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Ghost (Paramount Presents)

Paramount // PG-13 // July 21, 2020
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted July 23, 2020 | E-mail the Author

Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) appears to have it made: he's got a good job at a bank working with his best friend Carl Bruner (Tony Goldwyn), he's moving into a new apartment with his wonderful girlfriend Molly Jensen (Demi Moore), and their relationship might be turning into something long-term. Yet, there's a feeling in the pit of his stomach that good things can't last, an instinct that turns out to be right on the money when a man who appears to be a mugger shoots and kills Sam when he and Molly are returning from a performance of Hamlet. A tunnel of light appears in the sky as Sam watches Molly cradling his bloody body, but instead of moving onto the other side, Sam sticks around. Desperate for closure and desperate to ease Molly's heartbreak, Sam discovers Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), a so-called spiritual medium who normally scams her customers but actually hears his voice. With Oda Mae's reluctant assistance, Sam tracks down the mugger, a man named Willie Lopez (Rick Aviles), and inadvertently uncovers a corporate conspiracy that puts Mollie in danger.

On paper, Ghost is a pretty wild gamble. The film is, more or less, a romance/sci-fi/comedy/thriller/mystery/drama -- not a combination one sees regularly. Although the film essentially shies away from any specific religious talk, it is genuinely and unabashedly spiritual, with a "good" afterlife signified by the tunnel of light, and a "bad" afterlife in which howling shadows rise up and pull spirits into the ground. The movie tests the audience's suspension of disbelief at its most sincere moments, and that sincerity is, in and of itself, a high-wire act, frequently scored to the intensely sentimental chords of "Unchained Melody." On top of all that, the movie is (as both men now laugh about) in the hands of Jerry Zucker, whose previous work consisted of spoof movies like Airplane! and Top Secret!, which he directed with his brother David Zucker, and their mutual collaborator Jim Abrahams. Yet, 30 years later, the movie works, thanks to a number of pieces falling perfectly in place.

At the heart of Ghost's success is the casting, which is outstanding across the board. Swayze is the film's first big win. He was coming off of the success of Road House, a movie that prompted Zucker to say "over my dead body" when it came to letting Swayze play Sam Wheat. Yet Road House is, in a weird way, a great example of why Swayze works for Ghost. Both films provide a great example of Swayze's ability to subvert expectations, to go for a different tone or attitude than most actors would've been inclined to. The sincerity of Ghost's romance and the intensity of the mystery both seem to call for a traditional, straightforward masculinity, yet Swayze allows Sam to be goofy and nervous, struggling with his own anxieties. During the film's infamous pottery scene, before both he and Moore turn up the sexiness, Sam accidentally knocks over her first attempt at making a pot and giggles about it. There's a relaxed quality about him that makes him a great fit for the film's funny and serious sides.

Of course, as much as Swayze contributes, no performer in the film is better at blending the movie's tones than Goldberg, who was rewarded for her efforts with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. She deserves it, too: from the moment she comes on screen, there's no question that Oda Mae Brown represents Goldberg in her comic prime. Swayze may be the ghost, but it's Goldberg who practically glows the whole movie with an other-worldly charisma, elevating the mood with her wit even as the film gets into dark and unpleasant territory. She has excellent comic chemistry with Swayze, especially in a sequence late in the movie where he accompanies her into his old bank, and she handles the film's dramatic passages with equal skill. There is one scene, near the film's climax, that requires such a leap of faith from the audience, and it's a testament to Goldberg, Swayze, and Moore that the moment works, even with Zucker's necessary sleight of hand to obscure the reality of the scene.

Bruce Joel Rubin also won an Academy Award for his screenplay, and it also deserves such accolades. The way he and Zucker weave in bits of humor (such as a bizarre, angry ghost played by Vincent Schiavelli who lives on the subway) around the film's relatively predictable but nonetheless engaging mystery is very impressive, and despite all of the plot points and characters that Ghost needs to juggle to arrive at its conclusion, the film never feels overstuffed or bloated (accomplishing one of these two tricks is a feat; accomplishing them both simultaneously is even more unlikely). Meanwhile, Zucker holds up his end of the bargain by deftly managing to keep the movie funny without ever turning the premise into a joke or a parody -- the characters create the humor, not the situation itself. There are definitely moments that fall on the corny side of sentimental, but just like the characters in Ghost, there is a point at which viewers will just have to surrender to everything the film has to offer, and 30 years later, doing so remains a rewarding experience.

The Blu-ray
Parmaount has struck a balance between the familiar and the new with their art for Ghost, which follows the template of a blue, ghostly light and an image of Swayze and Moore embracing, but uses an entirely different picture than the original poster art, and flips the colors around so the backdrop is white and the figures are blue. As with all entries in the Paramount Presents line, the name of the line is stamped in the upper left corner of the art, and the year appears in a little tab in the bottom right. The art appears on both the sleeve, which has a monochromatic photo collage on the reverse showing through the transparent Blu-ray case with a quote on it from Jerry Zucker, and on a special slipcover that has flap that opens up into a recreation of the theatrical poster (which is positioned horizontally so that it can take up the full length of the fold-out flap when held sideways).

The Video and Audio
All of the Blu-ray releases in the Paramount Presents line have been given brand-new 4K remasters, and Ghost's brand new 1.78:1 1080p AVC transfer thankfully continues their improving track record following the debacle surrounding To Catch a Thief. Ghost offers a beautiful grain field, very impressive depth and dimension, and a thoroughly rejuvenated color palette that really invigorates the picture with new life. The film has its share of visual effects sequences, and sometimes these have an impact on the picture quality, making the image grainier during optical effects, and in one brief shot, turning Swayze's skin a more reddish shade of pink, but these are clearly fluctuations inherent to the original photography. Sound is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which sounds very good, juggling the film's mix of romance ("Unchained Melody" sounds great) and more intense action-oriented thrills. The packaging also lists a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but the disc also includes Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0, and an English Audio Description track, as well as English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and English, French, Dutch, and Japanese subtitles.

There is one new extra: "Filmmaker Focus: Director Jerry Zucker on Ghost" (6:24) sits down with the director to chat about his memories of making the movie briefly, including first being hired to direct the script, Whoopi's crucial contribution, the pottery scene, digital effects, and the legacy of the film. Paramount has also included several carry-over extras from the original Special Collector's Edition DVD, including an audio commentary by Zucker and writer Bruce Joel Rubin, the short documentary "Ghost Stories: The Making of a Classic" (13:06; a nice overview, if a little short), the featurette "Alchemy of a Love Scene" (6:16; a fun separate look at the film's infamous pottery scene), and the film's original theatrical trailer.

However -- while this is much closer to complete than Paramount got with their recent Blu-ray of Pretty in Pink -- the studio has still inexplicably dropped two extras from the aforementioned DVD, namely "Cinema's Great Love Stories" (19:45) and "Inside the Paranormal" (8:53). Now, to be fair, these are the two least-Ghost-centric extras on the original disc: the former is a clip show about an AFI list of great love stories, and the latter interviews people who do what Oda Mae Brown does in real life, but that's still about 30 minutes of content, exchanged for less than 7 that cover things already covered on the disc. Given Zucker recorded a commentary and participated in the previous documentary, a much better new extra (assuming she was willing) would've been a 2019/2020 interview with Demi Moore, who only appears in the DVD-era extras through vintage interview clips.

Ghost looks and sounds great on Paramount's new Blu-ray, and while they haven't retained all the extras, it's fair to say they saved the most important ones. Fans of the film shouldn't hesitate to upgrade their previous Blu-rays for the new 4K-remastered transfer. Highly recommended.

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