Ghostbusters 1 & 2: The Lost Criterion Extras, 4k Blu-Rays, and Everything In Between



Hey, film fans! As I'm sure you've heard by now, Melissa McCarthy has a big-time comedy coming out, and so I thought this would be a good time to look at a true comedy classic. That's right, I'm talking about The Boss. As you know, The Ghostbusters films can be described as being pretty "boss" themselves, and that's why I - what? Okay, so maybe that's a little tenuous. But if you can think of another upcoming Melissa McCarthy film with a stronger connection to the Ghostbusters films, I'd like to hear about it!

Seriously, though, I trust you're all familiar with Ghostbusters, so I'm not going to describe or review the film. I want to just jump right into the releases. The famous Criterion laserdisc with extras that still haven't been released anywhere else, the DVDs and remastered DVDs, and the remastered blu-rays. And to make this an even bigger post, I'm going to go ahead and throw in Ghostbusters 2, too. It's definitely not as great a film, it's a more children-friendly rehash that was surely influenced by the cartoon series that hit the market first. But it's still got some good jokes and the same great cast, so as long as you keep your expectations tampered, ant fan of the original should find it at least enjoyable.
We start out with the 1989 Criterion special edition laserdisc. Now, this was not the first time the film had been released on disc. RCA/ Columbia had released it as a generic, full-screen disc all the way back when the film was a new release in 1985. And they reissued it as a widescreen disc later. But Criterion's release is the first one that's still of interest to fans today, because it has extras on it no other releases do to this day. And I should point out, too, that there are two Criterion laserdiscs. The 2-disc "red band" one, pictured above, and a single-disc one with a blue Criterion logo along the top, that doesn't have the extras, and is presented in CLV instead of CAV.
As you can see, the picture is widescreen and pretty nice quality - excellent for a laserdisc of its time... Especially when you bear in mind the caveat that all laserdisc screenshots have to be imported through composite cables, as opposed to DVDs and blus which can be read directly off the disc. So you always have to give laserdiscs a little 10% or so credit. The blacks look a little blacker, for instance, on my television. Anyway, it's labeled as being 2.35:1 on the cover, but it's really more of a 2.14:1. And as I said, it's CAV, which allows you to study the film frame-by-frame (most laserdiscs were CLV which blends frames to save space).
So this laser comes in a nice gatefold sleeve with a printed letter from Jon Mulvaney of Criterion. There's a bunch of extras, but mostly vintage stuff. There's the original featurette and massive stills galleries, including behind the scenes photos, sketches and looks at the special effects. There's also the trailer, the original screenplay - if you can imagine clicking "Next" over 400 times to read the full text right off of your television - and storyboard comparisons to the film.

But the reason why this laserdisc still sells to this day is the exclusive extra. Despite Sony's claim of their latest blu featuring "all previously released legacy content," they missed some things, including a deleted scene where the Ghostbusters argue over which of them would be most deserving of a Nobel Prize. Then there are special effects comparisons, showing footage from the original workprint tape in split screen with the finished film. And they had the promo trailer, which is notable because it uses the original Ghostbusters theme song that was later replaced by the Ray Parker Jr. song. That teaser is the only way to hear it. Finally, there's also some fun screen test footage of the actress who plays the library ghost repeatedly turning evil and running at the camera.

Now, admittedly, a lot of this is pretty minor. I can see most casual fans saying, well, I could live without any of that. And yeah, it's not a huge deal unless you're a hardcore collector. But some of us hang onto the laser because it's still cool to have, and it's always frustrating when this movie is released again and again, each time without these remaining bits. If they put the lucky penny scene on the latest blu, why not the Nobel Prize one? It's not like they found HD elements for one and not the other - the deleted scenes and plenty of other extras on blu-rays have still been in SD with the same video quality as the old Criterion. Worst case, Sony could've just ripped the laserdisc. But oh well. For that reason, this laser remains collectible.

This is already a full-sized post, and we're just now getting to the first DVD. Don't worry; I'll try to keep it concise and stick to just the pertinent bits that are still of interest in 2016.
So, Ghostbusters debuted on DVD in 1999 with a nice special edition from Columbia Tri-Star. For being such an old disc, it was anamorphic, non-interlaced and it even improved on the framing. This one says 2.35:1 on its case, but is actually even better at 2.40:1, bringing in additional picture on all four sides, but primarily on the left, where we see a lot had been left out. It's a bit red, though. It has a 5.1 audio mix, optional English subtitles, a fold-out insert with notes, and even a contest form with some design sketches on it, where you could win some original artwork.
It has a screwy menu system. If you want to watch the trailer, should you click on "Spook Central," "Ghostbusters Grab Bag," or "Feature?" It's actually the latter. But once you get the hang of it, there's a lot to be found, including the original making of featurette, a new 1999 making of featurette, an "SFX" featurette interviewing the film's effects team in a big round-table discussion, deleted scenes (minus that deleted scene, of course), a trivia subtitle track, storyboard comparisons, special effect workprint comparisons (but not the scenes from the laserdisc) the trailer and bonus trailers.
And the biggest extra of them all, was a new video commentary by Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and producer Joe Medjuck. This is a lively and detailed audio commentary, but where the commenters are shown silhouetted at the bottom of the screen, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. Note: my PC had a little trouble playing this, so they're floating a bit in the center of the screen of my screenshot and stretched a bit wide. They're flushed to the bottom and a little thinner when watched on a television with your player on the old 4:3 settings. Anyway, modern releases have kept the audio commentary, but not the video component, which is frankly pretty fun and I miss it. I understand it's more to do with technical limitations (the footage of the commenters is actually a subtitle track that can't simply be slapped onto a blu-ray disc) than Sony deciding to "screw us over," but still. It's far from essential, but it always makes me reluctant to upgrade because I hate the feeling of losing something and taking a step backwards in an upgrade. So I hang onto this DVD just for watching the commentary.
Meanwhile, also in 1999, Columbia Tri-Star released Ghostbusters 2 on DVD. This was not a special edition, no sir. The trailer and some bonus trailers is all we get. But at least they got the aspect ratio right. The old, equally barebones laserdisc was 1.66. This is anamorphic and 2.35:1. It looks and sounds pretty good. Oh, and there is one interesting thing about the original, 1999 DVD of Ghostbusters 2, it's a flipper disc with a fullscreen version on the other side. Let's look at that.
Oh my god! Wow, this is may be worst example of "chop off the sides" fullscreen framing we've seen on DVDExotica yet! Key characters go right off the screen. If you were hoping for any open matte peering here, forget it. Also, strangely, the widescreen version is non-interlaced, but the fullscreen side has a huge interlacing problem. Maybe this was the DVD producer's middle finger response to consumer demand for fullscreen versions of widescreen films? Actually, I could kind of get behind that. Heh.
Now, jumping ahead to 2005. Sony took over Ghostbusters' distribution and re-released it on a fresh, remastered DVD. Gone is the redness of the 1999 DVD, but thankfully not the 2.40 framing. The image is a little less murky, and some jagged edges and pixelation has been cleaned up. It's a genuine improvement, but no new extras. All they really added were multi-lingual options, including French and Spanish dubs and a bunch of foreign subtitle tracks.
And Sony did Ghostbusters 2 in 2005, too. Compression's improved, this time the color is more yellowish and less red, and superior compression leads to a slightly clearer, better defined image. But there's a problem with this one, and I don't mean that it doesn't have a junky full-screen version on the other side of the disc (although that's also true). The framing is still 2.35:1, but it's zoomed in, losing picture on all four sides (look at the judge's microphone, for example). It's a trade-off, but I'd say the remaster does more harm than good, and the 1999 version is actually slightly preferable. And again, no extras, except, as a token gesture so as not to appear barebones, Sony threw in 2 episodes of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. Gee, thanks. Anybody who really cared about the cartoon would have the whole series on DVD anyway.
And now we enter the HD age! In 2009 Ghostbusters (but not Ghostbusters 2) debuted on Sony blu-ray. This included the old extras (sans the Criterion stuff, of course) plus some new special features including an ad for the video game, a 'making of' featurette about the video game, a featurette on the Ecto-1 car, a video gallery of the car, and some different bonus trailers. Yeah, not too exciting. But wait, there is one cool new feature: Slimer Mode, a picture-in-picture version of the film. I know, that sounds like garbage, and on one hand it is. It adds a cheesy computer graphic over the entire film, and gives you lots of lame pop-up trivia like "this is a famous bridge in New York." But it also intermittently brings up all new video interviews with the cast and crew, which are great. Note to self: see if there's a way to rip those interviews off the blu so you can watch them without sitting through the entire film in "Slimer Mode."
And of course, the picture's improved in HD. You can finally read the Budweiser on those cans. I mean, you could always recognize the logo as Budweiser's, but not you can actually make out all the individual letters. The audio is now True HD 5.1, which is also true for the multiple foreign language dubs, and there's even more subtitle tracks. I could go into more detail, but I'll save that for a little later on, when I compare this to the newer blu. But it's certainly an upgrade over the previous DVDs. And actually, that Ecto-1 featurette was a little interesting, I'll admit.
Much more recently, in 2014, Sony brings us a new Ghostbusters blu - mastered in 4k! And it's a package deal, including the blu-ray debut of Ghostbusters 2... for the first time including extras that actually relate to the film! And it's surprisingly cheap! Now don't be fooled. a "mastered in 4k" blu is not an actual 4k disc. Some of the advertising has been misleading, but while the transfer was mastered in 4k, it was still then compressed down to a 1080p blu. This is 4k in the same way that God Told Me To was 4k. That's still a good thing. Just know that actual 4k UHD discs are a different thing, and yes, Ghostbusters is already scheduled to come out on that format in the future, too.
So how much have we gained from the 4k scan? Not a ton; it's pretty subtle. There's not way more detail or anything, and the framing's almost the same (we actually gain a sliver extra on the right side on the new disc). The colors are better, I'd say. The 2009 blu is heavy on the red, while the 2014 is more natural - compare the star card Bill Murray's holding up in the two shots. The older blu also has a little more contrast, making the extreme brights flare out a bit. Look at the back of Dan Ackroyd's chair or the lamps in the background. They're different and I prefer the new version, but you have to be a real blu-ray nerd to pick up on most of the differences, let alone have a strong preference.
But extras, oh, Sony did come through here. Everything from the older DVDs and previous blu are here except the video commentary (but they still have the audio track) and the video game stuff. You would think if they could do "Slimer Mode," they could recreate the video commentary. And the video game featurette was slightly interesting for die-hard fans, because it interviewed several of the film's cast members. But whatever.

Sony gives us a new, 25 minute interview with Reitman and Ackroyd, which is pretty good if a little superficial. There's also two minutes worth of alternate TV takes, where they use replace curse words with broadcast safe language, Ray Parker Jr's music video, and there's a new stills gallery of funky Ghostbusters artwork. Nothing spectacular, but some good stuff to have.
The biggest inclusion, though, is Ghostbusters 2 on blu! It's certainly the best the film has ever looked, being its first time in HD. And thankfully they've corrected the zoom of the 2006 DVD, giving us back the complete image. The colors are pumped a little high (Egon's not supposed to be wearing bubble gum lipstick in that shot above), but it's so much clearer and stronger than any previous version. Ghostbusters had to improve over a respectable preexisting blu, and okay, it managed. But Ghostbusters 2 only has to complete with DVDs, so it's a more rewarding jump. And both of these blus feature DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks.
And yes, finally actual extras! It's not loaded like the first Ghostbusters or anything, but after the dearth we've been living with, I'll take it. The main feature is a continuation of the Reitman/ Ackroyd interview from the first film's disc. It's more interesting because we don't usually get to hear them talk about part 2, so it's less stuff we've heard before. There's also a collection of never-seen-before deleted scenes, a music video for Bobby Brown's theme song, and three trailers. It's packaged in a nice "digibook" which includes a substantial 26-page booklet part, plus a few inserts including a note from Ivan Reitman and a coupon for the Country Buffet. :)
the "Nobel Prize" scene from the Criterion laserdisc.
So the "Mastered In 4K" blu-ray set really is the best Ghostbusters release yet, especially for Ghostbusters 2, but really for both. Best transfers, best extras. We'll see what the UHD disc brings, and if that format even takes off. But for now, this is the one you want. And if you're a really big fan, maybe the Criterion laserdisc as well. Oh, and maybe the 1999 DVD for the video commentary if you're a MSTie. But don't go back for the fullscreen Ghostbusters 2. I did, and now we know there's nothing there but some chopped sides. Oh, and I just realized - how silly of me! There's a current Melissa McCarthy movie that has a lot more in common with the original Ghostbusters: St. Vincent, because Bill Murray's in it!

2 comments:

  1. I'd actually disagree and say that the 2005 DVD of the first film is actually not at all an improvement of the 1999 DVD, but a downgrade. The picture is fuzzier with less detail, the colour is off (the 'redness' in the first DVD being truer to the original look) and even a CGI "enhancement" during the Slimer capture.

    But that aside, a great assessment and a great read as well, I'm always fascinated by little discrepancies between home video releases.

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    1. Yeah, you might be right. They definitely both have their pros and cons. The 2005 shows the fine details clearer to me, like look at the back of Murray's head in those screenshots, where you can see more of his hair detail, as opposed to a softer, greyer blob, or even his sweater. But as you say, the colors might be truer (though I think that Ghostbusters sign should be white, not pink), plus it has a little more picture around all four sides.

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