Review: Is it worth trading up to the Ghostbusters 25th anniversary Blu-ray edition?

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

If you grew up or even existed in the 1980s, then you probably (or at least should) love Ghostbusters. Certainly, it's the best sci-fi comedy of all time, and in the top two or three regular comedies of all time. Arriving in theaters in 1984, a time in which the possibilities for special effects filmmaking were exploding, it became a standard-bearer for event comedies for years to come, and any and every sort of fantasy-related yukfest that followed was undeniably influenced by its breathless combination of technological wizardry and deeply human chemistry.

But while its newly released, 25th anniversary edition reminds even longtime fans how side-splitting, scary and all-around satisfying Ghostbusters remains, the new Blu-ray does not quite offer a presentation of the film that's quite suitable for a classic "of biblical proportions."

In a vast improvement over the original 1999 standard-definition DVD, Ghostbusters is presented on Blu-ray in anamorphic widescreen and remastered for high-definition televisions. Meanwhile, the transfer itself leaves much to be desired: the movie is clearer and cleaner than ever before, but retains a significant veneer of film grain that varies between noticeable and distracting. What remains unclear as more and more catalogue films arrive on Blu-ray is what standard should be used for measuring how a film should be remastered; some look fine or even better with that grainy look, while the presentation of others proves distracting, especially since decades of VHS and standard-definition transfers have trained our eyes to see creamy, grain-free images.

Given the fact that director Ivan Reitman has never been a cinematic realist of documentary-style director, I'm unconvinced that the film was always intended to look this gritty, even given its New York backdrop. Again, the picture often looks great, and certainly surpasses previous versions, featuring a clarity to certain effects shots and sets that has never been available. But given the inconsistency from shot to shot—exteriors and nights are grain storms—this edition fails to qualify as a truly "better" version of the film, instead earning the dubious distinction of being different than previous ones.

In terms of extras and bonus features, the primary difference between the original release and subsequent SD editions was the elimination of the "live video commentary," which featured Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis in silhouette at the bottom of the frame, offering their recollections and opinions about the film. Later editions featured the commentary but no shadow versions of the participants, making it a predecessor for the video commentaries that high-definition discs now regularly boast. The Blu-ray features the same commentary, as well as "Slimer Mode," in which video interviews with the cast and crew pop-up during the film to reveal details about the production of the film. If you've seen the film the hundreds of times that most other fans have, this is by far the best new way to watch Ghostbusters.

The most important addition in content that this feature provides is new, specific and detailed information about the film that unspools at the same time as the events on screen—most specifically, when it is relevant. For instance, if you wanted information about Slimer himself, you can hear about how he was conceived and constructed while the scenes in which he appears are playing. Meanwhile, a trivia track runs concurrently with the picture-in-picture video to offer dialogue-specific information about what each creature is, or provide "historical background" about certain phenomenon mentioned during the movie.

In terms of featurettes, "Ecto-1: Resurrecting the Classic Car" is pretty straightforward: a car restoration company refurbishes and rebuilds the original Ecto-1 car to a luster heretofore unseen, as even Dan Aykroyd admits. While this seems like it would be boring, the Blu-ray producers combine interview material with footage of the car being rebuilt, and Aykroyd's remarkable memory for detail makes this a surprisingly satisfying viewing experience. Additionally, there's an Ecto-1 gallery in which fans can pore over the restoration process, although the featurette explores the process just fine without it.

While video game previews and cross-promotions are usually boring marketing fluff, the "making of" the Ghostbusters video game is actually completely fascinating, if only because of the way in which original writers Aykroyd and Harold Ramis personally conceived it. Seldom have all (ok, almost all) of the cast members of a popular film appeared in a corresponding video game, but even without heavyweights like Murray in it, this truly is a fantastic extension of what the Ghostbusters mythology could and perhaps should be. Cast and crew interviews (from both the movie and the game) offer real insights not only into how the game was created, but how it's played, and how it achieves a genuine cinematic quality that has the potential to surpass other games.

The rest of the materials are essentially lifted from previous editions, and while they aren't enhanced or altered, it's at least good that distributor Sony elected to preserve them as the film moves to a new format. In many cases, films must be owned in multiple editions and formats to get every extra, which is an annoyance and wallet-drain for fans. In the case of Ghostbusters, however, buying the Blu-ray really comes down to how much better you need or want the movie to look, and then determining what that improved picture really means. If you're okay with grain, then this is absolutely the set for you; but for many, I suspect the new transfer will not inspire mass hysteria, even if Ghostbusters is otherwise the cinematic equivalent of dogs and cats living together—or in other words, the perfect combination of effects-driven storytelling and a careful, compelling character study.