The 2011 re-release of Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters had no selling point, apart from the opportunity to see the film on the big screen after twenty-seven years. That was, for me, more than enough of a reason to go see it; being less than a year old upon the film’s premiere in June of 1984, I had no choice but to grow up experiencing it through television and home video viewings. It’s now 2014, and it has been re-released again for an exclusive week-long run, only this time with not one but two selling points. Firstly, it has reached its thirtieth anniversary – and indeed, the new poster boldly displays the digits 3 and 0, the latter stylistically replaced with the now-famous “No Ghost” logo. Secondly, and more importantly, it has been remastered to be digitally projected at 4K resolution.
Since I went into it already knowing the story, the characters, and a great deal of the dialogue, I spent my time scrutinizing the projection, making sure it lived up to the hype. I’m sorry to say that it didn’t. Rather than crisp images that evoked the crystal-like clarity of a high-definition TV set, I was looking at images that were consistently grainy and just a touch soft around the edges. It reminded me of the old days of pan-and-scan, when cropping a widescreen image for the constraints of a 1.33:1 television monitor resulted in a zooming effect that reduced sharpness. This is most evident during the opening and closing titles of Ghostbusters, the words on the screen appearing ever-so-slightly fuzzy and out of focus.
The graininess is most evident during dimly-lit sequences and whenever darker-colored objects appear in frame. As evidence, I submit the following sequences: The opening scene in which a librarian (Alice Drummond) wanders between the shadowy bookshelves of the New York Public Library before being scared off by a ghost; the moment Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) enters her apartment at night, which happens right before being possessed by the demon dog Zuul; the conversation between Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) as they drive across the Brooklyn Bridge in the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps it’s to the film’s advantage that a great deal of the images are bright and vivid, taking place during daylight hours.
Am I telling you to avoid seeing Ghostbusters on the big screen? Not exactly. With or without a 4K projection, the film remains a great deal of fun, its blending of comedy and special effects just as magnetic now as it surely must have been in 1984. The chemistry between all the actors remains particularly strong; Bill Murray and any of his scene co-stars are often cited as the standouts, but I personally respond better to Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, not only because they wrote the film but also because their characters collectively form the backbone of the entire Ghostbusters franchise. And although originally released before computer technology became mainstream, most of the special effects are still convincing (I exempt the claymation effects for the demon dogs).
As I noted back in 2011, there are small things that keep the film stuck in the past, most prominently a dated pop-song soundtrack that includes not only Ray Parker, Jr.’s title song but also the Alessi Brothers’ “Savin’ the Day” and Mick Smiley’s “Magic.” Given how entertaining the movie is overall, however, I have always been able to look past this, just as everyone else has. Harder to look past are tragedies that have occurred since the 2011 rerelease, which cast shadows where none were cast before. One is the recent death of Harold Ramis. The other is the much-publicized controversy involving Jean and Casey Kasem, both of whom made cameo appearances in the film, the latter having himself died only this past June after a long battle with dementia.
But that’s neither here nor there. What I’m really trying to say is that, while I am recommending the film itself, I don’t believe this remastered thirtieth anniversary re-release visually delivers the goods, despite an ad campaign that claims otherwise. I can’t help but wonder if the film should have been restored exclusively for IMAX screens. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, look no farther than last year’s IMAX 3D re-release of The Wizard of Oz, which, even with the 3D conversion, yielded a clean, bright, vivid, focused, detailed picture that was totally free of dirt, dust, and grit. It had never looked better – and the fact that it’s forty-five years older than Ghostbusters must say something about film preservation and the ways in which it can be properly done.