Sunday, June 21, 2009

GHOSTBUSTERS - Blu-Ray (Columbia 1984) Sony Home Entertainment

A seminal supernatural sex comedy, Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters (1984) is still delightfully wacky good fun. Never mind that the special effects have dated, the screenplay by Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and an unaccredited Rick Moranis (all of whom have plum parts in the movie) reconnects with the tradition of the ‘ghost spoof’ subgenre in movies that had been absent since the mid-1950s.

The film stars Billy Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as a trio of paranormal ‘experts’ who find themselves at the cusp of a supernatural second coming that threatens to destroy New York City. Murray is Dr. Peter Venkman – a university hack conducting electro-shock therapy on student test subjects in order to tap their minds for psychic energy. Actually, he’s just after cute college girls. However, Venkman’s partners, Dr. Raymond Stantz (Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Ramis) are true believers dedicated to their paranormal studies; Egon through a systematic processing of scientific data and Raymond by way of sheer naivety.

After being fired from the university, this trio decides to set up shop for themselves as ‘ghost busters’. Hiring secretary, Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) and a fourth ghost buster, Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) Venkman, Spengler and Stantz find themselves gaining widespread credence in the press when New York suddenly becomes a hotbed of spectral light activity.

Meanwhile, in an apartment building on Fifth Ave. classical musician Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) has begun to experience some rather bizarre paranormal activity. After contacting Venkman – but finding him obnoxious – Dana chooses to ignore the phenomenon in her kitchen until it is too late. High atop her building, two large cement gargoyles come to life; one possessing Dana’s body, the other taking over her neighbor’s; Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). Louis and Dana are now the ‘key master’ and the ‘gate keeper’, awaiting the arrival of Gozer (Slavitza Jovan) – the destructor of the human world.

Enter, political EPA hack Walter Peck (William Atherton) who forces an injunction to shut down the ghost busters’ security grid, thereby freeing all the cantankerous spirits already apprehended. Eventually, Gozer makes her presence known atop Dana’s skyscraper, forcing the ghost busters to choose the method of their destruction.

Unfortunately, Raymond inadvertently recalls a pleasant memory from his childhood, resulting in the reincarnation of a forty story Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man to terrorize mankind. In the final reel, the ghost busters are triumphant – but not before they shower most of Fifth Ave. in the creamy cooked entrails of Mr. Stay-Puff.

In viewing the film today the argument is often put forth that the special effects in the film don’t hold up. This critic would disagree. While the SFX lack the pristine visual appeal and smooth glide of digitally created effects, the miniatures, rubber puppetry and animated SFX employed in the film are a perfect match for the subject matter. More important, they have weight to them – something no digital effect in any film I’ve seen to date has been able to replicate.

The apocalyptic brooding clouds circling Dana’s apartment, and made by dropping ink into water and then agitating it to create ripples, are infinitely more foreboding than any digital storm clouds. Mr. Stay-Puff – a combination of a man in a rubber suit for long shots and large rubber on plaster sculpture for extreme close ups of his head are quite convincing.

Reitman’s direction keeps perfect balance between the comedic and supernatural elements of the story. The laughs are plentiful throughout and the thrills all the more thrilling when they suddenly jump from the screen.

Sony Home Entertainment’s Blu-Ray release isn’t quite what I expected. The image quality begins with a strange softness in the early scenes taking place inside New York’s Central Library. Even the Ghostbusters logo seems slightly blurry. Flesh tones throughout are much too pink.

Aside: before continuing, this reviewer should point out to the reader of this review that in the early to mid-1980s Technicolor experimented with a different photochemical process and film stock that, in retrospect, has proven to be unstable and more rapid in its decomposition. In this light then, perhaps, Ghostbusters is one of unfortunate recipients of this flawed process.

There are pluses on this Blu-Ray; most notably in the amount of fine detail evident in close ups and also in the complete lack of distracting edge enhancements that plagued the original standard DVD release. The audio has been remixed to Dolby True HD 5.1. Limitations in the vintage recording are evident throughout, such as thinness to dialogue lacking in bass tonality. Overall, this isn’t a bad Blu-Ray release. It’s just not a spectacular one.

Extras exclusive to the Blu-Ray include a ‘slimer mode ‘picture in picture pop up trivia track, a brief featurette on the Ecto-1 Ghostbusters car and another brief featurette on the making of the Ghostbusters video game. The litany of extras produced for the standard DVD has also been directly imported to the Blu-Ray, but with extremely poor visual quality.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
4

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