The New York Ripper Restored!

I not only own Lucio Fulci's most controversial film, The New York Ripper, I've double-dipped on it. I've triple-dipped on it. And I've read article after article and forum post after forum post about the variant releases, and I was still confused. And ever since I first came up with the notion of starting DVDExotica, I've known this was one of the films I was going to have to tackle and get straight... just as much for my own benefit as any of you guys reading this.

Update 12/5/15 - 6/26/19:  Blue Underground has re-released this as a 3-disc Limited Edition, remastered in 4k with a bunch of new extras!  How does it look?  Does it have the freeze frame and street scene?  The world needs answers!
Why is it so controversial? Well, one it's pretty graphically extreme. And when it was in vogue to attack horror movies for being sexist and violent garbage, blaming it for the ills of our society, etc... You could defend most other horror movies. Like, oh come on, Romero, Argento and those guys were operating on a much higher level than their critics were giving them discredit for. But New York Ripper pretty well fit the attackers' bill. Like now with people going after video games, New York Ripper was sort of the Grand Theft Auto of its day. Random beautiful young women are stalked, captured and tortuously killed using sexually punishing methods. Sure, there's a reason for it when the mysterious killer's identity and motivations are finally revealed, but that doesn't change that this is one sleazy film. The fact that it was set in New York and yet dubbed just added to the trashy, amateurish vibe, and since this movie lacked the stylish flourish of Fulci's more fantastic films, it was an easy film to point to and say "no artistic value."
And fair enough, there's no getting away from that. But still, it's Lucio. Especially now that we can see it restored in widescreen, it's clearly a well crafted film... even moreso than many of his others. The mystery actually works, leaving you genuinely going back and forth on who you believe the killer to be, the production values are high, some of the murder scenes are powerfully unnerving (certain shots are surely still vivid in viewers minds who only saw this once, decades ago), and the effects are really good. It's also unique - yes, this is the movie where the killer talks like Donald Duck; and what is up with the subplot with the wife and her little tape recorder? - in a time where slasher films were really struggling with a lack of originality. And dare I say it, it's even fairly smart and logical, which is quite a rare thing in the world of Spaghetti horror.

But because of its dubious reputation, it's often been censored in its many releases around the world. And considering the cut bits are also the parts this film is best known for, it's become just as important for fans to secure an uncut version. Watching The New York Ripper without the most shocking close-ups in it would be like watching Chicago without the musical numbers in it - at that point you should just pick another movie.
So when Anchor Bay first released it on DVD in 1999 (and later re-issued by Blue Underground in 2008), it had to be just uncut version. And thankfully, it seemed to be. Certainly, that's what they claimed and everyone believed. But then it came out that a scene wasn't actually missing, but there was still a problem with the edit. One scene was totally out of place, put in the wrong order. And a new, fixed version was being released on a pretty sweet "Special Restored Edition" from Another World Entertainment, a Scandinavian label, in 2007. Hurray! You had to import, but here was an even better version.

But did Blue Underground's re-issue still have the wrong order? In 2009, they released it on blu-ray (and a corresponding third US DVD edition, different from their 2008 disc), and again in 2019... did they fix the shot or what? Go ahead, do some online research and try to get a clear answer. I certainly tried, multiple times. It doesn't help that these discussions just get more muddled as other editions are still being released with other cuts and missing scenes. And since some of these cuts seem to be pretty subtle (more along the line of "guy walks down the street" than "somebody gets their eye stabbed out"), most people don't even catch the differences. You pretty much have to simultaneously watch two versions side-by-side all the way through to figure it out. Well, I've got the Scandinavian DVD, I've got Blue Underground's blu-rays, and I've done just that.
shot missing from Blue Underground's 2009 blu.
Here's the scene that was out of order on the old Anchor Bay and Blue Underground DVDs. It's not really an entire scene onto itself so much as the second half of a scene that's been in all versions of the film, in the right place. As you see on the Scandinavian disc, the cop is talking to the doctor on the street, he gets into his car and drives off, and then the camera pans back to the doctor, who turns. Then the shot freezes into a still frame and fades to black. That last bit may seem odd, but that's because Italian films in those days were often shown in their home country in two parts, so they had act breaks. The pacing of Lamberto Bava's Demons, for example, actually makes more sense when you watch Arrow's blu-ray with the chapter cards still in them. So it freezes and fades to black because that would've been intermission time. When the films were released in the US, those breaks were trimmed out and the two halves glued together as one long, standard movie.

The only weird thing, is the Anchor Bay version apparently cut the end of that scene, so the shot ends with the cop's car driving away, but then stuck the shot of the doctor on the street much later in the film, towards the climax, where it makes no sense. So the six million dollar question now, is: how does that scene play on Blue Underground's blu-rays? Did they fix it?

Pretty much, yes. The shot is no longer stuck in at the end of the film where it doesn't belong. And on the first BU blu, it's not there at all. BU's shot of them two on the street still ends with the cop's car driving away. So Another World's DVD is a little more complete, because it does have that brief moment in, but at least BU no longer has that weird, out of sequence error. Plus, you could argue that since the fade out is part of the act break, that the film version maybe shouldn't have that moment anyway. I've seen it argued online that the camera returning to the doctor is there to make him appear suspicious, but watching the film, I don't think it does that. There was nothing there to indicate to me, oh wait, maybe the doctor's the killer! He just seems to be contemplating the severity of the issues he and the cop were discussing. And having the shot freeze frame is a little unnatural, since that doesn't happen anyplace else in the film. It's just leading up to an act break title card that never appears.

And now on the new BU blu, that last quick shot is back, too, panning back to the doctor and just cutting right at the moment it freezes. So the first BU blu-ray basically fixes the problem, but then the second blu goes that extra mini-mile and squeezes in that last shot, too.
shot missing from Another World DVD.
Did that get confusing? Well wait, there's actually more to this! I haven't seen any sites even hint at this, but Blue Underground's blus (both of 'em) actually have a whole scene that's missing from the AW release! I wasn't expecting to stumble across that. And it's not just the tail end of a pre-exisiting shot this time; it's a whole scene with dialogue. Very late in the film, at approximately the 84 minute mark, the cop and the doctor are talking on the street (again!), and the doctor is explaining a new theory on who the killer might be. While I wouldn't call it a "crucial" scene, I think it's more important than the chapter break footage from the AW disc.  So there's really no way to vote in favor of Another World's cut now.
1) Another World's 2007 DVD; 2) Blue Underground's 2009 BD;
3) Blue Underground's 2019 BD; 4) Blue Underground's 2019 BD.
The first thing you're apt to notice is that the color timing is quite different with each release.  BU topped AW with whiter whites and an overall stronger, more contrasted look.  But then BU topped themselves with an even lusher, but still convincingly natural look for the most part.  The framing is also varied, with the film being presented in slightly different aspect ratios: AW at 2.30:1, and first BU at 2.35:1. This gives BU more picture on the right and a sliver along the top. However, a couple moments have some interesting exceptions: BU shares AW's 2.30:1 aspect ratio during the opening and closing credits, as well as one other time... Their exclusive scene with the two cops on the street. All the 2:30 stuff is slightly pillar-boxed, and the picture quality also looks a little softer in those scenes. They've obviously cut it in from another source. Of course, I'm glad they did, mind you, but it's less than ideal.

But now we've got ideal!  BU's new 4k scan is 2.39:1, finding even more information on the right and left hand sides.  And it no longer reverts to 2.30 at any point.  All those scenes I just mentioned are just as high quality in 2.39:1 as the rest of the film.  And yeah, the quality is beautiful.  Now, unlike say, City Of the Living Dead, BU's previous blu didn't have scanner noise or similar issues capturing detail.  It already looked pretty great.  This disc looks even better, with more naturalistic encoding and a higher res capture, but this time the improvement's really in the colors and other aspects I've gone over than the film grain.

For the audio, AW gives us the English mono with optional Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish subs.  BU 2009 bumped that up to lossless English for both the original mono and a new 7.1 track, with optional English and French and Spanish subtitles.  And here's an exciting new twist with BU's new 2019 disc.  They still include the lossless mono and 7.1 English tracks, but also offer us the original Italian mono, plus additional French and Spanish dubs, as well as French, Spanish and two sets of English subs (one specifically for the Italian track).  So they're finally giving us the Italian language option.
Extras-wise, Blue Underground comes up surprisingly short. It's still a step-up from their previous, completely barebones editions, though. It features one interview, with Zora Kerova, who played one of the ripper's victims, and runs just under ten minutes. She's the only person represented on here. Besides that, there's a very brief (under 5 minutes) look at some of the NYC locations from the film as they look today, and the theatrical trailer. That's it.

Here's where Another World steps back into the ring. They've got a very substantial, nearly hour long feature on the film's composer, Francesco De Masi. This covers his whole career and goes quite in-depth. Then there's an almost 20 minute interview with Ripper actor Renato Rossini. And there's a really cool, pre-Paura retrospective on Lucio Fulci, which runs about 45 minutes, interviewing tons of his collaborators and fellow filmmakers, from Fabio Frizzi to Sergio Salvati. All great stuff, and all have English-language options. And AW's also got the trailer, a couple bonus trailers, some galleries and a nice insert with notes, though they're not in English.
Zora Kerova in 2009 and 2019.
But Blue Underground came back for a rematch!  They've still got the few, brief extras from their 2009 release, though none of Another World's goodies.  Instead, they've cooked up a whole new batch of material, which really presents New York Ripper as the kind of special edition you would've expected to see back in the late 90s.  For critical analysis, there's an audio commentary by Troy Howarth and an interview with Stephen Thrower.  Then we get to the real goodies, on-camera interviews including a funny and charming new talk with Rossini, the greatly under-appreciated Dardano Sacchetti, actresses Cinzia de Ponti & Zora Kerova (yes, another, second interview with her, in addition to the one from the previous disc) and Enzo Sciotti who painted the poster*.  Also in the package is a soundtrack CD, a booklet with notes by Travis Crawford, reversible artwork and a cool, holographic slipcover.
*all the current cult labels using comic-book styles should hire this guy!

Still, if that doesn't sound like all THAT much for a 3-disc set, you're right.  This is BU again being a little misleading... technically this is a 3-disc set, but there's only 1 blu-ray worth of content.  The second disc is just the DVD copy of the blu, and the third is that soundtrack CD.  So "3-disc" is a bit of a stretch, even if technically true. 
So, Blue Underground has finally settled the matter of the definitive version for good, although you still might want to pick that disc up for the additional of extras, especially for that piece on the music. And if you still want even more extras, Shameless put out a blu in the UK featuring additional interviews with Sacchetti and Antonella Fulci, but their print is censored, so you probably won't want that to be the one you watch for the movie. There's also a French 2-DVD set, which is loaded with extras, but apparently none of them are translated to English.  But for most people, I think this new Blue Underground edition will more than satisfy on its own.

Hey, How About Howards End?

Alrighty, well I did Remains Of the Day, so I might as well do the other one!  Not that Howard's End and Remains are particularly similar once you get past the repeat personnel.  James Ivory, Ismael Merchant, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins all collaborated on this the year before.  But this one's based on a novel by E.M. Forster and has nothing to do with Nazis.  Actually, it might have more in common with Sense & Sensibility, as we've got Thompson playing a sterner, wiser older sister at ideological odds with a more romantic and naive younger sister, this time played by Helena Bonham Carter.  Anyway, I've been itching to cover this one since it came out as an import-only UHD last year.
This time our protagonists are not in service.  Vanessa Redgrave is a romantic, upper class lady who makes a fast friendship with the middle class Thompson.  When she passes on, she leaves her estate, the titular Howards End, to Thompson and her family.  But Redgrave's own family, headed by Hopkins, cannot accept this and secretly manage to keep the property for themselves.  Carter, meanwhile, takes pity on a decidedly lower class London couple and struggles to support them.  Things seem complicated enough, but get much more so when Thompson and Hopkins fall in love and marry, unaware of the lies that bind them.
This is Merchant/ Ivory at their best.  The plot may be a bit predictable (even from my very brief description above, you can probably guess who ultimately ends up with Howards End), but it takes some unexpected turns along and delivers some powerful drama along the way.  It won three Oscars and was nominated for six more, including best picture.  And while I'm not one to place a lot of stock in the Academy Awards (I mean, they named Crash best picture of 1994!), it's hard not to find what they saw in this picture.  Sure, the excellent period production values and lush costumes, but the performances and writing are peak cinema.
Howards End debuted on DVD way back in 1999 from Columbia Tri-Star.  It was a strong presentation (as their releases typically were), but quite barebones.  This was rectified in 2004, when Home Vision reissued this film as part of their Merchant Ivory Collection, with a nice collection of extras.  In 2009, Criterion brought it to blu, albeit with the same selection of special features.  I skipped that edition, but pounced in 2018, when Concorde released an all new, 4k restoration of Howards End as a proper 4K Ultra HD (and BD in the combo pack), with an all new crop of extras to boot.  That 4k restoration was released it in the US, too, by Cohen Media Group, but it was BD only, and apparently had issues with its aspect ratio and black levels to boot.  So importing Concorde was a no-brainer.
1) 1999 Columbia Tri-Star DVD; 2) 2004 Home Vision DVD;
3) 2018 Concorde BD; 4) 2018 Concorde UHD.
Even the oldest 90s DVD is anamorphic widescreen, non-interlaced and really quite respectable.  It does have a slight pillarbox matte along the left-hand side, framing it to a slightly off 2.31:1, though it actually shows a sliver more information on that side than any other release.  The Home Vision DVD is still 2.31:1, but now fills the full horizontal frame and pushes in just slightly tighter.  Then Concorde pushes in a little tighter to finally meet the proper 2.39:1 framing.  What you probably first notice, though, looking at these comparisons is the shift in colors.  The DVDs have a red push to them, particularly the Home Vision disc, which is decidedly too orange where even the skin tones get weird.   The Concorde transfer gives it a more natural, cooler tone.  And between the two Concordes, the UHD has a more attractive, bolder tone than the BD, which is essentially the same timing but paler.
1) 1999 Columbia Tri-Star DVD; 2) 2004 Home Vision DVD;
3) 2018 Concorde BD; 4) 2018 Concorde UHD.
And to see the benefits of the increased resolution, just look at the flower from the first set of shots come to photo realistic life from left to right.  Grain is naturally captured even on the Blu, but you see how much more naturalism there still is to be mined from the image.

One minor bummer is that only the first 1999 DVD includes the original stereo mix (plus a French dub and English and French subs).  From the Home Vision DVD on (and yes, the Criterion, too), the stereo track is replaced with a new 5.1, which is quite good, but not the original audio.  Home Vision also has English subtitles, and Concorde bumps the 5.1 up to DTS-HD on both discs, and also includes German 2.0 and 5.1 tracks and optional English subtitles.
"Wiedershehen in" means "Meet again in"
There is one language-related point I have to make about the Concorde release, though.  Their disc is completely English friendly (you can play the film with the English audio and no subs, and all of the special features are in English, too), even the credits are in English (it's "A Merchant/ Ivory Film" not, "un filme de") but the film itself has language-specific title cards.  So "four months later," is written on screen in German.  Usually most films take on that expense, and only subtitle the film's cards.  So it's classy that they went to the trouble to make foreign cards for foreign markets.  But it does make it a little weird for English-speaking audiences to suddenly be confronted with a bit of German.  There are only a handful of title cards, indicating the title and dates on-screen, so English audiences will be able to figure it out.  But I could see US viewers being annoyed by it, so I wanted to be sure to point it out.
Now, over the years, Howards End's gotten some sweet extras.  The 1999 DVD was barebones apart from the trailer, but The Merchant Ivory Collection DVD introduced some great stuff.  Primarily, they created two 45-50 minute documentaries.  One on the making of the film, which interviews pretty much all the cast and crew, and the second about the Merchant/ Ivory/ Jhabvala trio and their long history in film.  Then there's a nice interview with the production designer, and two brief, vintage promo featurettes, one about the film and one about Merchant/ Ivory.  The Criterion release kept all of that, and also added a new, on-camera interview with Merchant.

But instead of licensing all of that, Concorde chucked all those extras out and came up with their own stuff.  First up is an audio commentary with two film critics.  It's generally pretty good, well paced and informative, but one of the two critics has basically watched all of the previous extras and is repeating all of the trivia and anecdotes from them.  In a way, that's good, because if we're losing those extras, at least we still get all of that info.  But it's painfully redundant if you already have one of the older editions, and also, several of the anecdotes, particularly the humorous ones, don't really work as well being told second-hand as they did when the actual cast and crew were sharing their moments in the documentary.  But okay, I'll take it.  Then, there are three new interviews with James Ivory.  One is a straight-forward one with a critic, one is a Q&A with an audience filmed at a screening, and one is a brief conversation with Vanessa Redgrave.  All good content, but some stuff stuff does get repeated over and over.  They also add a second trailer (so, two total) and a couple of bonus trailers, plus reversible artwork so you can hide the big ratings logo.
So, overall, Criterion still has the best set of extras, but not by a particularly wide margin.  Meanwhile, the Concorde UHD, with the obvious advantage of being a higher level format in general, offers the best presentation of the film.  I'd say the ideal way to go is the Concorde (unless that small handful of title cards really bother you) and then just copping the DVD version of the Criterion extras, if you're a big enough fan.  Many people will probably find just the Concorde extras alone are good enough, but it is great to hear from the other cast and crew members.  Me, I've got the Concorde and just holding onto my Home Vision DVD was close enough (I only miss out on one Merchant interview, and he's already interviewed in most of those older docs and featurettes).  It's another build-your-own ideal special edition scenario, but you can wind up with a pretty awesome one.

When Nicolas Roeg Met Dennis Potter: Track 29

1988's Track 29 is a late entry of Nicolas Roeg (R.I.P.)'s and Dennis Potter's that fans tend to let slip off the ends of both of their oeuvres.  For Potter, it comes right at the peak of his Blackeyes period, where his work was getting increasingly overwrought, and even long-term admirers were beginning to turn on him.  And for Roeg, well, from all the commemorations I've been reading of him over the past two days, he seems to be essentially remembered as simply the director of Don't Look Now and maybe two other films quietly preserved in the Criterion Collection.  Well, here's another very noteworthy creation they haven't gotten to yet; it hasn't even been released in HD anywhere in the world.  Yes, it's DVD only I'm afraid, but I think you'll find it's definitely worth getting your hands a little dirty and reaching back into the world of standard definition video for it.

Update 11/26/18 - 6/15/19: It looks like somebody had the same idea I had when we lost Roeg - it was time to revisit this film.  New this month from Indicator/ Power House is an impressive special edition blu-ray of Track 29, no longer DVD-only.
Track 29 is a remake of Potter's original 1974 BBC teleplay, Schmoedipus, with Gary Oldman in the lead role, originally played by Tim Curry.  So yes, it's another in a line of big screen cinematic Potter remakes like Pennies From Heaven or The Singing Detective.  But unlike those, which struggled to condense robust miniseries into a single feature's running time, this one actually expands what was just over an hour long to 90+ minutes.  So happily, this one isn't a "Reader's Digest" triviality, instead managing to retain pretty much everything that worked in the original.  The bulk of Track 29's dialogue, at least between the two main characters, is almost word-for-word as it was written in Scmoedipus.
But if Potter was already getting overwrought, he found an enabler in his partnership with Roeg.  To some degree, this is great.  We get to open up the action which previously took place 75% in a single London apartment to a wealth of North Carolinian locations, and you can just tell that creative photography of the underwater swimming pool shots or the bumper cars' electric stalks sparking in Theresa Russell's bedroom are very welcome additions brought to the table by having a visionary, A-list director.  But the absolute insanity of Christopher Lloyd's political rally of model train enthusiasts which expands what was the husband's completely realistic and grounded hobby in the original version just gets downright bizarre.
But it's not just Roeg's influence that takes this film into over-the-top territory.  As much as the bulk of the original has been faithfully transcribed here, Potter has also made some sensationalized changes.  Where the original tracked the husband character's frustrations with his daily life with him failing to connect to his coworkers or getting chewed out by his manager, Bob Hoskins (here replaced by by the equally terrific Seymour Cassel), he's now indulging in a humorously kinky affair with his nurse, played by none other than Sandra Bernhard.  The original had a simple, natural exchange where the husband points out a beautiful girl on the street and his coworker claims not to notice and then calmly chastises him.  Here, Sandra puts on red rubber gloves and a conductor's hat to spank him to a specially prepared cassette tape.  The same basic themes are presented, but it's a hugely different tone.  And I won't get into any spoilers, but the ending has completely changed.
But don't take this as one long gripe.  It's not all change for the worse.  I would say I slightly prefer the original, thanks in part to Curry's frightening performance, and the fact that the extra half hour does more to dilute the original's power than enhance it.  But this fresh take is often quite rewarding.  It's certainly a lot more artful and entertaining to look at.  And the new ending, while far less subtle, might actually work a bit better, at least in some ways.  You do get the impression that Potter has had the chance to ruminate on this material and make some new observations.  Plus, the new cast is terrific.  And at least taken on its own terms, as opposed to in direct comparison to the original, it's certainly a dark, fascinating little film that has the power to raise eyebrows just like Potter did in '74.
I used to own the original 2007 Anchor Bay DVD, but I sold it off when I replaced it for the 2012 Image DVD long before I thought of creating this site.  But I can tell you that it was barebones and fullscreen, looking more or less like a video tape transposed to disc.  Image's DVD, then, is an anamorphic widescreen disc.  But I'm happy to leave them both in the past now that Indicator has released the film on BD this summer.
2012 US Image DVD top; 2019 UK Indicator BD bottom.
The DVD is certainly soft and standard def... I'm surprised they came out with a widescreen update of a catalog title as late as 2012 and released it as DVD only.  Still, it was a welcome improvement over the Anchor Bay disc, looking naturally framed (at 1.78:1) and again, anamorphic.  The only major drawback, as you can plainly see in a couple of the shots above, is that it has interlacing issues.  Those are of course gone, now, on Indicator's new blu-ray.  It's a bit brighter, clearer, and matted a little tighter at 1.85:1.  Still, it's not the greatest HD restoration I've ever seen.  Grain is soft when it's there at all, and there's plenty of pixelation and digital noise when you look closely.  The booklet simply says, "HandMade's HD remaster was the source of this Indicator edition," suggesting this is an old HD master - the same one used for the Image DVD, by the looks of it.  It certainly trumps the DVD, and is perfectly adequate as a BD transfer; but if you're looking for a Roeg-worthy restoration or anything cutting edge, this'll be a bit of a let-down.

Image's audio is just your basic Dolby stereo mix, which is perfectly fine, and lacks subtitle accompaniment.  Indicator did just alright in terms of PQ, but they really come through in every other department.  The stereo mix is bumped up to LPCM and English-language subtitles have been added, plus they've gone the extra mile and included an isolated music and effects track.
And they do even better in the special features department, turning this into a proper special edition.  Image gave us nothing, not even the trailer.  Well, the trailer's here now, and so is so much more.  We get an excellent audio commentary by film historian Jim Hemphill, who has a ton if insight and behind-the-scenes info to share (though he sprinkles in a little misinformation about Potter's work).  Even if you typically skip commentaries that aren't by the filmmakers, I'd give this one a listen.  Speaking of commentaries by the filmmaker... we sort of kinda get one.  There's an audio interview with Roeg from 1994, followed by an audience Q&A, that they play over the film.  Unfortunately, he's mostly talking about his then-latest film Heart of Darkness and other general topics, rather than Track 29; so it's more of a general-interest track only for serious Roeg fans.  But hey, I'll take it!  And if you want more on Track 29, we get it in the form of some smart on-camera interviews with the editor, sound designer, costumer (this one's brief) and Colleen Camp.  There's also a photo gallery and a substantial, 36-page booklet, which includes notes by Danny Leigh, plus interviews with Potter and Russell, and excerpts from critical reviews of the day.  Indicator's release also features a reversible cover with alternate artwork.
Schmoedipus, meanwhile, remains painfully unreleased, like so many of Potter's excellent teleplays.  I'm only able to include a screenshot of it because low quality rips, with that ugly time-code running over the whole thing, have been passed along on the internet for years; and I've made myself a DVD-R.  Potter's plays have been dribbling out slowly, mainly thanks to the BFI and Network these days, so one remains hopeful.  But there's so much great BBC drama in the vault, and the releases so sporadic, that it's hard to maintain optimism for any particular title, let alone Potter's entire body of work.

But then again, I wasn't terribly optimistic about getting Track 29 on blu, and yet here we are, with a sweet special edition.  So I guess, as Potter's shown us here, you never know who'll come knocking on your unsuspecting door next.

Ghostbusters 1 & 2, The Quest for the Definitive Editions: From Laserdisc to DVD to Blu-Ray to 4k Ultra HD


Update 4/9/16 - 6/14/18: We've entered a whole new age of Ghostbusters on home video since I made this post... Ghostbusters in 4k!  Not just "mastered in 4k" 1080p, but both films have now been issued in 4k Ultra HD...twice!  No doubt to rebuild fan interest in anticipation of the upcoming fourth film, Sony has just released a fancy, brand new 5-disc UHD boxed set of Ghostbusters 1 and 2, with even more special features to boot.

So now 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, the remastered blu-rays and the now the UHDs. 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. Sony finally got it right and included the Nobel Prize scene in their latest, 5-disc UHD set!  But 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, at this point it's 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 devotee. Since they've finally recovered all the deleted scenes, I wouldn't recommend anybody back-dipping for the laser now.  But some of us hang onto the laser because it's still collectible.

Anyway, 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 2019.
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 roughly 2.35:1 (2.28:1), 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, this time 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 the actual 4k UHD discs are a different thing, and we'll come to those soon.
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 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 2.39:1 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. ūü§†  So the "Mastered In 4K" blu-ray set really was the best Ghostbusters release up to the writing of the original draft of this post, especially for Ghostbusters 2, but really for both. Best transfers, best extras. But three years later, and that's definitely changed.
Not blown away? That's okay, you shouldn't be yet. The above shot is from the standard blu-rays packaged with the UHDs in the latest 2019 set.  See, in 2016, a couple months after I made this post, both Ghostbusters films were released on UHD, separately, and just in time to bolster the hype for the Ghostbusters 2016 reboot.  And we'll look at them in a minute.  But those UHD discs are exactly the same discs repackaged in the 2019 set.  Like, if you put the 2019 UHD in your player after the 2016, it will ask if you want to continue where you left off, because they're literally the exact same discs.  All the new extras and stuff in the 2019 steelbook are on the regular blu-rays and a fifth bonus disc.  That means that the 2019 1080p blu-rays are different discs, so that's what we're looking at here.
So they're technically different discs, with different encodes.  They have to be with the different extras and all.  But as you can see, the actual transfers are virtually indistinguishable from the 2014 blu-rays.  Pixelation doesn't even appear to noticeably shift.  It's the same transfer, just on adjusted discs.  And it's the same deal with Ghostbusters 2, as you can also see.  I just wanted to post shots from those discs to be thorough, but now let's move on to the real story.
Now we finally have Ghostbusters in 4k.  Not just mastered in 4k, but genuinely presented in 3840 resolution.  And this clearly isn't just the same 2014 master slapped onto a 4k disc; the new HDR color palette is downright hard not to notice.  It definitely leans a bit green.  Just look at the card in Bill's hand compared to the other shots.  But you can definitely see the broader range of colors, which make the older discs look overly contrasty by comparison.  And the resolution is a nice gain.  As you can really see in the close-up above, grain is much more accurately captured, while the blu on the left still displaying pixelation and blockiness in the ultra-fine detail.  We should be past the point where we're actually discovering new details in the image, because we've hit the resolution of the film.  But we can still find details that have been pulled out and restored, like the fine print on the beer cans, while edges have become smoother and more photo realistic than ever.  They've also added a new Dolby Atmos 7.1 mix, in addition to - not instead of - the 5.1.
the "Nobel Prize" scene
And speaking of adding things, yes, there's new extras! Everything from the 2014 set is still here, but now there's even more.  There's a fan commentary, which is alright.  They're basically five podcasters who do have some good trivia to add and maintain a lively track throughout, but they step over each other a lot, interrupting interesting-sounding anecdotes to quote lines along with the film, talk about themselves and praise every obscure detail.  And they really run out of things to say in the third act.  But until then, it may be worth the listen, depending how big a fan you are.  After that, yes the Nobel Prize deleted scene has finally been restored, as well as several other deleted scenes we've never seen before.  We also get outtakes from the shooting of the in-movie TV commercial, an exhibitor showreel with an original introduction by Bill and Dan, several EPK interview clips, and additional galleries and trailers.
And then of course we have Ghostbusters 2 in 4k.  Again, color-wise, it has a slightly cooler and more subtle approach, which is great, because the blu definitely went a little too candy-colored.  Here it's still quite bright and colorful, but Egon doesn't look like he's stepping out of a Nicki Minaj video.  Shading is little more filled in and this time, even actual image detail, not just grain, is revealed - look at the face on that clown toy, for example.  Not to mention grain and smoother edges, which got a bit blocky on the blu, are smooth and natural here.  And again, they've added a new Dolby Atmos audio track in addition to the 5.1 from the previous blu.
And the same holds true in the special features department.  The 2014 set finally gave Ghostbusters 2 some quality extras, but still not on par with part 1.  So again, there was more room to grow.  This movie still didn't have an audio commentary, but now it finally does, with Reitman, Ackroyd and Medjuck.  It's a little stiff, but so welcome.  Then there's the original EPK featurette, but this one's quite hefty, clocking in at almost 45 minutes.  And at the same length is the entire Ghostbusters 2 episode of Oprah, with all the stars (sans Moranis) in a lengthy chat.  There's also a couple more trailers and even an original 4-minute "pitch concept pilot" for The Real Ghostbusters cartoon show.

So there's no question, the 2019 steelbook has become the reigning definitive edition.  One tiny little annoyance - the case is built so slim that the spindles literally pierce the paper insert with the digital code; it can't be avoided.  But that's only nitpick of this genuinely perfect edition that trumps all other releases; and they even managed to wrangle that deleted scene from the Criterion laserdisc, so we can finally put that into storage.  I couldn't be more satisfied.