The 1980s were home to a handful of memorable comedies, but Ghostbusters (1984) stands tall as one of the most original. For the five of you who haven't seen it, we're introduced to recently unemployed scientists Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) as they form a unique ghost removal service in the heart of New York City. Naturally, they don't have many clients at first: one of the few is Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver, above), who's recently encountered some unexplained happenings in the fridge. The three scientists---along with new recruit Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson)---work their way up the paranormal food chain, eventually encountering an entity that threatens the entire city. Naturally, there's other roadblocks along the way, including whistle-blowing EPA agent Walter Peck (William Atherton) and the doubting public. It remains one of the undisputed classics of the comedy genre, though Ghostbusters doubles as a fine thriller in its own right.
Ghostbusters has held up surprisingly well over the last 20+ years, thanks to a sharp script, excellent performances, groundbreaking special effects and even a memorable theme song. The popularity of the original spawned an endless amount of toys, lunchboxes and even an animated series---but that's not to say that adults can't enjoy this one too. There's plenty of thrills along the way, but it's (thankfully) a film that doesn't take itself too seriously. From top to bottom, Ghostbusters was a terrific concept that was executed to near-perfection, thanks to the talent and creativity of the cast and crew. It's easily one of the strongest comedies of the 1980s (or any decade, for that matter) and truly deserving of its massive success and popularity. Film Rating: 5/5.
The inevitable sequel, Ghostbusters II (1989), is an entertaining follow-up that rarely gets the respect it deserves. The original creative team of Aykroyd and Ramis teamed again with director Ivan Reitman to ensure the second outing was just as fun as the original...and it was, for the most part. Taking place a few years after the events of the first movie, the disbanded Ghostbusters (who went out of business due to property damage lawsuits) have scraped by in their own unique ways: doing unsuccessful public appearances (above), working in bookstores, you name it. Naturally, a new threat emerges to bring them back together; this time, it's a mysterious river of slime and a possessed painting at the museum where the recently-divorced (and single mother) Dana works. There's a few ill-timed jokes and gags that don't work as well, but the sharp writing is the star of the show once again. Additional highlights include a terrific performance by Peter MacNicol as the eccentric Dr. Janosz Poha, a cameo by Ben Stein, and Bill Murray's non-stop string of smart remarks.
While I was a bit too young to vividly remember the original film in theaters, I do recall seeing Ghostbusters II on the big screen...well, the first 70 minutes at least (my sister got really sick, so we had to leave). It's not quite as memorable as the first time around, but the film's many strengths really keep the pace going nicely. Chock full of laughs, over-the-top characters, suspense, and even a generous dose of embarrassing late late-'80s music (Bobby Brown, represent!), Ghostbusters II is a solid sequel that's better than you remember. Film Rating: 4/5.
The road to DVD has been hit-or-miss so far. Columbia/Tri-Star originally issued a 15th Anniversary Collector's Edition for Ghostbusters back in 1999: highlighted by a decent technical presentation and a host of creative extras, it was a landmark disc in many respects. The sequel didn't fare so well, though---it didn't look and sound half bad, but there weren't any bonus features to speak of. Five years later, Columbia/Tri-Star goes for the double-dip with the Ghostbusters Double Feature Gift Set, a low-priced box containing both newly-remastered films. Sadly, the film-related extras haven't been added to, even for the sequel...and even worse, a few have been taken away. Even so, the transfers have been given another once-over, correcting many problems that weren't as easily spotted back in 2000. Below, you'll find a comparison review between the original releases and the new Gift Set, including screen comparisons and a list of the added and subtracted bonus features.
(Special thanks to DVD Talk member sureAV421 for the screen captures!)
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers for Ghostbusters I & II looked great in 2000, but they can't compare to what we're used to now. The original releases were lacking in color accuracy and detail, but they also suffered from a bit more dirt and grain than they should have. Thankfully, these newly transfers correct nearly all of these problems. Naturally, the more recent Ghostbusters II may win out in a direct comparison, but both transfers are quite strong---in all likelihood, they won't look better on DVD. There's still a bit of murkiness in darker areas and hints of dirt and grain, but fans with decent setups should notice a marked improvement across the board. NOTE: Despite the packaging claims, Ghostbusters is not presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen.
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (with more subtitle options than you can shake a stick at), both films sound great for their age. These 5.1 tracks have supposedly been remixed for this release, but there didn't seem to be a terrible amount of difference between the two. Surround activity is limited for the most part, and there's some decent ambience and a surprising amount of LFE that kick in occasionally. Dialogue is easily understood, though some of the music comes across as a little thin (especially Ray Parker's theme during the Ghostbusters II opening). Even with a few minor nitpicks, both versions offer a pleasing audio presentation that fans should enjoy.
This is where Columbia/Tri-Star really got lazy---either that, or the excellent presentation of the original release just set our hopes too high. The new menu presentation for the first film (above left) is nothing more that a digitally altered version of the old one, but it doesn't look like the creative team put much effort into it (for a screen comparison between new vs. old, click here). Obviously, the menu design had to be slightly altered because of a few dropped bonus features, but wouldn't it have been much easier to just leave everything intact? To make matters worse, the menu for Ghostbusters 2 (above right) is nothing more than another alteration of the same design! Overall, the menu redesigns look cheap and tacky, and I'm surprised that they made the final cut.
There's some more bad news here: Columbia/Tri-Star has seen fit to preface each movie with over a minute's worth of non-skippable copyright warning screens---in a variety of languages, no less!---including an Interview/Commentary disclaimer screen for Ghostbusters II (which contains neither). NOTE: To get around this garbage, just go directly to Chapter 1 on the Scene Selection menu.
Moving on, each film (roughly 105 minutes apiece) has been divided into 28 chapters, while no layer changes were detected during playback. The packaging is hit-or-miss: you might love or hate the "green slime" slipcover (personally, I'd have just gone with basic black and the classic logo), but I dig the slim keepcases and wish more studios would use 'em. There's also a nice scrapbook included, though it's mentioned in greater detail during the next section (how's that for a segue?).
There's not a terrible lot of change here, but it's a real shame that Ghostbusters II still hasn't got much in the way of extras. Still, there are a few minor additions and deletions that ensure this wasn't a simple repackaging job. Let's take it from the top, shall we?
What's still here?
Gone, but not forgotten...
Surprise, surprise...it's a tie on paper, but the excellent new transfers found on the new Gift Set are the main selling point here. The strange altering of the bonus features is a disappointment, so those who really enjoyed the excised features may want to hold onto their original discs. Despite a decline in overall presentation quality---including the forced warning screens and shoddy menus---this 2-disc set from Columbia/Tri-Star is still a nice package, especially for the price. Owners of the original discs may only want to upgrade if the visual improvements are tempting enough, but those who don't own both will surely want to pick this up immediately. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery and writing things in third person.