Because the screenwriter of "Ghost" used a book by a friend of mine, Loyd Auerbach, as reference material for the film, I thought it appropriate to ask Loyd to preface this review with a few comments of his own about the movie. You may remember Loyd from his participation in the BD review of "Poltergeist." He's a parapsychologist, psychic investigator, and professional magician, whose Web site provides a wealth of fascinating information about him and his pursuits: www.mindreader.com/loyd.htm
The Movie According to Loyd:
When people ask me what the best movies on ghosts are, at the top of my list are "Topper" and "Ghost" (though my fave is "The Time of Their Lives"). If the question is specific to how "accurate" movies are about apparitions, "Ghost" is the movie I always point to. When I first saw it, I was impressed with how the film portrayed its spirits as people who had not changed their personalities, as this is just what witnesses have reported for well over 150 years of reports being really looked at.
But more than that, Swayze's character seemed to be on a quest not only to deal with his own murder, but to learn to use the "powers" of a ghost to do so. Of that, three things really stuck out. "Psychic" Oda Mae only heard his voice (and the voices of other spirits). Too many people seem to think that ghosts are only "seen" when, in fact, the reports clearly indicate auditory, kinesthetic ("feeling" a presence or touch), and even olfactory ("smelling" cologne, perfume, even body odor). Placing the perceptual focus on hearing instead of seeing not only differentiated the film, but also approached a more real form of ghost experience. The idea that a ghost is only a mind--and one without a body--also comes through quite well in the film. This is part of our model of apparitions. The third gave me a bit of pause. Swayze's character tried to move things, but could not. He simply didn't know how, until his encounter with the newspaper-hitting subway ghost. This entity drove home the mind-without-body idea and the concept that ghosts need to use the powers of their mind to move things, to think them to move. This is called psychokinesis. What gave me pause is that most apparition cases do not include unexplained object movement, and for a fleeting moment I was concerned that this would change because of this movie. The one aspect of the film that did not ring true was the shadowy beings dragging the bad guys down into the ground. We have no such reports. But then again, who would be around to tell us?
Still, the accuracy of the film (with respect to people's actual ghost sightings and the models of apparitions we have in parapsychology) was impressive. A couple of years after the movie's release, I was contacted by the screenwriter's assistant to discuss some ideas around psychokinesis. I was told that screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin used a couple of parapsychology books for primary research for "Ghost," including my first book "ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists," something I've heard from several others in Hollywood since then. How cool is that?
The Movie According to John:
Pretty cool, Loyd, and thanks much. It's also pretty cool to welcome favorite films to high-definition, and "Ghost" has been a favorite of the Wife-O-Meter and mine for many years. The movie is unabashedly corny and schmaltzy, but we wouldn't want it any other way.
The film's screenwriter explains on an accompanying featurette that Shakespeare's "Hamlet" first inspired him to write "Ghost." But you knew that. He said he always wanted to write a ghost story from the ghost's point of view, but he could never get an angle on it. Then he remembered the ghost of Hamlet's father and found his approach. It would be a revenge story, and the rest is history.
Director Jerry Zucker had just helped make "Airplane!," "Top Secret!," and "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" and apparently wanted a break from films ending in exclamation marks. He was looking for a change of pace and found it in 1990 with "Ghost," a romantic fantasy comedy drama, and the rest is, well, you know.
Starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg, "Ghost" became a smash hit, the biggest moneymaking film of the year, as well it should have. It's just about everything to everybody. Schizophrenic is more like it, which is also its major failing for people who like their movies to fall into neat little cubbyholes. This one doesn't. As I say, it combines romance with fantasy, humor with drama. It's not an easy trick to make an audience grimace in pain one minute, laugh out loud the next, and cry after that. Rubin's script, Zucker's direction, and the cast's performances manage the job.
Given the material, the film is probably longer at two hours and six minutes than it has to be, but except for a rather prosaic opening sequence establishing the identity of the characters and their relationships with one another, it maintains a high interest level. Swayze plays Sam Wheat, a Wall Street investment counselor, already a stretch given his rugged appearance and tough-guy movie persona but a role he easily pulls off. Moore plays his girlfriend, Molly Jensen, a sculptor. And Tony Goldwyn plays Sam's best friend, Carl Brunner, a fellow investment broker. Sam and Molly are deeply in love, a fact we come to understand when they indulge in their famously erotic clay-turning scene, accompanied by the Righteous Brothers singing "Unchained Melody." I mean, any two people willing to get that messy being frisky have got to be in love. Since neither of them appears to make a really substantial income, they live in one of those New York City lofts about a block wide. Only in the movies.
Anyway, after watching a performance of "Macbeth," Molly and Sam are on a deserted street when a mugger attacks and murders Sam. It surprises me they hadn't been watching "Hamlet." But Sam doesn't go straight on to heaven as most good folks do. Instead, he hangs around in a sort of netherworld between this one and the next. At first he isn't sure why, but this halfway house for ghosts seems inhabited by an assortment of disembodied beings much like himself, the best of whom is a really scary specter on a subway train, a spirit played by Vincent Schiavelli, who eventually teaches Sam how to move objects without making any physical contact with them. It seems that someone, a higher being perhaps, is allowing Sam to find his murderer or protect Molly.
So far, it's interesting but not exactly attention grabbing in the manner of a mega hit. Then Whoopi enters as Oda Mae Brown, a semi-phony spiritualist, and she steals the show. Since Sam can see the living but can't communicate with them, he goes to Oda Mae for help. She's not exactly into the real thing so she freaks when he starts talking to her, and she can actually hear him! Sam persuades her to help him by threatening to sing "I'm Henry the Eighth I Am" until she gives in. She finally agrees, for Sam's good and Molly's (and the good of the plot). Without Whoopi, I'm afraid the whole show might have closed early. Of course, people may quibble about the Academy awarding her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role, given that it's awfully lightweight, but it's always nice to see what is essentially a comedy performance take top honors once in a while over the serious dramatic performances that usually win.
Consequently, the film relies heavily on Goldberg for laughs, Swayze and Moore for romance, a particularly scabrous ruffian (Rick Aviles) for thrills, and relatively modest special effects for the in-between times. The filmmakers created many of the special effects digitally but before the advent of really high-tech computer graphics. Nonetheless, they come off well enough, with Sam realistically passing through walls and even through other people. I especially liked the demons that come to take the evil dead away, shades who materialize from the darkest shadows. Their actual physical appearance is sort of silly, but the eerie moans and cries of lost souls that accompany them are effectively scary. The musical score provided by old hand Maurice Jarre ("Lawrence of Arabia," "Doctor Zhivago," "Ryan's Daughter") helps a lot, too, in conveying the moods of wonder, excitement, terror, and passion.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded "Ghost" two Oscars: Best Writing (Bruce Joel Rubin) and the aforementioned Best Supporting Actress (Whoopi Goldberg). What's more, they nominated it for three other Oscars: Best Picture (Lisa Weinstein), Best Film Editing (Walter Murch), and Best Music (Maurice Jarre).
The fact is, Moore was never sweeter or prettier, Swayze was never more handsome or more appealing, and Whoopi was never cuter or funnier. "Ghost" holds up nicely after all these years, as most good movies do.
Paramount use a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec to transfer the 1.85:1 ratio picture to Blu-ray. The image retains much of the dark, gritty appearance of the original print, with flesh tones somewhat purplish. Perhaps this was Zucker's intention in order to give more atmosphere to the story line. The screen is not entirely clear, though, as evidenced by a small degree of noise and grain in wide expanses of white, black, and blue. Object delineation and inner detailing are only so-so, and when I first started watching this high-def movie, I wasn't sure it looked any better than upscaled standard definition. So I did a little comparing of the BD and SD versions side by side, and, sure enough, the BD was distinctly better. Oddly, though, I found the BD a tad softer, so perhaps Paramount's engineers applied a little filtering here.
The audio comes to us via Dolby TrueHD 5.1, which is an improvement over the regular Dolby Digital found on the standard-def disc. The TrueHD sounds smoother and tighter, with a slightly wider, if still fairly limited, dispersion of surround information. The various scenes where spirits of the underworld enter to drag off their subjects are particularly effective in this regard.
For bonuses, we start with an audio commentary by director Jerry Zucker and writer Bruce Joel Rubin, the former providing the humor and the latter the more prosaic details of the movie's production. Next, we get the thirteen-minute featurette "Ghost Story: The Making of a Classic," wherein the writer begins by telling us about his "Hamlet" connection, followed by comments from various of the other filmmakers. After that is the eight-minute featurette "Inside the Paranormal," where several spiritual mediums and psychics give their views on the subject of ghosts. Yet another featurette comes after that, the six-minute "Alchemy of a Love Scene," which concentrates on the making of the pottery scene. Then, there's a twenty-minute bit from "Cinema's Great Romances," a collection of Paramount film clips from the AFI's "100 Years...100 Passions," which includes, naturally, "Ghost." Lastly, there are sixteen scene selections, with bookmarks; a stills gallery; a widescreen theatrical trailer; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Probably the most affecting scene in the film is one where Sam prevails upon Oda Mae to let him inhabit her body for a few minutes to touch Molly for one last time. It reminded me of the encounter in "Prelude To a Kiss," where a young woman inhabits the body of an old man. In both instances, the scenes of two people remaining in love despite difficult circumstances are poignant, even though in the case of "Ghost" it might have been better if Zucker had stuck to Whoopi and Moore embracing rather than cutting to a shot of the real Sam holding his lover. While the film ends in a typically sentimental Hollywood fashion, you couldn't ask for anything more engaging.