Parapsychologist Peter Venkman was Bill Murray's first starring role since he played the irreverent John Winger in "Stripes" (1982), and there's a little of Winger in this "doctor," who's also anti-establishment by choice: theirs. He's been discredited and let go from his professor's job, but does that faze him? Nope. He just hooks up with other fringe scientists to start a ghost removal business that operates not so unlike your local pest-control service--only these guys have weapons powered by nuclear accelerators. What scares the pants of everyone else (he wishes) is just another day at the office for Venkman. He can flirt or make jokes when the world is on the brink of disaster, and we buy it because he's that laid back and sarcastic. Add "Stripes" pal "Harold Ramis and fellow SNL alum Dan Akroyd, plus a smart script by Akroyd and Ramis, and you've got a special effects sci-fi comedy of Stay Puft proportions. Ivan Reitman ("Stripes," "Meatballs") even directs again, and he knows better than anyone when to pan and scan for the Murray deadpan that adds texture to the humor.
Dr. Ray Stantz (Akroyd): "This is great! If the ionization rate is constant for all ectoplasmic entities, we can really bust some heads! In a spiritual sense, of course."
All the pieces still come together nicely 25 years after "Ghostbusters" (1984) raked in more than $238 million at the box office. That's because, as John J. Puccio pointed out in his DVD review, "'Ghostbusters' doesn't rely solely on its visual splendor to impress. Its characters and situations are funny too."
Even an ordinary scene about the three guys checking out a dilapidated firehouse as a possible headquarters becomes impossibly funny because of character politics, sly facial expressions, and a situation that has a built-in punch line so that the scene ends with a bang. That's the way Akroyd and Ramis work throughout this film, never wasting our time on a scene that goes on too long or lacks a snappy exit. These guys are just plain funny, and they know how to write (and perform) funny material without ever having to rely on slapstick or easy jokes. It's mostly comedy of character and one-liners, with just as much attention paid to minor characters as the main ones--whether it's a droll secretary (Annie Potts), an officious and nonplussed EPA wonk (William Atherton), a male student (Steven Tash) who's sick and tired of being Venkman's guinea pig, or a would-be swinger who's the biggest nerd on the planet (Rick Moranis). Oh, there are a few off-color jokes, but even those are clever.
Dr. Ray Stantz: "Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by Dickless here."
Mayor (wanting answers): "Is this true?"
Dr. Peter Venkman: "Yes, it's true . . . . This man has no dick.
Possessed client Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver): "I want you inside me."
Dr. Peter Venkman: "It sounds like you've got at least two or three people in there already."
Driving around in their old ambulance-turned-Ghostbustersmobile, the trio starts out small by ridding buildings of poltergeists. But almost overnight they become national celebrities who start catching ghosts from coast to coast. Soon their elaborate storage facility, which uses electricity and a power grid to hold the captured spirits in check, starts to get very, very full. But their newest client, Dana Barrett, poses the biggest challenge--personally, for Venkman, and professionally for the group. She lives in a building in New York City that was somehow built to be a superconductor for a conflagration of spirits and a revival of an ancient god named Gozer. How do we learn this? She opens the refrigerator and discovers that it's the gateway to another, very bright dimension, and the names that are dropped are the kind of fun research that these paranormal scientists live for. These guys get as excited about slime as they are about women. When statues start coming to life, creatures start appearing through the portal, and people start getting possessed, and when the "Gatekeeper" and "Keymaster" who are looking for each other finally get together, look out! It could mean the end of life as we know it and the dawn of a new evil day. It's why the trio hires on another team member (Ernie Hudson) to help with the heavy lifting.
The writing is sly, the acting is slier, and Reitman's direction is as impeccable as his stars' comic timing. As for the effects themselves, this was a big movie and one of the few special effects films that also managed to deliver big laughs. It still holds up well--so entertaining that it can easily be watched over and over, and Ray Parker Jr.'s catchy theme song really gets you in the mood each time.
Before I watched on Blu-ray I dusted off my Collector's Series DVD and watched that, for comparison. It was a very good DVD transfer, but this has always been a grainy film, and I was curious to see how much DNR might have been applied to smooth it out. The answer? Apparently zero. In 1080p, "Ghostbusters" is an uneven film, with sections that have superb detail, color, and clarity, and other sections where the grain becomes more of a distraction. Close-ups and interiors are generally superb, while there's more grain with exteriors and really dark backgrounds. The worst scene for visual clarity is an aerial shot of the Ghostbusters vehicle cruising along the freeway. But it's an uneven film in Hi-Def. Some of the scenes look considerably better than the DVD, while others are only slightly so, with nearly as much noise in the backgrounds.
But the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer appears to be a good one, with no visible artifacts. Black levels are strong, skin-tones are accurate, and colors, while not fully saturated, also seem natural and with no bleed on the edges. One thing I noticed in comparison is that the edges of figures are sharper in the Blu-ray, with less "haloing." Ironically, the Hi-Def transfer draws attention to some of the effects, as when the "doggie" chases Moranis' character across town. It stands out as being a little fake when the creature moves quickly, while the close-ups of animatrons fare better. "Ghostbusters" is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
The featured audio is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 in English, French, or Portuguese, with an option in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, and Dutch. On the bonus features the subtitles are only available in French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch. The soundtrack relies pretty heavily on the center speaker, with the effects speakers not really getting as much play as you'd think for a special-effects film. When the music kicks in, though, it's a kick-ass sound, and you realize what the TrueHD is capable of. The bass has a nice rumble for the film's climax, but overall I wouldn't call this a dynamic soundtrack. But for a catalog title that's 25 years old it fares pretty well.
Of course "Ghostbusters" is BD-Live enabled with Cinechat (chat with friends while you watch the movie) capability, if you have a Profile 2.0 player. And if your player is a Profile 1.1 or higher, you can enjoy a picture-in-picture feed featuring interview segments with cast and crew, behind-the-scenes video, still shots, and pop-up trivia. This is becoming the norm for PIP Blu-ray exclusives, and as these go this one is better than average. Other Blu-ray content: "Ecto-1: Resurrecting the Classic Car" is a 15-minute look at the Ghostbuster vehicle and how it was brought to life. "The Making of 'Ghostbusters-The Video Game" is a little over 10 minutes long preview of the PlayStation 3 game that will star the original cast (so somebody shelled out some bucks!). There's also a promo for the game (big deal) that lasts about a minute.
Rounding out the bonus features are a number of standard-def extras, all of which are pretty average. The longest among them is a 15-minute feature on the special effects. Aside from a pair of vintage/promo making-of features from about the time the movie was released (10-minutes each, roughly), the only thing here are 10 deleted scenes and more snippets of under three minutes each on various aspects of the special effects.
Who ya gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!--for a fun, special-effects comedy that remains one of Murray's best.