"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together . . . mass hysteria!"
After watching the dreadful 'Without a Paddle,' it was a real pleasure to sit down and enjoy Ivan Reitman's vastly superior film classic, 'Ghostbusters.' From the Columbia Pictures logo, accompanied by Elmer Bernstein's eerie score, to the moment the iconic theme song was 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, like the librarian ghost. Celebrating its 25-year anniversary (it originally premiered on June 8, 1984), the film continues to win audiences with a large, devoted fanbase at its heels, and remains one of the most successful comedies in film history, next to 'Shrek 2' (over $500 million, adjusted for inflation). This cinematic gem is one that shouldn't be missed . . . by the living or the dead.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'Ghostbusters' to Blu-ray under the distributor's new "Mastered in 4K" line of products, supposedly optimized for UHDTVs but not actually presented in a native resolution of 2160p. The Region Free, BD50 disc arrives inside a blue, eco-lite keepcase with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy and a shiny, cardboard slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken straight to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
For our reader's viewing pleasure, I've included screengrabs of both Blu-ray versions for a fun comparison. Simply click to enlarge.
For this new Sony line of Blu-ray releases, dubbed "Mastered in 4K," it appears the studio has made the wise decision to remedy their mistake on the previous release of 'Ghostbusters' where, for some strange reason, producers decided to use the same botched master from the 2005 double-feature DVD gift set. Thankfully, for this new edition, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode shows a significant improvement with better clarity and resolution, and a much sharper image overall compared to other home video counterparts. However, there is nothing that clearly indicates this presentation comes from a fresh master of the original camera negative instead of simply being another alleged "remaster." Whatever the case may be, this is definitely an upgrade over the last Blu-ray.
But as a forewarning, fans shouldn't set their hopes too high because the movie, as photographed by László Kovács, has never been much of a looker. 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 better balanced with crisp, bright whites and deep, rich blacks. There's still a tad of crush, here and there, but nothing too severe. When the Ghostbusters confront Gozer, the ethereal fog finally looks like white fog creeping down the stairs, while each individual step is plainly visible.
Facial complexions still 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 more welcomed high-def presentation of a classic and dearly-beloved comedy.
Unlike the picture quality, thankfully, this 4K Blu-ray edition of 'Ghostbusters' arrives with the same, identical Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, which features a rather amusing and wide presentation with sparing use of the surround speakers.
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. 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. Dialogue is mostly clear and intelligible, but there were a few moments where the vocals sound canned and unrealistic. Not sure if the new encode is at fault or if this might be inherent to the original recording.
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 25-year-old 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.
This is a bare-bones, standalone release.
After 25 years, 'Ghostbusters' 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 remains one of the most successful comedies ever made, and continues to convert a new generation of fans with each viewing. This new "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray edition of the Ivan Reitman classic arrives with improved picture quality and excellent lossless audio. Despite being a disappointingly bare-bones release, the overall package should make the most devoted and loyal fans happy with their purchase.
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.