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Ghostbusters Print E-mail
Tuesday, 05 February 2002


Columbia Home Video
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton
release year: 1984
film rating: Four Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Ghostbusters was a colossal hit when it was first released in 1984; it was fresh, inventive fun, the first big special-effects comedy, and it had been promoted brilliantly. Almost everyone loved it, and many went back to see it again and again (always necessary to ensure major hit status). It's not surprising that Columbia Home Video has produced this all-stops-out, balls-to-the-wall DVD as part of their intermittent "collector's series."
The movie holds up very well, even if you're not likely to laugh aloud very often -- a common happening when viewing even better comedies at home alone. Comedies, like musicals and horror movies, work much better when you're in the midst of a large, receptive crowd. But Ghostbusters is rich with ideas, and since the approach to the supernatural storyline is utterly straight, like H.P. Lovecraft on steroids, the movie works well as an adventure even without your laughing a lot.

When they're abruptly dismissed by the college where they've had cushy jobs for years, Drs. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Raymond Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) team up as the Ghostbusters. Using flamboyant beam-projecting weapons and electronic traps, they hire out to anyone who'll pay them to rid houses, hotels, what have you, of pesky ghosts.

Beautiful musician Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) is stunned to find an entirely new world inside her refrigerator, but when Venkman, always chasing women, shows up, Dana's apartment is clean. The Ghostbusters continue with their activities, eventually becoming very famous, and are joined by a fourth 'buster, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson). They attractive enough attention that an arrogant EPA agent (William Atherton) threatens to close them down.

But Dana's problems wildly escalate, and she is possessed by the spirit of "the Gate Keeper," a representative of an evil Sumerian spirit. Her nerdy neighbor Louis (Rick Moranis) is chased and then inhabited by a dog-like demon, turning him into "the Key Master." When they get together, the demonic Gozer appears, taking over the top of Dana's building, and threatening the world with supernatural destruction.

So who ya gonna call?

Although Ghostbusters looks like the cast was hand-picked, Aykroyd, a big fan of ghost-busting comedy-team movies, originally intended for the movie to star just him and John Belushi, but the latter's death in 1982 obviously precluded that. When Reitman became involved, he asked Ramis to work with Aykroyd on rewriting the script, and Ramis included a role for himself. Moranis' role was written for John Candy, and Hudson's for Eddie Murphy.

The script is long on catch phrases -- "he slimed me;" "...a game show host;" "so? she's a dog" -- but not on funny dialog. This, however, is not a drawback since the comedy is mostly situational (though it's not at all like a sitcom) and arises from the characters and their conflict with everything around them. It's really a farce, usually defined as funny characters in a serious situation, much like those Bowery Boys, Abbott & Costello and Martin & Lewis spook comedies that inspired Aykroyd in the first place.

What sets Ghostbusters apart from the older films isn't that it's funnier, but that it is immensely more spectacular, both in terms of the fabulous effects (directed by Richard Edlund) and the epic scale of the supernatural threat. Aykroyd also throws in a lot of parapsychological terminology which lends an odd aura of authenticity, while the menace he and Ramis invented is convincing in its own terms.

The humor arises from scenes like the Ghostbusters battling a frenetically gobbling ghost (who became a regular on the TV cartoon series that followed), and, at the end, Aykroyd accidentally conjuring up a 110-foot-tall Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (who looks absurd, but is treated as a real menace). The four Ghostbusters themselves get into funny situations; Aykroyd and Ramis are amusing for their utterly devoted seriousness; Murray is his usual smooth-talking, unscrupulous horndog, like a more assured version of Bob Hope's usual screen persona. The result is a very satisfying movie -- funny, a little scary, very exciting at times, admirably epic, and, despite its predecessors, refreshingly original.

The movie has been given a spectacular DVD treatment, one of those that's ideal to show off your system to skeptics. The sound is crisp and rich, and the climax full of explosions, wind screams, and other system-testing sounds. But the additional material is why this disc really shines. You can watch the film itself; you can watch it again with subtitles explaining the effects; you can watch it a third time listening to Ramis, Reitman and associate producer Joe Medjuk commenting on the action. I'm not sure that the "live" video commentary is a good idea, though: you see the silhouettes of the three commentators outlined against the film's image. This MST3K-inspired nonsense doesn't add anything, really; fortunately, you can switch off the image.

Furthermore, three effects-laden sequences are isolated in a way that allows you to use DVD's "angle" feature to switch between the rough and finished cut of the sequence. There are two "documentaries" on the making of the film, the one shot in 1984 as publicity, and another made in 1999 with Aykroyd, Ramis, Reitman and others talking about making the film, and how they regard it now.
Including a huge number of chalk production sketches of monsters and effects sequences was a great idea; showing these at an angle, as if the drawings are on an animation stand, was a bad idea. The inclusion of omitted scenes is always welcome, but it's easy to see why those from Ghostbusters were cut. The discussion by Edlund and his effects team is particularly interesting, though it looks to have been rather hastily shot.

This awesome DVD for Ghostbusters sets a very high mark; here's hoping that Columbia Home Video will give similar expansive treatment to other films in their library.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital (5.1 audio)
aspect ratio(s):
special features: extras include video commentary by director Ivan Reitman, co-writer and co-star Harold Ramis, and associate producer Joe Medjuk; deleted scenes, many drawings and production photos; two making-of documentaries, one from 1984, one from 1999; group interview with the effects team; on-screen notes about the effects and sets; trailers; production notes
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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