Ghostbusters 1&2 - Collectors Gift Set Review
Ghostbusters is one of those films that any self-respecting fan of cinema should check out; after all it’s a phenomenon that swept through the 80’s, creating a memorable franchise line along the way. When it was conceived in the early part of the 80’s by Dan Aykroyd he didn’t quite imagine just how much of an impact it would have upon cinema goers. In 1984 it ended up being the most successful film of the year, and to this day it continues to sell immensely well. But what of its conception? The idea at the time was very interesting; the film was originally written as a science fiction piece that followed a group of ghost busters who travelled through time. Before his untimely death, John Belushi was written in as Peter Venkman, while Eddie Murphy and John Candy were drafted in as Winston and Louis respectively. Indeed this was to be a huge gathering of Saturday Night Live alumni, but due to some tragic events the film was re-written and re-cast. While we can all but wonder how it might have played out, it’s easy to see that the changes made were ultimately for the best. As the years have moved on fans have pined for a third and final outing, featuring our bustin’ heroes, but alas it doesn’t appear likely to ever happen, what with Murray’s refusal to participate and a script and budget that cannot be settled on. Never mind though, we still have two enjoyable flicks that have been released on fine digital discs, with a handful of nice extras. The set that I’m about to review is the newly released and re-packed collection, which is virtually identical to the sets put out a few years ago in terms of A/V but have lost a few things extras wise. We’ll get onto the exact details later.
Ghostbusters (1984, 107 minutes)
Starring : Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts and Rick Moranis.
Directed by Ivan Reitman.
Ray: “Ya know, it’s just occurred to me we really haven’t had a completely successful test of this equipment.”
Egon: “I blame myself.”
Venkman: “So do I.”
Ray: “Well, no sense worrying about it now.”
Venkman: “Why worry? Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.”
When parapsychologists, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are booted out of their New York university after their grant expires, they decide to go into business together as “Ghostbusters”. They promise the public that they can eliminate any spectral beings; however business remains slow, but when cellist, Dana Barret (Sigourney Weaver) calls them for help they are led on a case that involves the return of an ancient Sumerian god, named Gozer (Slavitsa Jovan) - who just happens to be residing above Dana’s apartment. With business steadily growing the team employ the services of Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) and set out to protect Venkman’s would be girlfriend from any harm. As if their problems weren’t bad enough they soon have Environmental Protection Agency member, Walter Peck (William Atherton) on their case in an effort to shut down their business permanently. Little does he realise that his subsequent actions will threaten New York city, with only the Ghostbusters available to save the day.
It’s easy to get right down to the source of Ghostbusters‘ success; everything just gels so well. For a film taking on the supernatural/fantasy genre and infusing with comedy and science fiction the results could go either way, but it’s quite clear that Aykroyd and Ramis knew exactly what they were doing when they put pen to paper. But its not just in the script. If ever there was a film that truly demonstrated the importance of collaborative efforts then Ghostbusters would be a strong contender as being a great point of reference. Not only is the script sharp but so is the majority of technical bravado, and above all the unforgettable performances all round.
As an ensemble piece the film relies on a line up of established comic talent; Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Rick Moranis and Harold Ramis dominate the screen and could so easily try too hard in overshadowing each other, but rather than vie for funniest actor they’re each given their own space with which they superbly differentiate themselves from one another. Their characters are established early and quickly, each one given a unique personality from which we can draw parallels. Later on when we meet Hudson we find that he rounds off the team rather nicely as a blue-collar worker with no real clue as to what’s going on, just as long as he gets a regular pay check. It’s in these characters that much of the film’s entertainment can be drawn from, not only because they’re so easily identifiable but because they’re also the underdogs trying to make a living from what would be considered an otherwise geeky or easily shunned job. They’re average joe’s, unconventional in their exploits but nevertheless heroes for their city. All the techno-babble and giddy playfulness is here, and with these fellows they somehow manage to sell all of the jargon that connects to spirits; we buy into it because we believe in them when not many others would.
Of course the film is also riotously funny and it’s impossible to forget the sheer amount of quotable lines that crop up on a regular basis. Naturally Bill Murray gets the bulk of witty quips for which his character type is perfectly suited, not to mention the way he adds an occasional cruel streak (the early card test) or dry touch to proceedings. Generally speaking though there isn’t anyone to single out here, which is not only rare but also appreciated.
Another rarity is that we’re looking at a huge blockbuster that doesn’t deviate from what it sets out to achieve, which is simply entertain the family. With so much in the way of special effects it would be all too easy for a film to forget its purpose just so that audiences could get a good dosage of eye candy. To counter-act the comedy we have an assortment of well executed visuals which consist mainly of stop-motion and puppetry, which highlights the technical brilliance at the time. Not only this but the visuals lend themselves to the film’s comedic exploits, to such an extent that the team’s final foe is nothing short of comic genius. Likewise, Slimer would go on to become an iconic figure, far surpassing what he was probably worth as a bit-player. But that’s part of the strength, because each ghost or ghoulie has been given a proper status; they’d follow this up with Ghostbusters 2 to a lesser success, but still it was a different way of displaying characters that would likely be portrayed in a more horrifying manner. As it stands Ghostbusters isn’t a particularly scary film, certainly not from the standpoint of a mature viewer, but for its PG rating it most definitely would affect a child in places (in particular the introduction of the library ghost, or when Dana is first dragged screaming through her apartment). While some are played for cheap scares others are simply charming or sad, and in that Ghostbusters is something of a unique viewing experience.
|The following text contains spoilers. Click and drag over this box to view.|
|After all, how can you not feel sorry for Mr. Stay Puft when he gets set ablaze, with those big wide eyes and feigned innocence?|
Above all, Director Ivan Reitman helms the film so masterfully and with such awareness that almost every shot is unique in its delivery. There’s very rarely a static moment; the film is brimming with energy, both in the foreground and background. Elmer Bernstein’s wonderful score, along with the film’s catchy soundtrack serve as fine accompaniments to Reitman’s enthusiastic camera work; the shot when the team are investigating the library is the first example of the director really trying to pull us into the film, and it works tremendously. Reitman can get in tight to the action and never smother us, instead we can feel claustrophobic one moment and be equally riveted the next for far wider shots. The showdown between Gozer has its fair share of close ups and quick cuts, and yet it’s handled remarkably well, even if it’s over all too quickly. But as a director working between genres he does a brilliant job in this respect; when it needs to be funny his timing is spot on, when it needs to provide a quick scare the slightly tense build up is there. It’s entirely understandable then that he’d be the perfect choice to reunite with the cast and follow up with a sequel.
If you owned the original release then you’ll be immediately aware of a few minor changes to this one upon inserting the disc. We get the same menu (slightly altered), only certain portions of the animation have now been removed. I’m not entirely sure why this has happened as the disc in fact holds less information than the original did, considering that now we now have missing extras.
Presented in its native 2.35:1 aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced, this is about the best we’ve seen Ghostbusters look. There could still be improvements though; most noticeably black levels aren’t as deep as would be expected, and many other tones appear slightly muted, almost saturated; they do feel natural however. The film appears to be naturally soft in many places, not to a degree that’s distracting and considering that Edge Enhancement is extremely high frequency then it’s likely this is how the film is meant to be seen. There’s also a healthy, natural grain and shimmering for some outdoor shots, which I presume to be inherent to the negative. There’s very little else to elaborate on for a film just over twenty years of age.
Here we have a newly mixed DD5.1 Surround track. Dialogue is effectively channelled to the front speakers while the rears nicely accommodate ambient effects and some of the more prominent ones that crop up during action scenes, which can get overly aggressive. The music ranges from good to average in terms of projection. There’s a sense of some tracks sounding slightly muted, but overall it’s a decent if underwhelming track.
This is where I feel slightly disappointed. It’s been a while since I owned the original release but I seem to recall much more being on that disc. Here we most definitely miss out on theatrical trailers and production notes and I seem to remember deleted scenes and FX comparisons also, which are no longer here.
Audio Commentary with Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and Joe Medjuck
First of all the original MST3K style presentation has been lifted; now we just get the audio commentary without silhouettes of the speakers. The track itself is very enjoyable though, featuring plenty of information with regards to the film’s conception and individual characters. We hear plenty about filming locations and special effects works, with anecdotes thrown in here and there for good measure. There’s a lot of laughter going on during several of the jokes and generally they praise their work very highly but I can hardly argue with that. Some moments of silence occur, but not enough to make the experience tedious.
1984 Featurette (10:53)
This was released in time for the film’s theatrical showing. Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman offer their individual insights on the film and discuss pairing the comedy and horror elements together. They also acknowledge that this is a film largely for children, but one that has wider appeal for everyone to enjoy. It’s a decent featurette which doesn’t go into any great detail.
This is divided into nine sections: we have Colourful Early NYC Concepts, Colourful Ecto-Mobile Interior, Early Stay Puft Man Concepts, Light Stream Chalk Drawings, Pencil and Chalk Creature Concepts, Pencil Librarian Ghoul Concepts, Pencil Terror Dog Concepts, SFX Conceptual Paintings and Early Logo Concepts.
There are seven galleries here that detail behind the scenes development: Ghoulish Librarian, Lovely Floating Ghost, Production Team, Slimer, Spook Central, Stay Puft Man and Terror Dogs.
These are brief storyboards for Bums in Park, Dogs Drag Dana, Slimer Pigs Out, Haunted Stacks, Boys in Library, Louis Meets Dog, Mink Coat, Louis Meets Muggers, Proton Charging, Atop Spook Central, Cheeky Ghost and Slimer.
Ghostbusters truly deserves that classic status, make no mistake. Rarely can a film balance so many elements so well and come away with top honours. At the time I imagine a sci-fi, comedy horror would have been something of a gamble, but in this case it was one that paid off big time.
Ghostbusters 2 (1989, 104 minutes)
Starring : Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Rick Moranis and Peter MacNicol
Directed by Ivan Reitman.
Venkman: You know, I’m a voter. Aren’t you supposed to lie to me and kiss my butt?”
It’s been five years since the Ghostbusters saved the city of New York from naughty ghosts, destroying city property along the way. As a result they had to close shop and now make a living doing tedious work that involves entertaining children or listening to complete whack jobs. Meanwhile, under the streets of New York a new form of pink, ectoplasmic gooey stuff is beginning to surface, feeding off the emotions of the citizens and causing chaos throughout. It just so happens that the goo is drawn to Dana’s work place - a museum of art that houses a painting of the evil Carpathian, Vigo (Wilhelm Von Homburg) who wishes to steal Dana’s son, Oscar and use his body as a vessel so that he can enter the world and rule it. Helping Vigo is Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) who wishes to have Dana for himself, while Venkman still misses her company ever since they split several years ago. With the Ghostbusters facing legal action for crimes against the city their work won’t be easy, but time is running out…
You have to wonder what really went wrong with Ghostbusters 2. As it stands it’s a damn fun ride, but at the same time one can’t help but feel that it’s a simple rehash of the original. Many of the ingredients that made the first film so successful are back for this one; that would usually make it a good thing, why fix something that isn’t broken? But that’s just its problem; it feels like it has run out of ideas too soon. With our characters having been well established in the first film, the sequel picks up five years later and gets straight down to the action. It would appear that this film is designed to not only emulate the first but to also extend its ambitions as a technical marvel.
When we get down to the real grit of the story it runs almost in the same manner as its predecessor: Guys are out of luck, business is slow, they get back on their feet, are soon deemed crazy and ordered to close down, and are then called back into action to save the day. It’s all so very familiar and somewhat tired. Several curious moments crop up that defy explanation, such as Mayor Lenny and several others (David Margulies) having forgotten that ghosts really do exist and that the Ghostbusters saved the city five years ago. It’s merely a device to get them locked up as quickly as possible so that they can bounce back. Even the film’s final act features a set piece that’s not unlike that of the first;
|The following text contains spoilers. Click and drag over this box to view.|
|The statue of liberty being a replacement for Mr. Stay Puft, but having its role turned around so that it’s a symbol of good.|
You’ll notice this time around that some changes have been made with regards to certain characters. Oddly enough Egon and Janine no longer seem to be interested in each other romantically; something that was touched upon ever so slightly but never developed in the first film. This time around we now have Louis working for the guys as an accountant and lawyer, while Janine shows an incredible attraction toward him. This comical pairing was presumably conjured up just so that it could provide the odd laugh; there’s nothing wrong with that as such but it feels as if the writers are trying to move the series in a new direction without realising that everything else is all too similar, which frankly defeats the point.
This has also been changed from the original release. We no longer have a static screen, but a reworked version of the menu from the first film. It really is useless though and feels very cheap as it relates far too much to the first film, with one tiny change.
Ghostbusters 2 is also presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1. In terms of clarity it fares slightly better than its predecessor, exhibiting more vivid colours and better contrast and black levels. There’s still a slight softness for wider shots and Edge Enhancement is a tad higher, but it’s pleasant enough.
Unfortunately the 5.1 mix presented here is equally as problematic as the first; the first time we hear Ray Parker Jr’s memorable song proves to be disheartening, due to its tinny sound and reverb. Later on the soundtrack improves but in other areas the surrounds get too carried away. The action scenes are far too aggressive at times, with heavy bass, although dialogue and most of the music is handled far better. The special effects are well separated and prove to be involving; it’s just a shame that it doesn’t quite gel together as well as it should.
Again I’m really disappointed. Why Ghostbusters 2 has never been released with a healthy selection of extras is beyond me. There has to be plenty of archive stuff to put out for enthusiasts; perhaps when the new formats come around this might change.
The original theatrical trailer has been removed in favour of providing two episodes from the animated series The Real Ghostbusters. Watching these again was interesting, but they’re not as good as I remembered them, though it could just be down to these particular episodes. This series offers plenty of comic moments but most of them are geared towards Slimer, who now has a predominant role. Slimer can grow really annoying fast, but kids will undoubtedly warm to him. Several voices will be recognised, with Lorenzo Music (Garfield) behind Peter Venkman, providing some nice characterisation, in fact the voice acting is very good all round. Animation wise this is about on par with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It features a nicely animated opening sequence, but the animation contained within is hit and miss. For fans it should prove to be a nice addition, and I’m somewhat curious as to whether or not there are plans to release season box sets at some point.
The quality of these episodes though really is poor. They’re soft with colour bleeding and seem to be NTSC to PAL conversions, exhibiting extreme ghosting. This is very strange as the films are not. Dot crawl is also present and is highly distracting. I imagine that these were thrown together very quickly as a cheap extra.
Ghostbusters 2 is an underrated sequel. It copies the first film a little too closely and offers very little in terms of originality, but its performances, comedy and special effects often work a treat.
The films comes packaged in a newly designed box that is supposed to look like it contains slime; it looks more like jelly to me, and it probably is. Included in the box is a collector’s scrap book which features production notes, with each disc coming housed in their own case.
The main question here is whether or not these discs are worth upgrading to. If you’ve yet to own them on DVD then it isn’t a bad deal for such a low price. It’s worth noting though that both films have been available separately for quite some time and can be picked up dirt cheap at some online retailers. I certainly wouldn’t recommend double dipping as we’re actually getting less on these releases, and I don’t think that the addition of the animated episodes is anything to get overly excited about.