review

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call - GBHQ's Full Review

It's finally here. After the better part of a year discussing every morsel of news in great detail, Paul Feig's rejuvenation of the Ghostbusters franchise is now in theaters around the world.

I'm no critic, I'm a lover of film. And obviously as this is a Ghostbusters fansite, posting a review would have an incredible bias against it. But if you're looking for my thoughts and in-depth analysis, stay tuned to future episodes of our podcast the Interdimensional Crossrip, where we'll be discussing at great length. But being that this is the first live-action Ghostbusters film hitting theaters since 1989, I can't help myself. After the first viewing, here are some of my thoughts.

It goes without saying that spoilers are present throughout the below. Proceed at your own risk.

OVERALL

This film is a love-letter not just to Ghostbusters and all of the characters and situations that accompany it, but also a love-letter to films from the 1980s in general. While the film didn't receive that great of critical acclaim, I felt the same way about Ghostbusters after watching Kevin Smith's Cop Out, a film that was a perfect 80s movie (the latter being a throwback to the R-rated buddy cop comedies that were made by the dozen in the mid to late 80s) made with modern technology. The same holds true to Paul Feig's Ghostbusters. It's a movie of the 80s, made with all the bells and whistles and style of 2016. It's fun. It plays absurd situations with absolute sincerity and without the snarky cynicism that seems to be the modern status quo. There's a playfulness to the film from the opening frames featuring The Office and Silicon Valley's Zach Woods all the way through the closing credits. In a world where darker and grittier is often perceived as being better, I'm glad that this film didn't follow in that current trend's footsteps.

Like many films of the 80s, it's not perfect. There are a few holes here and there, but nothing that's not easily overlooked in the moment of watching the film. After my first viewing, the third act of the film seems like it was stitched together after several omits where you do get a sense that you're glossing over something that was previously there. You know what really would have helped and have been "so totally 80s" that it would have been perfect? A montage in the middle of the film showing the four Ghostbusters honing in their skills, gaining more and more notoriety, and Rowan breaking the barrier more and more. Just a little bit of a slide from point A to point B would have gone a long way (and would have been a great throwback to the oft-used device). Substance takes a backseat to style in the closing moments of the film, which isn't necessarily a new thing to the Ghostbusters filmed franchise (or the cartoons for that matter). But the end result is so satisfying and fun to watch that you don't really mind.

Tonally, aesthetically, and vocally you can tell that the film took a great deal of care in making sure that every detail was right for the property. The casting is spot-on, the sets and costumes completely and totally on-point, from the minute the theater darkens to the minute those house lights go back up there is no doubt that this is Ghostbusters.

CHARACTERS

As many have said and as I'm sure was completely intentional, the four lead characters are most definitely not the same archetypes as Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler and Winston Zeddemore. Instead, characters are all their own, not fitting into the standard "brain," "mouth," "heart," "everyman" qualities.

Erin Gilbert

Interestingly enough, our main POV throughout the film seems to be through Kristen Wiig's character Erin Gilbert. She incites the adventure at the beginning of the film by receiving a tip about the haunted Aldridge Mansion. Gilbert is a scientific genius, but a little socially awkward. Her sense of dress and style at the beginning of the film is a point of contention with her overbearing senior played by the always effectively menacing Charles Dance. Gilbert's arc is fun to watch as she goes from a wound tight professor concerned about obtaining her tenure and maintaining a level of professionalism (wanting to call their new business venture the Conductors of the Metaphysical rather than something childish like Ghostbusters). Toward the end of the film, she's confident, has a new sense of style and self-confidence, and embraces being a hero.

Jillian Holtzmann

From the first leaked photography on set, the fans loved Holtzmann. And rightly so. As expected, she's the stand out character of the new film and when all is said and done, is the most unique and previously unseen. She's one part mad scientist, one part whimsical child, with reckless but astounding results. if Egon Spengler was the New Age Spock, it seems that Jillian Holtzmann is the Millennial Doc Brown. A character like this can easily be overplayed to a point where its taxing on the audience and completely unmotivated (ala Lex Luthor in the recent Batman v. Superman) but Kate McKinnon handles the role with grace and ease. She sells over-the-top lines like, "Look over there - THE EYES!" evenhandedly, even throwing in television announcer references and quotations reminiscent of Stephen Furst's character in The Dream Team, leading you to believe that everything is an elaborate alternate universe of her own. She flirts with Erin Gilbert, but then again she flirts with Matt Walsh's heavy Homeland Security character as well. She's unpredictable and incredibly memorable.

Abby Yates

Once again, Melissa McCarthy defies a stereotype and overcomes preconceived notions of the characters that she plays. People who dismissed her character in The Heat as an oafish slob that rested on the laurels of "fat jokes" were completely wrong about the hard-ass, super cop character that she actually played. But here, Yates is sharp, incredibly enthusiastic about her work, and if any of the characters could draw lines of connection to their predecessors, she does feel like the most "Ray Stantz" of the group. Her enthusiasm is infectious. Her exasperation when her soup arrives sans wontons understandable. The subtext between the rift that grew between her and Gilbert makes a lot of sense as one character continued to remain the same, while the other decided to "become an adult" and suppress her childlike wonder. If there's a new heart of the Ghostbusters, it seems to be Yates.

Patti Tolan

Leslie Jones' character takes on the role of Winston of sorts, being the every day average civilian brought into the extreme circumstances. She says things that the audience is absolutely thinking, turning a corner to see mannequins in storage and exclaiming, "Well that's a room full of nightmares." Jones' extroverted and "loud" nature seems to always take center stage in describing her character, as if people were relegating Sam Kinison to just being "that guy who's loud and screams a lot." While both of those statements may be true, it's really in Jones' comedic subtleties that she shines. Grumbles under her breath and asides provide some of the biggest laughs from Tolan.

Supporting Roles

The film is packed with drop-ins and cameos of some of comedies biggest names. True to form there are a lot of surprise cameos that I won't spoil in this review but it's really Chris Hemsworth's well-meaning but dumb as a box of rocks Kevin that takes center stage. Faced with the difficult role of making such a deplorable klutz of a human likeable, much like Rick Moranis' brilliant Louis Tully, you understand why the characters take Kevin under their wing. His lack of intelligence or competence is completely unforgivable. But his charm and his aloofness make him endearing. Andy Garcia and Cecily Strong as the government officials pull a complete 180 of William Atherton's Walter Peck, rather than playing the role of antagonists, they show that the government means well and wants to help but has their hands tied by public perception. It's an interesting spin on politics and our view upon government now versus back in the 1980s.

DESIGN AND VISUAL EFFECTS

One of the prevailing critical statements against the first handful of trailers for the new Ghostbusters was that it looked like the computer generated effects had taken over completely - but the blend between the practical and the digital is so fantastic, that much like ILM and Stan Winston's brilliant Iron Man suit effects, you have a tough time telling where the practical ends and the digital begins. Actors in harnesses wore interactive glowing lighting effects and were filmed practically, then supplemented by the digital artists in post-production to great effect. The third act is a marvel of design with so much happening in the frame but a very easy to follow focal point. Where most films that have brilliantly elaborate animated effects throw everything and the kitchen sink into a frame to a point that it's complete indecipherable chaos, Ghostbusters makes sure that you're following the plot, never losing sight of the focus in the frame.

Much of that might be attributed to the cinematography of Robert Yeoman, whom I continue to adore. Where he builds entire worlds for Wes Anderson (and yes, made me fall in love with the landscapes of California in The Wizard), Yeoman's cinematography embraces that this is a big, high-concept comedy and really plays with brilliant highlights and saturated colors. Pops of color everywhere (yellow curtains in the Higgins lab, ethereal green glows in the Mercado) go a long way, a testament to the production design of Jefferson Sage as well. The surprise appearance of a familiar firehouse in various forms shows that a meticulous recreation of the Firehouse 23 was recreated on a soundstage in Boston to great effect.

MUSIC

Blending of genres often proves a difficult challenge for composers, note how Elmer Bernstein handled the first film versus how Randy Edelman handled the 1989 film. Bouncy and light is tough to blend seamlessly with the creepy and macabre. Luckily Theodore Shaprio's score is absolutely brilliant, kicking things off with a throwback "scary music" homage to Elmer Bernstein that also sounds so in tone with the Ghostbusters universe that fans have both compared it to the animated The Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters, showing just how on-point it is. Choral elements and chanting really accentuate some of the darker operatic moments of the film, while a Theramin and even rattling chains are used to be unsettling spooky effects. A stand-out among the score is the use of Ray Parker Jr.'s hook on the Ghostbusters theme song as a slowly building hero theme that debuts the moment the team sees their first ghost and turns into a full-on robust theme in the third act at the height of one of the most heroic moments.

Interestingly, given the heavy-hitters on the pop soundtrack - all of the needle-drop in the film for the most part is used as source music, with only the Fall Out Boy collaboration and Ray Parker Jr.'s original theme song being presented front and center. If you're waiting for a "Saving the Day" moment where the pop album takes over to the visuals, it won't be happening as the film rests on Shaprio's amazing score. Curiously, the stand-out song in the film, No Small Children's rocking version of the theme is absent from the US release on iTunes and on CD releases of the soundtrack. Hopefully it will be available as a single soon.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If I were to run into Paul Feig, Katie Dippold, Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd or heck, any of the cast and crew that worked their tails off on this film and on top of having the challenge of completing a very difficult and elaborate film had to deal with the scrutiny, almost pressure-cooker-like atmosphere that quickly surrounded it - I'd have to give each and every one of them a giant hug and thank them from the bottom of my heart. This film could have easily been a soulless, heartless, cynical shell with intellectual property stamped on top of it, but it isn't. It's obvious that everyone involved was well-versed in the source material, understands what made it work so well, and embraces each and every aspect. For the reasons that I don't think I enjoyed certain other big IP films because they exhibited a fundamental lack of understanding of the world, the constraints and perimeters of the storytelling, and the characters and voices that must inhabit the property - Ghostbusters excels. The heart and the soul that made the first two films fun, make you smile, make you laugh, and just all-around get you excited about a fantastical world that's just out of reach are all present here.

It's a shame that it's taken so long for this film to happen, because it's a love-letter to the hard work of those that came before, I know there are several people that are no longer with us that would have loved to have seen it. And I know that after all of the struggle, after all of the red tape, after the huge mountain it took to climb to get a property like Ghostbusters back on the silver screen, they'd share the same sentiment that I do right now...

The future is bright for the Ghostbusters franchise. And this movie is to thank.

Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II 4K UHD Review

Boy, this is strange. After years in the industry of creating special features for DVD and Blu-rays, I've never really done a review for one. But now that I'm no longer working in that field, and given that the folks in Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's publicity department were kind enough to send me review copies, here goes... my very first disc review of the Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II Ultra-HD 4K Blu-ray releases.

VIDEO QUALITY

Being only the second UHD disc that I've been able to take a look at (the other being the recent Deadpool release), it's tough to have a comparison for these older films in a 4K presentation. But as a fan of Ghostbusters, I loved every frame of what has been done here. In terms of the first film, the picture quality is very comparable to the "Mastered in 4K" release - I'd have to put freeze-frames side by side to get a good idea just where the differences occur in the jump in resolution. But this master is leaps and bounds better than the original pre-remastering Ghostbusters Blu-ray release... which was better than the previous DVD release, which had improved on the original DVD release. That's the good news, with ever release the picture quality continues to shine incrementally. Colors are deep and rich. Sharpness is good without any lines buzzing. I wish I had the ability to take screencaptures from the UHD discs because the picture presentation is absolutely astounding. Grain has been left in place to continue to give the feature presentation a filmic quality (and to mimic what audiences would have seen in theaters with a print projection) but the sharpness and the detail is wonderful. Sure, compared to the Deadpool UHD, there's a noticeable jump in the detail and fidelity of the image between the two, but make no mistake, this is the best that either film has looked in years let alone on a home video release. But chances are, if you purchased either the "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray a year or two ago or that two-pack Digibook set and you're happy with the picture quality, you might not notice that large of a jump between the two releases.

AUDIO QUALITY

This is where the new release for both films really shines. My Dolby Atmos enabled system loved the brand-new mixes done for both of these films, even if they are a little scaled back when compared to the Deadpool UHD or the most recent Gravity Atmos release. Needless to say, the new mix is a massive upgrade from the stereo mix days, the surrounds get a pretty good workout with a lot of flybys and sound effects enveloping you on both films. It's still not as bombastic of a mix as a modern-era Atmos mix might provide, but for a film that's over 30 years old in the case of the original, it's still pretty darn impressive.

SPECIAL FEATURES

First off... hey! They listened and swapped Slimers so that the correct version of each is on their respective covers (initial versions of the box art solicited had Ghostbusters II Slimer on the original film's cover and vice-versa). It looks like they also nudged the (odd-choice) Fort Detmerring photo on the original films' cover so that the logo isn't chopping off poor Ernie Hudson's head. That said, man those covers are still ugly.

But why judge a book by its cover? Let's dive into what's contained inside...

The UHD discs lack any special features with the exception of an audio commentary, most likely to assure that the highest bit-rate is dedicated to the picture and audio presentation on these discs. But the standard 1080p Blu-ray discs include the same special features that were included on the Digibook two-pack set released in 2014. But hey, this is my first venture into a Blu-ray review, let's leave no stone left unturned and dive into what's here (and what's not). 

Included on the Blu-ray are:

"Who You Gonna Call: A Ghostbusters Retrospective" - called a "roundtable" discussion (though not at a table and is more of a Geoff Boucher moderated Q&A)

"Time is But a Window: Ghostbusters II and Beyond" - the second part of the Geoff Boucher "roundtable" that gives a little bit of a discussion on the production and response of the second film and talks about prospects for a third film at a time when Paul Feig's current July release was unannounced.

Deleted Scenes - 10 scenes from the original film (with several missing that were on the Criterion disc and for some reason still have never made it onto a SPHE release) and 7 very welcome deleted scenes from the second film are presented here... although there are several scenes from the second movie that aren't represented here for one reason or another including a cameo from Eugene Levy we've seen in production photography but never on celluloid. Deleted scenes, especially with actors cut from the film in entirety are always a tricky thing, but those are the types of things that fans would love to see. Maybe some day. Again, good fodder for another box set down the line.

Alternate TV Takes - These are a lot of fun, especially for those of us that grew up without a proper VHS release of the film and instead watched the ABC Sunday Night at the Movies recording we had over and over. A fun inclusion.

Audio Commentary by Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and Joe Medjuk (on the first film). This is the same commentary from the 90s, it's fun and light-hearted but a little dated at this point. Dan Aykroyd had said he recorded new commentaries for both films at the time of the original Blu-ray release, neither of which strangely seem to have seen the light of day. Maybe an upcoming box set with the 2016 film?

Slimer Mode - the "BonusView" track over the film is fun, although a bit repetitive of materials elsewhere.

"Ecto-1: Resurrecting the Classic Car" - great 15 minute featurette from when the car was restored for the 25th anniversary. Sadly since that time, the Ecto-1A from the second film has been rotting and still sits in shambles.

Featurettes: Original 1984 featurette (cut from the EPK material, which is fantastic), cast and crew featurette, SFX Team featurette - these are all great though aren't given much time to breathe. There's also a multi-angle feature that is replicated from the original DVD release (and the Criterion Laserdisc before it) where you can see VFX/SFX shots before and after with the touch of a button.

Music Videos: Both the Ray Parker Jr. music video and the Bobby Brown "On Our Own" music video are represented on both discs. Glad to have them. Though there's several other music videos that could and should be included on a future release. The Bus Boys' "Cleanin' Up the Town", Mick Smiley's "Magic", Run DMC's "Ghostbusters" remix.

Trailers - yes. That same weird trailer is on the original film that was on the original Blu-ray release. Must have been a legal issue or something but it's... weird. Maybe they wanted to take advantage of the HD picture by overcutting footage from the film into the trailer with the audio bed, maybe there was a legal reason, but it's strange to hear cut lines of dialogue under the wrong shots (Venkman's cut line about being the "Chairman of the Largest Paranormal Removal Company" under the shot of the original Ghostbusters banner being hung outside the firehouse being the most egregious. Why not include the ORIGINAL original trailer? It's such a strange choice. I can understand not including the trailer on the Criterion disc that includes the unused Ghostbusters theme because of music legality issues, but this one is a head-scratcher to me still.

NOT included on the Blu-ray are: several of the deleted scenes seen on previous releases including the Criterion laserdisc release. There's a whole lot of key behind the scenes elements that have never been explored on a home video release (which hopefully the upcoming "Cleanin' Up the Town" documentary will take care of) but for reference, I did a full breakdown of what would be the ideal set of special features in an old Private Sector column that you can see here courtesy of Proton Charging.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Do you have a 4K TV and the latest Dolby Atmos home theater setup and are you a die-hard Ghostbusters fan? Then this release is for you. But if you purchased the lovely Digibook set no more than a year ago, and you don't have the latest tech setup then there's really no need for you to purchase this set. Much like the "Superbit" releases of old in the DVD days, this is really for the video and audio aficionados, and even then because it's an older movie many people won't be using it as reference for their home theater demos most likely. If you've already got the excellent Digibook Blu-ray set, you might want to hold out to see if another box set of the films is released down the line with more special features. That definitive "Alien Anthology" archival version of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II in box set is still elusive. Maybe some day, it'll come to pass.