When I was just a wee nipper there were 3 scenes in films that really terrified the pants off me when I was unlucky enough to catch them on TV: The chest bursting scene in Alien, the husky transmuting in The Thing, and the librarian sequence in Ghostbusters. In Ghostbusters case I could actually handle the rest of the film, and grew up in the 80s revisiting this film over and over, appreciating new elements as I matured as filmgoer. It’s hard to take Ghostbusters seriously as a horror film by today’s standards, but man is it a lot of fun, the comedy holds up as well as it ever has and the news of a third instalment going into production still brings out the enthusiastic child in me, despite Hollywood’s crappy track record of resurrecting 80s franchises in the new millennium.
The Ghostbusters of the title are Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler, three scientists researching the paranormal who discover a worrying increase in psychokinetic activity in New York. After a run in with a ghostly librarian, Stantz and Spengler are able to create scientific equipment that allow for the capture and containment of spooks and spectres, which prompts the trio to start a ghost trapping service for a premium price that – because of the rapidly gathering spectral energy - takes the city by storm and catapults the men to fame. At the eye of the spectral storm is the apartment of Dana Barrett, a talented musician who is being haunted by a demonic entity that announces itself as Zuul. Venkman gleefully takes Barrett’s case as an opportunity to seduce her, but when the team discover that Zuul is the demonic harbinger of a Sumerian god known as Gozer the Destructor, they realise the city is heading towards a reckoning of biblical proportions.
In many ways the 1980s was the last decade where Hollywood was regularly churning out mainstream blockbusters that managed to capture the essence of Hollywood’s Golden Era without making homage or parody the whole point of the film. Ghostbusters is an excellent case in point, its premise harks back to the horror comedies of Abbott & Costello and Bob Hope, but it retained a fresh contemporary approach back in 1984. It did this by underplaying the inherent slapstick of having a group of men chasing around after ghosts and injecting constant overtones of dry humour and techno-babble. This gives Ghostbusters a remarkably broad comedic appeal, so whether you enjoy goofball horseplay or intellectual musings, you should find much to enjoy from the film.
Of course for many fans of Ghostbusters the most dominating comedy element of Ghostbusters is Bill Murray’s performance as Peter Venkman. In his previous collaborations with Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman he had developed a screen persona that was completely wild and unpredictable, with a slightly sarcastic spin. It seemed like his characters were about to break the 4th wall and address the audience any moment and that brought a rather unique form of humour to each film. In Ghostbusters Murray retains that manic sarcasm for Venkman, but his performance is much more controlled, so the zaniness stays within the natural context of the scene. The result was Murray’s best work as an actor by that point in his career and in Peter Venkman he created a character that perhaps isn’t the Ghostbuster audiences most easily identify with, but he is the character we all wish we were when placed in such surreal situations or faced with an impending apocalypse.
Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd are much more understated as Egon Spengler and Ray Stantz, but their performances are no less vital as it’s the dynamic between these central three ghost busters that made Ghostbusters one of the most beloved blockbusters of the 80s. Stantz and Spengler are the brains of the outfit, the theoretical scientist and engineer who provide all the technical exposition in the film and adopt an almost childlike sense of wonder in their work, whereas Venkman is the cynical adult who reacts more to their reactions of the supernatural activity rather than the activity itself, so in a way they form a makeshift family unit with Venkman as parent and leader. Winston Zeddmore joins the team later on but is role is of an everyman on the outside looking in on the screwball world of the other three.
The comic genius of Stantz and Spengler for me, and what makes them just as hilarious and engaging as Venkman is how deadpan Ramis and Aykroyd’s performances are. There’s no irony in the characters at all, so when they’re rationalising absurd mythological legends or spewing forth reams of unlikely scientific theory and paranormal classification, you can completely believe in the reality of what they’re saying, which sells the supernatural elements of Ghostbusters far more effectively than the visual effects. There’s tremendous humour in their total earnestness, the funniest moment in the film for me is in the final act when the Ghostbusters witness the Stay Puft man rampaging through New York for the first time and Venkman asks Spengler for ideas on how to face this threat, but Spengler explains that he is “terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought”. A line like that wouldn’t be half as funny coming from Venkman, as you’d never be sure whether he is that genuinely petrified, but with Spengler you know that this absolutely absurd spectacle has crippled him with fear.
As scriptwriters Ramis and Aykroyd complimented each other perfectly; it’s well documented how Aykroyd came up with the concept and an original draft for Ghostbusters that was too ambitious for visual effects at the time, so Ramis and director Ivan Reitman managed pare the concept down to something that was achievable with the budget they had. Ramis is very talented at bringing out the humour in everyday scenarios, but if you look at his collaborations with Murray and Reitman leading up to Ghostbusters: Meatballs and Stripes, they’re quite rambling and laid back in their approach to narrative, but in Ghostbusters they’ve teamed up with Aykroyd to create a much more focussed story which has a wonderful amount of pseudo science that brings extra dimension to the comedy.
With so much detail the supernatural themes are very effectively explored, the mythology behind the ghostly events is nicely developed and maintains a feel of authenticity whilst still being lightheartedly surreal, and when dealing with ghosts and demons you’ve got an instinctive infusion of horror that Reitman manages to bring to life very well. Ghostbusters is not a scary film, but it does evoke a sense of eeriness and peril quite effectively in its set pieces, and Reitman’s direction appears to draw from a wide variety of horror influences, from old monster movies to gothic imagery and the supernatural horrors of the 70s. There’s also a fantastic finale that brilliantly sends up the Japanese Kaiju genre.
Ghostbusters 3 has recentlybeen announced as in development with almost the entire original cast reprising their roles for a story that will feature a new generation of Ghostbusters taking over from the old. I hope the new writing team take stock of the original film and note that, while the action spectacle and Murray’s comic improvisation will transfer directly to a new generation of filmmakers and performers, it’s actually the absurd situations, technical detail, and strong character dynamics that has made Ghostbusters a truly timeless classic.
PresentationThe first thing that is going to strike anyone sitting down to watch this Blu-ray is the amount of grain in the image during the film’s opening act, it really is quite excessive and fluctuates from sharply defined light speckles to a really thick and fuzzy imprint. You can get a feel for the grain issues by observing the grab at the top of this review of Egon sitting on the floor in the library. It appears to be inherent to the print used - which is supposedly not far removed from the original negative - so your tolerance for it depends on which side of the DNR/grain argument you support, but this fluctuation in the grain levels really only lasts until the scene where Dana has a vision of Zuul in her fridge, and after that the grain settles down to a sharp, light layer that only occasionally gets thicker. Despite the excess grain, detail always remains pleasingly high, in the scene which introduces Venkman you can make out the fibres in his Jacket, and Bill Murray’s face exhibits lots of cracks and crevices so there doesn’t appear to be any overzealous DNR applied. What’s most surprising about the nature of the grain is that the optical effects shots look so clean in comparison, in fact if anything the optical composites look cleaner as they tend to be brighter and still the detail is remained
Another aspect that is bound to bring some contention among fans is the colour scheme, the 2005 DVD faced the wrath of many fans for blowing out the brightness and contrast of the image as well as altering the colour balance in comparison to the 1999 DVD release. Well this Blu-ray has a colour scheme that is closer to the 2005 release, but it’s important to note that The Digital Bits are claiming that Sony have confirmed that Ghostbuster DoP László Kovács supervised and approved the Blu-ray transfer and its colour timing, which if true means that the 1999 DVD was not the be all and end all when it came to the matter of how Ghostbusters was intended to look, certainly you get the impression that the 1999 DVD is too warm as pink hues tend to dominate in the image, which has the effect of decreasing the variety of colour. In comparison the Blu-ray release has a gorgeous and more expressive palette, with vivid colours that look pristine and are free from noise or bleeding. The 2005 DVD again looks the worst in this area, color gradation is poor and the image looks seriously desaturated at times. There’s also the matter of the infamous Slimer colour bleed, where Sony’s colour tinkering was so heavy handed that they applied a green glow around the character that turned the particle streams and backgrounds bright green during the scene when he is being caught. Thankfully this is an error exclusive to the 2005 release and you can see so in one of the comparison grabs below.
But it was the brightness and contrast that brought the most criticism to the 2005 DVD, the image was so bright that shadows were barely there and highlights so clipped that the image bloomed like hell, whites where viciously hot. Brightness and contrast are much more pleasing on the blu-ray, image brightness tends to fluctuate wildly throughout the film as we jump from bright, diffusely lit daytime scenes to dark interiors/night time sequences, yet the BD handles this very well, having strong black levels and excellent shadow detail. The contrast on the other hand is noticeably higher than the 1999 DVD, but way below the 2005. Highlights appear natural enough, adding detail to the image without blooming too much in other areas. The relatively high contrast certainly gives the BD a pristine feel. Every other aspect of the transfer is first rate, the BD-50 AVC encode produces no digital noise and the image is generally sharp with only minimal edge enhancements applied. This is easily the best Ghostbusters has looked on home video, and if it wasn’t for the inconsistency during the opening 20mins or so I would have given this an 8 or 9 out of 10.
In the audio department this disc loses points for not including the original English Dolby Stereo track, but I can’t really fault the English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track at all, for the most part it is a stereo track with action spread across the front centres and the rears only occasionally used for the film’s soundtrack. Dialogue is a little low in the mix but it retains solid clarity so every word uttered is audible enough whilst also being surprisingly crisp. Bass tends to be a little soft at times but for a film 25 years old now it’s quite expressive and provides enough depth in the action sequences. The dynamics are equally solid, each audio element is nicely defined and form a coherent whole in a reasonably expressive front soundstage. In comparison the 2005 DVD’s English DD5.1 audio is a bit of a mess, the volume levels are cranked right up, with the nasty side effect of introducing a load of hiss and the 5.1 remix is a little less subtle. The 1999 DVD fares much better, it’s basically just a no frills DD5.1 track that seems to effectively reproduces the sound of the original stereo track, but it can’t compare to the BD’s audio.
Also included on the disc is an Italian Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track and optional subtitiles in: English, English SDH, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Below you’ll find a set of comparison grabs that hopefully highlight the points raised about the three home releases of Ghostbusters in this review, please note that I have blown up the DVD screengrabs to 1920x1080 to better compare them to the HD grabs:
|1999 R1 DVD||2005 R2 DVD||2009 BD|
ExtrasPredictably Sony have decided to base their extras around featurettes from the previous DVD releases, but they have produced a handful of new featurettes on the making of the upcoming Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which reunited much of the original cast for voice work. Whilst this is a strong selection of extras, I would also have liked a feature on the new remaster, part of the reason why there’s so much debate over HD transfers is because the studios do very little to highlight and explain their remastering process. I know this isn’t a subject that’s going to appeal to your average viewer, but I feel there’s always room in the extra features section of a disc for both a mainstream and technical approach. Ok, so here’s the rundown:
Ecto-1: Resurrecting the Classic Car (15m:37s): Pimp my Ride: Ghostbusters edition! To market the new video game, Sony have decided to tour America with the original Ecto mobile, which had fallen into quite a bit of disarray through years of storage, so they commissioned film car specialists: Cinema Vehicle Services to restore the old classic. This excellent featurette follows their impressive work on the vehicle and culminates in a visit from Dan Aykroyd to perform a post mortem on their work, although I have to say Sony’s decision to seamlessly integrate mod cons like a DVD player and state of the art sound system into the old Cadillac is total sacrilege!
Making of Ghostbusters – The Video Game (11m:18s): How much this feature will appeal to you is dependent on whether you own any current generation games consoles or not, but there is plenty of interview footage with Aykroyd, Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Bill Atherton, and Annie Potts who all reprise their roles from the original film.
Ghostbusters Garage: Ecto-1 Gallery (05m:27s): A gallery of the production photos the mechanics at Cinema Vehicle Services took to aide their restoration of Ecto-1, so you can really see how much work they did on the vehicle. There is also some brief video footage of the men at work. There’s no dialogue in this feature, so no subtitles are included.
Ghostbusters The Video Game – Preview (01m:43s): A trailer for the upcoming game.
The rest of the extra features are taken from the DVD releases, so are in standard-definition and start with a disclaimer explaining their DVD origins:
Commentary with Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis, & Joe Medjuck: The jewel in the crown of the DVD releases, this is an excellent commentary track that comprehensively covers the films production whilst maintaining a high level of witty banter between the three commentators.
Scene Cemetery (07m:40s): 10 deleted/extended scenes, most of which are not particularly noteworthy, but there is one scene that would serve as a longer introduction to the Slimer character, and a scene that addresses the issue of what went on between the Keymaster and Gatekeeper before the coming of Gozer.
1984 Featurette (09m:45s): A bog standard Making Of from the time of the film’s production, it’s too short to impart any significant information.
Cast and Crew Featurette (10m:53s): This is a retrospective featurette made for the 1999 DVD release, it features interviews with Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ivan Reitman, who all talk about their experiences filming Ghostbusters and what their opinions on the film are since those days.
SFX Team Featurette (15m:22s): The longest and best of the DVD features, this is a round table interview with the team that created the visual effects for Ghostbusters, which were quite varied and advanced for the time. They provide lots of insight into the film’s production and also talk a little about Aykroyd’s original script.
Multi-Angle Featurette (06m:12s): Three brief sequences from the film entitled: Spook Central Exploding, She’s a Dog, and Crossing the Streams, which are shown with two switchable angles that show the scenes before and after the visual effects were applied. This is probably the dullest feature on the disc.
Storyboard Comparisons (06m:26s): Another three sequences, this time called: Slimer, Dogs Drag Dana, and Atop Spook Central, which are played alongside the storyboards for the sequence. It’s interesting to see that the slimmer sliming sequence was originally planned to be with Winston Zeddmore rather than Venkman.
The other features in the extras portion of the disc are a trio of interactive features, they are:
Blu-Wizard: This feature allows you to create your own custom viewing lists from the extra features on the disc.
Slimer Mode: Plays back the film with illustrated borders top and bottom and a pop up screen that features all new interviews with the cast and crew about the making of Ghostbusters. It’s a shame that Sony didn’t see fit to include this footage in its own new retrospective making of featurette as it’s a bit of a chore having to sit through a 100min film for what is roughly one hour’s worth of interview footage.
CineChat: An online chat function through BDLive that I’m not set up to use at the moment, so I will say no more.
Unless otherwise stated all extras have optional English and Italian subtitles, also the features that haven’t been ported over from the 1999 DVD are all presented in 1080p using the AVC codec.