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Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night? Do you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic? Have you or your family ever seen a spook, spectre or ghost? No? Oh, never mind; the Ghostbusters are here, anyway. And what’s more, they’ve arrived in a new DVD set with both the original 1984 classic and the 1989 sequel tucked snugly into some rather odd ‘slime packaging’. Should you swap your old editions for this re-release? Read on...

Ghostbusters I & II Gift Set

Films



Ghost Busters
Paranormal scientists Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) are on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. According to Egon's latest research, it just might be possible to catch and imprison ghosts and, since New York is currently swarming with them, that can only be a good thing. Unfortunately, the financial backing from their university has just been revoked and so it's up to the trio to create their own business.

"Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, no job is too big, no fee is too big!"

Ghostbusters was the runaway success of 1984, breaking box-office records left, right and centre. The success was entirely justified as the movie is an undeniable classic with a smart script and good performances. The film’s major asset is surely Bill Murray who reminds us that he’s at his very best when playing sarcastic egocentrics. But special credit must also go to the writing duo of Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd who often play the 'straight men' to Murray’s wise-cracking Venkman and give him the ammunition for some memorable quips and punch-lines.

Murray also gains a sparring partner in the form of Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett. Weaver's role in the plot as the 'damsel in distress' doesn't allow her to win many laughs but the chemistry between her and Murray is well-pitched, allowing for some nice interplay in the earlier parts of the film.  

Equally pleasing is Ivan Reitman’s solid direction. Despite the film slotting neatly into the genre of comedy, the spookier sequences are not played for laughs. Witness, for example, Weaver’s spooky encounter in the kitchen or the film’s chilling pre-credit sequence in the haunted library. Humour is abundant in the film but the creepier undertones mean that the finale holds genuine peril for our heroes. Well, at least until the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man turns up…

Ghost Busters is very much an 'eighties film' but, despite the clothing and hairstyles looking a little behind the times, the film hasn’t really dated in its appeal.  Sure, the once-revolutionary special effects are looking a little shaky nowadays, but some of them are still pretty worthy, with the greedy green ghost (later referred to as Slimer) being a particular highlight. It's certainly rare to find a 'special effects movie' that isn't driven by the visuals, but rather the dynamic between the main characters.

Ghostbusters I & II Gift Set
Ghostbusters II
Five years have passed since the events of the first film and the Ghostbusters have fallen on bad times. Peter presents lousy paranormal cable shows while Ray and Winston substitute for He-Man at children's parties. All that is set to change when New York is forced to call upon their talents once more; the monstrous Vigo the Carpathian is hell-bent on escaping the painting which bears his image…  

Ever so occasionally, a rumour by the name of Ghostbusters III will do the rounds of the movie websites and ignite a lot of interest. The reason that no such film exists is surely Ghostbusters II, a more than capable movie which failed to capture the audiences’ imagination in quite the same way as the original.

The sequel has clearly been made with a lot of love and attention; it wasn’t a swift cash-in and efforts were made to regroup the same team that had made part one. Arriving in 1989, the film did indeed manage to reunite just about every major crew and cast member from the original. Ivan Reitman would once again be directing and Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd would pen the script. And yet, despite this, Ghostbusters II feels slightly redundant. The script is not as clever, the jokes are not as funny and there’s a feeling that we’ve been here before. This is certainly because the film seems to go through exactly the same motions as the original. Once again our heroes must start their business from scratch; once again Dana Barrett needs their assistance and, once again, Peter tries desperately to win her over with a combination of persistence and charm.

If you’re looking for a modern day equivalent of Ghostbusters II, look no further than the second Men in Black film. Both are entertaining sequels, but neither can really recreate the buzz of their predecessors, instead deciding to simply recreate the plot. Ghostbusters II is, therefore, an enjoyable distraction but doesn't hold up to quite as many viewings as its predecessor.  

Video


Both Ghost Busters and Ghostbusters II are presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratios. Neither of them are outstanding transfers, although the later film is certainly the better looking of the two with a sharper picture and clearer presentation of darker colours. The prequel lacks clarity, especially in the sequences shot on location, and there’s a fair amount of dirt and grime present throughout.

Audio


Neither film boasts a particularly impressive audio mix with incidental music (including the infamous theme tune) sounding off-balance when played through a surround sound set-up. Sound effects, of which there are many, also sound a little distorted through the sub-woofer. Dialogue is, fortunately, well handled on both movies.

Ghostbusters I & II Gift Set

Extras


It has to be said that this is one the strangest DVD re-releases in a very long time. At first glance, it appears to be a case of lazily taking two old discs and re-packaging them in a shiny new boxed set. Strangely enough, it’s worse than that. The extras that made Ghost Busters a pretty solid purchase in the earlier days of DVD have gone AWOL: no deleted scenes, no trailers and no effects featurette. On the second disc, there’s not even one dedicated extra for the sequel. To make matters worse, similar menus to the earlier DVD are utilised, but new additions jar with the old design.

The commentary for the first film makes the jump to the new DVD. It’s a pretty good one with director Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and associate producer Joe Medjuck dropping some interesting nuggets of information. One aspect of this that doesn’t make the transition from old disc to new is the opportunity to view the commentators watching the film, an intriguing feature that’s been rarely used on DVDs since its introduction.

Conceptual drawings for the making of the film can also be found on the disc. They showcase the evolution of the various designs in the movies and, yes, they were all on the original disc.

Despite being promoted as a ‘1984 featurette’, the only other extra on the Ghost Busters disc is, quite obviously, a retrospective piece that was shot many years after the cinematic release. Running at around ten minutes in length, there are brief interviews with Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Ivan Reitman. The main talking point seems to be “What did your kids think of the film?”, before Aykroyd gets a little scary and starts talking about his paranormal beliefs…

Moving on to the Ghostbusters II disc, and the only extras are two episodes of the cartoon spin-off, The Real Ghostbusters (named as such to differentiate between this show and a cheesy knock-off). Dumping this onto the sequel’s disc as the sole extra is pure laziness, especially when not even cast-biographies or a humble trailer accompany it.

The first of the two episodes, Citizen Ghost written by Babylon 5 scribe, J. Michael Straczynski, is by far the better episode; with a relatively tight storyline and even a bit of comedy. The second is pretty terrible, taken from a later series when the show had been renamed Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters and the focus had switched to the irritating green spook rather than the team themselves. By this point, the animation had taken a downward turn and much of the original vocal cast (including the late, great Lorenzo Music) had moved on. Presumably the two episodes have been chosen as they contain a few continuity references to the events of the films (something that didn’t happen too often) but this is still a pretty pointless exercise. Many viewers will not give these episodes a repeat viewing, while nostalgia fans would surely rather have dedicated season releases for the show itself.

Finally, it's worth noting that the retail release comes with a specially produced scrapbook. This was not included in the review copy, so I can't comment on its value.

Ghostbusters I & II Gift Set

Overall


The overwhelming question is ‘why?’ Why would Sony decide to replace the original DVDs with this quite ridiculous enterprise? Even the sequel’s disc, a near vanilla, was preferable to the one that’s included in this collection. If you have the original versions, then hang onto them. Compared to this marketing monstrosity, they are surely the definitive articles. If you don’t have the original film on disc (and you should, because it’s a classic slice of the eighties), then start hunting for the original DVD. Despite the ‘exclusive packaging’, this one really isn’t worth the effort.


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