GI:Three unemployed parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service. / GII: The discovery of a massive river of ectoplasm and a resurgence of spectral activity allows the staff of Ghostbusters to revive the business.
"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together . . . mass hysteria!"
After sitting through a pile of some truly dreadful movies of late, it was a real pleasure to sit down and enjoy Ivan Reitman's vastly superior classic, 'Ghostbusters.' From the Columbia Pictures logo, accompanied by Elmer Bernstein's eerie score, to the moment the iconic theme song is cued, a smile full of fond memories plastered itself to my face, and the setup for the librarian ghost secured it for the remainder of the show. While there may not be anything spectacular about watching a couple of books moving from one shelf to the next or a really bright flashlight shine on an elderly woman's face, for me, it was all about the patient movement and pace in the expert direction before the main title rolls on screen. It's an effective opening sequence that generates interest with a farcical, light-hearted air of spookiness and mystery. Everything that follows is a grandiose spectacle of comedy and special effects, enhanced by an outstanding cast that makes the film feel as fresh and original as it did when it originally premiered.
When their research grants expire and they're promptly expelled from Columbia University as quacks, three parapsychology scientists, Peter Venkman (Billy Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), go freelance, creating a ghost removal service and calling themselves the "Ghostbusters." Along with a sardonic receptionist, Janine (Annie Potts), and a fourth member, Winston (Ernie Hudson), they purchase an abandoned firehouse (still located at 14 N. Moore Street, NY!) and retrofit a 1959 ambulance dubbed "Ecto-1." Before long, the guys are hired by the beautiful cellist Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), who notices some strange occurrences in her kitchen and eventually gets possessed by a demon, together with her nerdy neighbor, Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). With a sudden rise in spectral activity, the team soon faces the task of saving New York City from an untold evil brought forth by Gozer the Gozerian.
Like most great comedies, 'Ghostbusters' relies on the interactions and conversations between its characters, but leaves enough headroom for some great visuals that play along with the gags. The rest of the film reveals something greatly lacking in many modern comedies: smart dialogue, full of quips, cynicism, sarcasm, and all-around zaniness that feels spontaneous rather than scripted. We don't gather a sense of jumping from one pratfall to the next or from one comedic situation to another. There's a terrific flow in the narrative where each quirky one-liner and special effects-driven prank naturally leads to other, sometimes bigger, laughs. I can't think of another comedy that smoothly transitions from a laser-tag show against a demigod to a battle with a Godzilla-like marshmallow giant without missing a beat.
Aykroyd and Ramis wrote a terrific script with a nice blend of comedy, fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. It plays off of each actor's talent, welcoming improvisation, and suits their respective roles perfectly. The characters carry a believable camaraderie, as if they've known each other for years, and we feel comfortable around them. Though Ramis never planned on playing the role of Egon (Christopher Lloyd, Michael Keaton, and Chevy Chase were favorably considered), it is practically nigh impossible to imagine anyone else pulling it off. Winston was also written with Eddie Murphy in mind, but Hudson does such a terrific job in his low-key role that Murphy's exuberance could only be viewed as a distraction. The team rightly allowed Murray to go all out with Venkman and establish that cynical comic persona for which he is now celebrated. With Reitman reining it all together, the spook-fest that is 'Ghostbusters' still produces laughs of epic proportions.
Added to this is the use of physical props and animatronics spliced into the film, which recalls an earlier time of cutting edge technology. With a cemented trend for the use of CGI effects in modern moviemaking, there is something charming and endearing about watching some old-school special effects do their thing. Of course, this new Blu-ray version greatly exaggerates the artificiality of it all and makes the tricks-of-the-trade appear dated by comparison. But these fabricated creatures participate in the humor and become a part of the storyline, turning 'Ghostbusters' into that rare exception where such effects actually compliment the film. Over the years, Slimer has evolved into the undisputed mascot of the franchise, while the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is now enjoyed as one of the funniest monsters to grace the silver screen. Even Ecto-1 is easily recognized today as the official vehicle of the Ghostbusters and looks more like a clown car than a serious transport of paranormal equipment.
Capitalizing on a popular and universal interest in sci-fi, extraterrestrials and the paranormal, 'Ghostbusters' remains a timeless classic, full of memorable, understated lines ("You know, you don't act like a scientist"; "They're usually pretty stiff"; "You're more like a game show host") and many well-known scenes. This cinematic gem is one that shouldn't be missed . . . by the living or the dead. (Movie Rating: 4.5/5)
"And you don't want us exposing ourselves!"
The boys in grey, as the late radio personality Casey Kasem once referred to them as, are back with another wacky adventure of paranormal activities. Except in this follow-up to the beloved comedy classic, they also don some new threads along with their now-very-familiar uniforms — mostly all in black with the "no-ghosts" emblem prominently flaunting two fingers like a peace sign. Even Ecto-1 receives a couple minor, exterior upgrades and looks a bit flasher, particularly the electronic marquee sitting on the roof signaling their comeback. The filmmakers raise the stakes somewhat with supernatural hijinks so colossal and widespread that the Ghostbusters team brings in a surprisingly funny temporary fifth member in Rick Moranis's bumbling screwball Louis. His ungainly presence, along with his steamy affair with Annie Potts's Janine, makes for a nice addition, despite mostly serving as the plot's blundering comedy relief.
Unfortunately, anything new or original in this mostly entertaining but frankly generic and unexpectedly average sequel pretty much ends there. The same level of lighthearted energy and wisecracking cynicism introduced in the first film remains, but there is also something weirdly mechanical and routine. Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd return to their massively successful hit a bit reluctantly, as the behind-the-scenes legend goes, and it tends to show often throughout its 108-minute runtime. Picking up five years later, Ramis and Aykroyd's script essentially follows the same blueprint as the original, repurposing many of the same plot beats, down to the heated and unlikely relationship of Bill Murray's practically iconic Peter Venkman and Sigourney Weaver's intelligent but also frazzled damsel Dana Barrett.
With that in mind, the team is unsurprisingly called into action when Dana experiences close encounters with the beyond in an opening sequence that is admittedly well-done and edited to suspenseful effect. This is followed by a few expository scenes that blatantly though still amusingly update audiences on the guys' whereabouts and activities since last we saw them save the Big Apple from a giant walking marshmallow. True to Dana's assumptions of him, Peter has actually become a TV personality for a quack show on psychic phenomenon, and Egon (Ramis) has gone back to scientific research while Ray (Aykroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) perform birthday parties where the kids much prefer He-Man. Aside from Ramis's always content bookworm, the guys once again hit a humiliating low-point in their career until another powerful being with a smoke-and-light magic show threatens the city they love.
This is where Reitman's sequel wavers constantly between hit and miss because it's never quite clear how or why Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg) is a supremely powerful being. So much so that the spirit-trapped-inside-the-painting (?) can do what the ancient god Gozer failed to accomplish: subdue and overpower three bumbling scientists with "unlicensed nuclear accelerators." And the only way to actually defeat this monster is by bringing New Yorkers together and play nice for what seems like maybe a half hour? An hour, at most? Ultimately, it's all nonsense, but the conclusion is satisfying enough and earned. Of course, this is largely thanks to the endless wisecracks, mostly coming from the awesome Murray, all-around great performances from the cast, including Peter MacNicol's Renfield-like Dr. Janosz Poha, and the still-amazing special effects, 'Ghostbusters II' delivers a fun and amusing follow-up. (Movie Rating: 3/5)
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
For this Anniversary Edition of the 'Ghostbusters' franchise, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases both films on separate BD50 discs for the purpose of repackaging in different sets with flyers for UltraViolet Digital HD Copies. For this review, we look at the highly attractive Two-Disc DigiBook, which includes a 24-page collection of two essays, color pictures, and bios on the cast and director. On a clear plastic tray, the first disc sits comfortably on top of the second and are fairly easy to remove. At startup, both discs go straight to a static menu screen with the usual options and music.
For this 30th edition of the sci-fi comedy classic, producers recycle the same excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode from last year's "Mastered in 4K" release. With that said, my impressions remain the same, showing a significant improvement with better clarity, resolution and much sharper image overall compared to other home video counterparts.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the picture quality comes with a very noticeable layer of grain throughout, and some sequences, particularly low-lit interiors and nighttime scenes, are predominantly thicker than others, which only serve to give the transfer an appreciably cinematic appeal. More importantly, contrast and brightness levels are nicely balanced with crisp, bright whites and deep, rich blacks. There's still a tad of crush, here and there, but nothing too severe.
Facial complexions appear somewhat waxy, but flesh tones overall are warm with some very good textural details during close-ups. The color palette also receives a pleasant upgrade, displaying nice saturation in the primaries and accurate secondary hues. Architectural details are a nice treat to look at, especially at a distance, with the weatherization of the exterior of buildings and many of their intricacies clearly visible. There are a few scenes throughout that appear soft, but this is obviously inherent to the photography and the film's age rather than a weakness in the video. The image also possesses an appreciable depth of field that adds to the '80s film-like quality, making this a very welcomed high-def presentation of a classic and dearly-beloved film. (Video Rating: 4/5)
Like its predecessor, the sequel arrives on Blu-ray under the "Mastered in 4K" moniker, and the results are shocking and extraordinary, amazingly surpassing the first movie but in terms only of picture quality. Of course, the photography of the talented Michael Chapman ('Taxi Driver,' 'Raging Bull') is completely different to László Kovács's grainy style. Here, the movie is far cleaner and sleeker with more depth and dimensionality, and the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is faithful to Chapman's intentional design. Details in the weathered buildings and the fall/winter clothing of the cast are often razor-sharp. Natural flesh tones in facial complexions are highly revealing, exposing every pore, wrinkle and negligible blemish with distinct clarity and excellent resolution.
Presented in a 2:40:1 aspect ratio, very slightly and trivially cropped from a 2.35:1 OAR, the source appears to be in astonishingly great condition, awash with very fine layer of grain that gives the presentation a very-much appreciated film-like appeal. Spot-on, comfortably bright contrast allows for some splendid visibility in the far distance, exposing every bit of background information with superb intelligibility. The screen is littered with lavish, radiant primaries throughout while the softer secondary hues boldly energize, nicely complementing the film's lighthearted drive. Black levels are opulent with surprisingly deep, penetrating shadows that never ruin the finer details, giving the high-def transfer a welcomed cinematic feel. (Video Rating: 4.5/5)
Interestingly, the Ghostbusters are called into action thanks to an excellent DTS-HD MA codec. Of course, there's really no significant difference between this and its Dolby TrueHD counterpart from last year, so for all intents and purposes, they're identical. Originally an 80s stereo mix, the audio is nicely maintained and balanced across all three front channels, feeling expansive and naturally spacious. The entire soundstage contains various special effects and ambient sounds with a wide dynamic range, offering decent room penetration and clarity throughout, and vocals are crystal-clear and precise in the center. The original musical score by Elmer Bernstein and the iconic theme song by Ray Parker, Jr. enjoy a broad and sometimes engaging soundscape, with minor bleeds in the background.
As expected, surround activity is limited, with only a few atmospheric cues, like the sound of crickets or New York street traffic heard in the distance. Directional pans exhibit smooth movement between the channels for a few pleasing moments of envelopment. Expanding the sound field a bit, the lossless track becomes lively toward the third act once ghosts escape from the containment grid. The battle with Gozer fills the room with plenty of activity in the rear speakers. Low-frequency effects are quite weighty for a vintage sound mix, adding palpable depth to each time the "proton packs" are activated and used. All things considered, this is a highly-enjoyable and well-balanced presentation. (Audio Rating: 4/5)
The proton-pack-wearing supernatural investigators are back with a highly entertaining and amusing DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Although upgraded for modern home-theaters, the lossless mix remains, for the most part, faithful to the original stereo design, keeping many of the paranormal activities in the front soundstage. Imaging is wide and rich with a terrifically detailed mid-range and convincing acoustics, delivering a wealth of clarity and warmth from beginning to end. Randy Edelman's ('Twins,' 'Kindergarten Cop') score, which actually repurposes many of Elmer Bernstein's haunting sounds, consistently broadens the soundfield with superb distinction within the orchestration. Like its predecessor, the low-end is impressively weighty and robust for a film of this age, adding some great rumbling effects to the action. With crystal-clear and pristine vocals in the center, this high-rez track perfectly complements the video. (Audio Rating: 4/5)
After 30 years, the 'Ghostbusters' franchise remains just as amusing and hilarious as when it first hit theaters, full of gut-busting dialogue and many memorable scenes. Demonstrating that big-budget special effects can mesh well with laugh-out-loud comedy, the film also enjoys being one of the most successful comedy franchises ever made and continues to convert a new generation of fans with each viewing. This new "Mastered in 4K" digibook comes with outstanding audio and video presentations that are clear upgrades to previous home releases. Accompanied with a wealth of supplements, the overall package is highly recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.