Fabulism.
  • Many works that The Internet Writ Large seemed to dislike, and which I’ve found at least readable or watchable. 2012’s Solomon Kane, for instance, about which I’d previously only heard complaints. I thought it delightful, in something of the way that Constantine (2005) was delightful.
  • All things Mike Mignola. One of his works is below, but I’m trying to read the bulk of his Hellboy/Mignolaverse work this year, with others added as I’m able. No particular reason for that, other than that I’ve really enjoyed it in past, but only read snatches. I’ve spent the last few years (for one reason and another) reading a host of things that seemed a good idea to read, or people suggested I read, or I was required to read. 2018 struck me as a good year for reading both more overall and more intensively the things I enjoy.

On to the recs…

Books

Movies

Television

Comics