GHOSTBUSTERS: 4K UltraHD Blu-ray (Columbia 1984) Sony Home Entertainment
A seminal supernatural sex comedy that may, in fact, have redefined an undernourished (but not nonexistent) sub-genre, director Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters (1984) remains delightfully wacky good fun some 40 years after its theatrical debut. Who would have thought green slimy ectoplasm would have such staying power. Arguably, not the executive brain trust at Columbia Pictures who, sensing the expense of it all, fairly balked at the concept, despite overwhelming enthusiasm from Dan Aykroyd, whose fascination with the paranormal had inspired its early beginnings. Aykroyd hoped to costar with fellow SNL alumnus and good friend, John Belushi as a pair of SWAT-sporting/wand-waving/time-traveling ghost ‘smashers’, doing battle with unknown forces. Eventually, Aykroyd refined this premise; our heroes, now paranormal exterminators not unlike those featured in Disney’s 1937 Mickey Mouse short, Lonesome Ghosts, and more deftly brought to fruition as a Bowery Boys feature: 1946’s Spook Busters. Indeed, the Disney short even features the character of Goofy uttering the line, “I ain’t scared of no ghost”; yet to become an ever slightly modified riff in Ray Parker Jr.’s Oscar-nominated anthem for Ghostbusters. Although Reitman immediately liked the basic idea, he encouraged Aykroyd to streamline and pare down the concept for budgetary reasons, bringing on board Harold Ramis for the rewrites, achieved over a 3-week respite at Martha’s Vineyard.
At associate producer, Michael C. Gross behest, Thom Enriquez, Bernie Wrightson, and Tanino Liberatore, all imminent illustrators, were brought in to conceptualize the ghosts, later to be realized using a bit of movie-land visual effects trickery and a lot of puppetry. Meanwhile, Reitman took immense pride in luring legendary production designer, John DeCuir to partake of his pastiche. DeCuir’s career included such elephantine opulence as throne rooms and a Roman forum triple the size of the real one for 1963’s Cleopatra, and, a top-to-bottom fanciful recreation of turn-of-the-century New York City’s 14th Street for 1969’s colossus of a musical, Hello Dolly! DeCuir’s designs herein lent Ghostbusters its scope and girth as well as its highly stylized visual design, pinned upon various architectural cues. The ghostbusters’ proton pack weaponry, consisting of a neutron wands and backpacks were the work of design consultant, Stephen Dane, built of lightweight fiberglass to compensate for the nearly thirty lbs. battery pack installed by SFX supervisor, Chuck Gaspar, following Dane’s concept down to the last detail. During more strenuous stunts, Gaspar had identical packs made of even lighter foam rubber, lit by battery operated lights. The last bit of inspiration proved collaborative; beginning with John Daveikis’ high concept for the Ectomobile; designed in black, but later re-conceived by Dane in white, as a modified 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor with an aftermarket ambulance conversion; sound designer, Richard Beggs inventing the car's distinctive siren from a snarling leopard played backward at high speed.
Casting hit its first snag with John Belushi’s untimely passing; Aykroyd and Ramis pursuing comedian, John Candy as his replacement. Candy’s noncommittal attitude cost him this defining moment in cinema, although oddly, he would appear in Ray Parker Jr.’s music video. In the interim, Ramis and Aykroyd pursued Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson to fill the voids. Hudson’s initial enthusiasm was predicated on the fact his part had begun with more character development and a backstory. Alas, none of this would survive the revised script; Hudson more than a little miffed as Murray’s role was beefed up at his character’s expense. While grateful for the opportunity to ‘be included’ in the cast, Hudson would remain ambivalent about his contributions to the picture’s success and always consider Ghostbusters his ‘lost opportunity’. Meanwhile, the character of Louis Tully – originally written as an ultra-conservative businessman, was re-imagined by Rick Moranis as a veritable geek, while Gozer, already cast with Paul Reubens, underwent a transgender conversion, ultimately portrayed by bloodshot-eyed, Yugoslav supermodel, Slavitza Jovan; her demonic voice dubbed by Paddi Edwards. The final additions to the cast, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts were brought on board without incident.
In retrospect, Ghostbusters is such an unabashed fluff piece of camp, kitsch and coo perfectly suited for the overblown frothiness of the 1980’s, with Bill Murray given the most plum one liners (I’m partial to, “Okay, so she’s a dog”, “yes, it’s true…this man has no dick” and “…cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria”), and, long since transcended into becoming a cornerstone of America’s movie culture (suitable for bastardization with a sub-par sequel in 1989 and tragically undernourished PC-correct all-female cast remake last year…ugh!) it is easy to forget how utterly fresh-faced and unique it was among the milieu, not only of 80’s cinema but movies in general; its half-ass seriousness regarding the supernatural, merged with an attenuated chord of cynicism and abundantly perverse slant on the atypical ‘T’ and ‘A’ sex comedy (key master/gatekeeper Freudianism’s aside). Ghostbusters had a lengthy location shoot with only minimal work done back in Hollywood; mostly on interiors. On occasion, and given Manhattan’s natural proclivity for traffic jams, this proved a trying exercise; even incurring the wrath of noted sci-fi writer, Isaac Asimov, who declared the spectacle of filming ‘disgusting’ – much to Aykroyd’s chagrin. Nevertheless, a kinetic energy seemed to fill the air. Crowds flocked to witness the happenings and can, in many sequences, be seen in the background.
Interestingly, Columbia University granted Reitman permission to shoot in and around Havemeyer Hall so long as it was disguised ‘in name’ and no mention of the university was made, either within the film or acknowledgement in the credits. Other instantly identifiable N.Y. landmarks included The Irving Trust Bank on Fifth Avenue, Firehouse, Hook & Ladder Company 8 in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood, The Lincoln Center, 55 Central Park West (with DeCuir adding eight stories in height via a matte painting), the New York Public Library, Columbus Circle, the Waldorf-Astoria and now sadly bygone, Tavern on the Green in Central Park. Back in California, interiors were lensed at the Burbank Studios (present day Warner Bros.) with L.A. Library’s basement substituting for its New York facsimile and L.A.’s No. 23 fire station, a stand-in for interiors of the ghostbuster’s Manhattan-based theater of operations. The picture’s climax, featuring a devastating earthquake was partly shot on location in front of 55 Central Park West and on sound stages in Burbank to achieve, with hydraulics, the earth-shattering devastation of the pavement splitting open. Finally, the ‘marshmallow’ goo that rained down after the ghostbusters dispatch of Mr. StayPuft was, in fact, a dump tank filled with 500 lbs. of shaving cream. The plan was to drop the entire load from a considerable height, with a hearty portion of the purge smashing into the ghostbusters’ arch nemesis; obnoxious EPA agent, J. Walter Peck (William Atherton, whose career specialized in these sorts of infuriating and foppish pain in the asses). Alas, in a test, even a plummet of 75 lbs. of shaving cream proved enough to knock a professional stuntman flat. In the end, a very reluctant Atherton agreed to perform his own stunt, but with less cream dropped from above.
If the executive brain trust at Columbia initially cringed at the idea of making Ghostbusters their worst fears were allayed when the picture grossed a then whopping $13.6 million on its opening weekend and record-breaking $23 million in its first week, setting studio records at the time. Fueled by coast-to-coast radio station overkill of Ray Parker Jr.’s chart-topping pop tune (my dad absolutely hated this song, but as a teenager then, I thought it the greatest ditty since ‘Over the Rainbow’), Ghostbusters held the top spot at the box office for five consecutive weeks, grossing $99.8 million; deposed to number-two in its seventh week by Purple Rain. But by then, Ghostbuster fever had swept the nation, Columbia’s marketing campaign unleashing a ton of related paraphernalia (Michael C. Gross’ indelible trademark of a frightened ‘Casper-ish’ apparition poking from behind a red circle with a slash through it, adoring kid’s lunch boxes, posters, toys, T-shirts, etc. et al). Gross, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 70, would likely be heart-warmed to know his simple but affecting graphic design has endured. When the final tallies were in, Ghostbusters had earned a staggering $229.2 million, making it the second highest-grossing film of the year, preceded only by Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop. Even more impressive, when adjusted for inflation, Ghostbusters remains in the top 40 highest-grossing films of all time with over 68 million admissions sold in the U.S. alone.
For those too young, either to have seen Ghostbusters during its original theatrical run (I feel sorry for you) or lacking the interest since to revisit it on home video, the film’s plot charts the rise in popularity of a trio of ghost-wranglers; hack parapsychologist, Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), and, true believers of the faith, Raymond Stantz (Dan Akyroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis). Venkman, who spends his days deviously bored and torturing young men employing electro-shock therapy, while simultaneously flirting with college-aged cuties under the guise of conducting a ‘case study’ for Columbia University, is urged to attend his two colleagues at the New York Public Library after an unsuspecting librarian (Alice Drummond) is given the fright of her life in the basement. The trio encounters the apparition. But their attempt to ‘make contact’ transforms the seemingly harmless spirit into a horrible monster. Evicted from their university placement by Dean Yeager (Jordan Charney), Venkman, Stantz and Spengler decide to go into business for themselves. They rent space from a local realtor (Rhoda Gemignani) in an abandoned and dilapidated firehouse and hire a cynical secretary, Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) to front calls for their fledgling ‘ghost-busting’ business.
Across the city, at the more affluent 55 Central Park West, cellist Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) catches one of the Ghostbusters’ commercials on TV. She is moderately amused by the idiotic notion of ghost-hunting, but is soon to be visited by ghostly apparitions portending of an ominous fate to inveigle them all. For Dana’s fashionable apartment is situated at the epicenter of a cosmic ‘second coming’; ‘Spook Central’ as Stantz puts it, where the dead, under the command of an ancient and demonic spirit named Gozer, shall rise up to terrorize and take over the earth. After Dana’s initial experience with this supernatural netherworld (eggs spontaneously cooking on her countertop and visions of Gozer’s throne room inside her refrigerator’s freezer), Dana attempts to engage the ghostbusters for some investigative know-how. Alas, Venkman’s interests in the case are driven by carnal lust, and Dana, no fool or stranger to unwanted advances quickly shoots Venkman down. Venkman takes a different approach to his romantic pursuit and Dana agrees to go out on a date. However, before this can take place, Dana is revisited by Gozer’s minions, her body claimed in their service.
Meanwhile, the ghostbusters are engaged by the Waldorf-Astoria’s hotel manager (Michael Ensign) to rid the establishment of a spectral phantasm known as Slimer. The green goblin-esque blob eludes several of the ghostbusters’ attempts at capture, but is finally brought down in a violent crossfire that virtually wipes out the entire ballroom. Meanwhile, at 55 Central Park W. things have decidedly gone from bad to worse as Gozer’s hell dogs claim another soul in their master’s service; the investment strategies geek, Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) who attempts to outrun the horned and hooved beast, but is taken over just outside of Tavern on the Green. Back at headquarters the ghostbusters welcome their latest edition, Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) to their base of operations. As New York City has begun to experience an unusual high volume of supernatural sightings, the ghostbusters attain an unprecedented level of notoriety; covered everywhere, in print, on TV and investigated by Environmental Protection Agency attorney Walter Peck, who is out to condemn their establishment and expose the ghostbusters as frauds. Venkman makes a rather bad enemy of Peck, then arrives at Dana’s apartment for their date; initially perplexed to find the usually reserved Dana suddenly exotic and aroused. Quickly, Venkman recognizes the telltale signs of a supernatural occurrence and suspects Dana has become possessed.
Venkman now realizes that the demonic spirit of Zuul, a demigod beholding to Gozer the Gozerian, a Sumerian shape-shifting unleasher of destruction, has taken command of both Dana and Louis Tully; the pair, the Gatekeeper and Key master of Gozer’s unholy kingdom. Incensed, Peck now returns to the ghostbusters’ base of operations with a court order to shut down and deactivate their maintenance system. Warned against it by Venkman, Peck’s bureaucratic edict stands; releasing all of the captured spirits into the stratosphere. Peck has the ghostbusters arrested for operating an ‘unlicensed waste management facility’. Meanwhile, New York is terrorized by the freed spirits. Unable to stem the tide of chaos and confusion, the city’s mayor (David Margulies) urges for the ghostbusters’ release. Venkman explains how a mad doctor, cult leader and architect, Ivo Shandor, believing humanity too sick to live after World War I, designed 55 Central Park W. as a gateway to summon Gozer, thereupon bringing about the end of the world. Peck insists entertaining any such notion is pure madness. But Peck is at last put in his place by the Mayor who encourages the ghostbusters to go after Gozer with every available tool in their arsenal.
Meanwhile, Dana (a.k.a. Zuul) and Louis (a.k.a. Vinz Clortho) open the gateway to Gozer’s dimension high atop 55 Central Park W. The ghostbusters are confronted by Gozer and nearly driven over the side of the building by the demigod’s powerful electrical impulses. Gozer then condemns the ghostbusters into choosing the form of humanity’s ‘destructor’; Venkman, decrypting the message and encouraging everyone to clear their minds of any thought that might bring about this angel of death. Alas, Stantz has already thought of a beloved character from childhood, the StayPuft Marshmallow Man, materialized as a giant who now begins to terrorize the city. Egon, who had previously warned his cohorts they must never cross the energy beams from their proton packs now realizes this is the only way to lay waste to Gozer’s evil for all time. In a cataclysmic display of fire, the ghostbusters destroy Gozer’s throne, sending the demigod back into her parallel dimension. They liquefy Mr. StayPuft; his gooey remains strewn across the unsuspecting crowds far below; a large dollop covering Peck. Dana and Louis are restored to their mortal forms. Together with the ghostbusters, they arrive at street level to rejoice in the salvation of New York City, amidst a throng of cheerful masses chanting their praise.
Believe it or not, Ghostbusters was nominated for 2 Academy Awards – the first, for Ray Parker Jr.’s top-tapping/chart-topping mega smash title track, the other, deservedly to honor its diverse special effects achieved by John Bruno, Richard Edlund, Chuck Gaspar and Mark Vargo. Ghostbusters was also nominated for two Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Bill Murray). As always, awards are not necessarily the barometer of either greatness or staying power. Despite losing out in virtually every category of acclaimed recognition, Ghostbusters today remains the supernatural spellbinder of its particular ilk to beat; ranking 28th on the AFI list of top 100 comedies of all time, and 76th in Bravo’s more recent poll of 100 funniest movies of all time. Perhaps most impressive of all, in 2008 Empire Magazine rated Ghostbusters #189 in the 500 greatest movies of all.
The accolades and recognition Ghostbusters continues to receive have been, arguably, most gratifying for Dan Aykroyd; affirmation of his family’s generation belief in spirits and supernatural phenomena. Aykroyd’s grandfather—a telephone engineer—was among the leading proponents to investigate the possibility of contacting the dead via radio technology, while Aykroyd’s father would later become renowned for authoring an authoritative history of ghosts documented via photographic research. Aykroyd’s contribution to what he has laughingly coined ‘the family business’ has taken ghosts from the darkened recesses of our minds, bringing humor, depth and intelligence – as well as a tad of the skepticism and absurdity – to the notion the undead might be with us. Ghostbusters is Aykroyd’s brain child. In addition to catapulting himself and his costars to international super-stardom, Ghostbusters ought to be considered the diviner that split the invisible line of distinction between television and movie actors. Even as it has remained one of Columbia Picture’s most identifiable and beloved movies, if not inventing, then firmly establishing the SFX-driven rom/com as a viable sub-genre, the boardroom divisiveness that eventually gave way to blind faith inside Columbia’s front offices proven, not only worthy of their leap of faith, but justly rewarded in dividends (the only real currency Hollywood then, as now cares about). Ghostbusters may not be Lawrence of Arabia, Gone with the Wind or Citizen Kane, but it retains a hallowed place in movie lore for its unabashed creativity. In retrospect, one can see its virtues even more clearly distilled now; everyone in front of and behind the camera in top form to tell a fun and sexy good story.
Sony Home Entertainment’s 4K Blu-Ray release includes the ‘mastered in 4K' 1080p Blu-ray from 2015. Neither is exactly what I anticipated; both suffering from some curious moiré patterns, particularly during the iconic main titles. The image is attractive but very grainy. Now, before I get inundated with emails screaming ‘Ghostbusters was shot on 35mm film stock, moron!’ I will draw breath to admit – ‘yes…it was’; although even in a theater I do not recall certain scenes looking quite this grain-riddled. I will say this, in a home theater projector setup, Ghostbusters in 4K gave me a very ‘film-like’ presentation; less so on my 75 inch flat screen that, even with the sharpness cranked to zero, still seemed to introduce occasionally distracting ‘grain’ teetering dangerously close to ‘noise’. This only continues to confirm my assessment 4K is basically best appreciated by those with projector setups.
Sony’s ‘mastered in 4K’ Blu-ray was so good that the discrepancies between it and the legitimate 4K Blu-ray are, at first, minimal; smaller interior touches like the wood grain on doors, paneling and bookshelves inside the New York City library and the ghostbusters’ firehouse headquarters, as example. Skin, hair and clothing textures, already impressive on the Blu-ray, get that added bump to make them look extraordinary in true 4K. Much has been made of 4K HDR superior color reproduction, but Ghostbusters resists the urge to look like a fiesta on Olvera Street. Colors are robust but not overpowering or artificially distracting. Contrast is solid and flesh tones achieve more subtle refinement with zero compression artifacts. As with the video, the advances in audio fidelity are marked by subtle differences, the UHD 4K advancing on the Blu-ray 5.1 DTS with a Dolby Atmos 7.1 track. The effect is more ‘under’ than overwhelming, leading me to suggest there are just some movies that do not notably benefit from a re-envisioning of their original audio mix. All of the extras that came with the ‘mastered in 4K Blu-ray’ are ported over here; none of them available on the actual 4K release. I also want to offer sincere disappointment for Sony's shortsightedness; no actual chapter breaks on the 4K release. You can advance at roughly 10 min. intervals using your remote control, but searching for a favorite scene means systematically advancing from start to finish. Dumb! Really dumb! Bottom line: Ghostbusters in 4K will appeal to those who have yet to own it on Blu-ray. There are no ‘wow!’ moments in the 4K UHD disc unless you stop to directly compare the two incarnations in pause mode and side-by-side (a ridiculous exercise left to we critics); paying attention to the aforementioned subtleties. Is it worth a re-purchase? Personally, I’d pass unless you have a projector setup. Bottom line: recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Blu-ray only - 4