February 10, 2019
I anticipated seeing this edit for a long time now.
I liked the theatrical cut enough to appreciate it without the obvious comparison to the source material, but was always curious to check another take on it - mostly one that was praised to be more competent and straightforward.
However, to my disappointment, the edit tries to shorten the distance between the movie and its anime counterpart but ends up making one that falls short of both of them.
For better or for worse, the theatrical relied heavily on Major's backstory to keep its pace and character development, and that's whats mostly compromised in the edit. In this version, everything happens so lightning fast and the movie never stops to think any reason to be moving at all. At the core of Kuze's unveil there is originally a detective story, where Section 9 follows several clues and locations to spin a thin thread of what's going on. In the edit, this all boils down to scene-hopping from point A to point B with little cohesion. As a result, the Major is just along for the ride. Even though as fans we're familiar with Kusanagi's pragmatic attitude, the edit reduces her to an effectively soulless action doll who beats people, shoots people, stops once in while for a repair and goes at it again. Whitewashing controversy aside, the whole Mira subplot involving her past was necessary to give the movie any identity, even if it dumbed down the quintessensial Ghost in the Shell philosophical ramblings of self and soul to the cliché corporate conspiracy. On top of that, the removal of some lines thin the exposition a little too much. Like the aforementioned Major's subplot, some of the original lines present in the theatrical cut clearly wanted to convene a critique about ownership and autonomy of self on the information era. Even if the execution of these ideas was originally clunky (like the "i give my consent" silliness), the edit is poorer for the complete absence of them.
To the edit's merit, it's well cut and with no jarring transition whatsoever. The added scenes and music are great, and the overall nitpicking (like fixing the movie title persistently repeating in the opening credits) do give the film a subtle refinement. The encode is very good and lives up to an already gorgeous looking movie - in my opinion, one of the most beautifully realised cyberpunk scenery ever made in film.
Overall, I think, Lean & Mean is a technically great editing work that unfortunately doesn't do the original narrative any favors.