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Paramount Home Entertainment / 1990 / 126 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: December 30, 2008
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
'Ghost' is one of those movies that, for me, is the equivalent of a chocolate truffle. It tastes good while you're eating it, and has the faint whiff of sophistication, but ultimately, it's still just a giant piece of high-calorie candy. 'Ghost,' however, was a gazillion selling piece of chocolate goo, so apparently millions and millions of moviegoers found it pretty tasty. I, for one, wasn't quite one of them. I certainly found it entertaining and, at times, moving, but for all its pretensions at spiritual meaning and transcendent love, it's about as profound as a fortune cookie.
On paper, the plot sounds like a grown-up love story version of 'Casper.' Patrick Swayze stars as Sam, a handsome investment banker who seems to have the perfect life with his girlfriend, an artist named Molly. They've got an impossibly beautiful New York loft apartment, both are successful in their careers, and their sex life (at least judging by the film's now-famous pottery scene) is in high gear. But then Sam stumbles upon a possible business scam and is killed in an apparent robbery attempt.
It's here that 'Ghost' departs from most weepies by veering into otherworldly territory. Sam refuses to "cross over" to the other side, and instead tries to master life in "limbo." With the help of a fake medium, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), Sam attempts to communicate with Molly, while also trying to uncover the reasons behind his murder. Slowly, Sam and Oda will unravel the mystery, while also helping Molly finally overcome her grief and learn to let go of Sam.
As with any big-screen romance, the success of 'Ghost' rests entirely on the chemistry of its leads. Though I'm not a huge Swayze fan, his brand of overly-earnest acting here works for the character, who is so noble it's almost sickening. But he and Moore seem real enough in the beginning scenes of the film that we care about Sam's plight and predicament once he crosses over. Director Jerry Zucker -- initially an odd choice for the film, given his background directing zany comedies like 'Airplane!' -- also does a fine job observing the everyday particulars of Sam and Molly's life, and he never rushes. This further grounds the film in a believable reality, which only further allows us to suspend our disbelief at the eventual supernatural occurrences.
Zucker easily handles the film's more comedic moments as well. Goldberg won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her Oda Mae Brown, and though I'm still surprised the Academy awarded her its top honor for a performance that involves so much eye-rolling and hands flailing, she is essential in keeping the film from wallowing in pretension. Goldberg is certainly funny, and in fact, her chemistry with Swayze may be even better than his with Moore's. And Oda Mae eventually proves herself more than a mere sidekick, becoming instrumental in resolving the plot. Her "love scene," as it were, with Moore is quite memorable (and certainly unique for a mainstream Hollywood romance).
Unfortunately, how much you ultimately believe in 'Ghost' depends on your willingness to accept the film's quasi-spiritual view on the afterlife. A mix of New Age banalities, Oprah-esque human affirmation, and wish-fullfilment fantasy, I found 'Ghost's simplistic take on good-ghost bad-ghost pretty vapid. It's a heartwarming tale, to be sure, and makes us want to believe that we, too, will be reunited with our loved ones after we depart, but perhaps, being the cynic that I am, I continue to resist such wholly manipulative and derivative views of the nature of our humanity. 'Ghost' fans may believe otherwise -- the film's worldwide success undoubtedly suggests I'm in the minority -- but I found it to be a bunch of hokum.
None of that likely matters to fans who so embraced the film. Though perhaps the movie's appeal has faded a bit in the intervening years, there is still apparently quite a sizable cult of loyalists who continue to cherish it's well-meaning themes of love, acceptance, and transformation. 'Ghost' is a film that doesn't fully work for me, though it indeed has entertaining moments which make it impossible to dismiss completely. That makes the film worth seeing and, if you're more open-minded than me, you may even need a full box of tissues by the end.
Paramount provides a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (at 1.85:1) for 'Ghost.' The film had been recently remastered for a recent DVD re-issue, but this is still not the finest catalog issue I've ever seen on Blu-ray.
The 1990 film looks okay, if not fully betraying its age. It also isn't a huge leap for me over the previous DVD -- I rarely felt I was watching a high-def image. The print is in good shape, but with a few bits of dirt and blemishes here and there, and bursts of heavy, distracting grain. Blacks are solid, and contrast is nicely modulated across the grayscale if a little flat overall. Colors, too, are on the drab side at times, though there is a nice orange-y glow to the palette, and fleshtones are well-done. Detail is overall wanting, however, with some decent depth at times but a generally two-dimensional appearance. It doesn't help that much of the film looks like it was shot through gauze, and the now-dated CGI effects suffer from blurriness. The encode is tight, however, with no obvious artifacts. 'Ghost' looks fine, just far from exceptional.
The film's soundtrack has been upped to full-on Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit), but the film's limited sound design hardly taxes the high-res format.
Much of the mix is front-heavy. There are a few discrete effects that accompany the trips to the "other side" and its evil demons, but they are obvious in the surrounds and can sound forced. The use of lite-pop/rock songs on the soundtrack and the score get a bit of dispersement in the rears as well, but it's still generally weakly delivered. Dialogue is the star of the show, and its well balanced in the fronts, though it sometimes sounds its age with a flatness to the high-range. The subwoofer is likewise subdued, if strong enough to do justice to the material. 'Ghost' is no roof-shaker, but it's fine for what it is.
'Ghost' materializes on Blu-ray with the same set of original features that graced the 2007 DVD special edition release of the film. I found it to be an OK package that kinda has a chintzy feel about it. And where are Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg? (All video materials are in 480i/MPEG-2, with the same subtitle options as the main feature.)
- Audio Commentary - Carried over from a previous DVD release of the film, this track with director Jerry Zucker and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin is informative if problematic. There's a good deal of dead space as the movie progresses (were chunks cut out in the editing room?) and soon runs out of steam. And can I say that I also found Rubin to be smugly self-satisfied? That said, Zucker is quite amusing discussing how the director behind 'Airplane!' was not exactly Rubin's first choice to helm his baby, nor was star Patrick Swayze Zucker's ideal star, either. But aside from these tasty morsels, the track soon turns dry, with the last half largely devoted to production stories. Decent.
- Featurette: "The Making of a Classic" (SD, 13 minutes) - A classic? Really? That arguable title aside, this is a decent overview featurette, which has fairly fresh interviews with Zucker, Rubin and Swayze, though disappointingly, Moore and Goldberg appear only in what looks like stock clips from the '90s. At only 13 minutes, this is too quick to give more than a passing glance at the film and the "phenomenon," which to be fair, is probably accurate if you're considering the film's box office.
- Featurette: "Alchemy of a Love Scene" (SD, 6 minutes) - The next vignette takes a look at the filming of 'Ghost's signature scene. Unfortunately, in the intervening years, the number of parodies has turned the scene into a bit of joke, though everyone here takes it rather seriously.
- Featurette: "Inside the Paranormal" (SD, 9 minutes) - This totally cheesy piece of filler interviews real psychics and mediums, who try and give credence to even the most fantastical elements of 'Ghost's supernatural spooks. I always find this kind of stuff on DVDs is better left to "Histories Mysteries."
- TV Excerpt: "100 Years... 100 Passions" (SD, 19 minutes) - Originally produced for AFI's "100 Greatest..." everything specials, this really doesn't have anything specific to do with 'Ghost.' There is a short clip talking about the film and it's popularity, but it's pretty generic.
- Still Gallery (SD) - Also included is a fine-enough still gallery, with about three dozen publicity and behind-the-scenes photos.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD) - Finally, we have the film's original theatrical trailer in decent-quality video.
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'Ghost' is a film that a lot of people fell in love with back in 1990, but I was not one of them. I do find it an effective piece of Hollywood hokum that is admittedly enjoyable, but it's spiritual underpinnings come off as dopey and ridiculous. In any case, this Blu-ray looks and sounds fairly good, and its extras are substantial enough to earn the special edition tag. 'Ghost' fans, this Blu-ray won't blow you away, but it's worth a look.
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