When a pop entertainment connects these days (to the tune of $100 million or more), it's usually a known quantity: a TV show blown up to motion-picture size, a remake, a sequel or an adaptation of a novel or a comic book. Those in Hollywood with a memory that stretches back beyond this week's grosses must get misty-eyed when they think of the day when a project like Ghost could break through the haze, tap the cultural zeitgeist, hang on at the box office long enough to accumulate a big chunk of change and then, for good measure, collect five Oscar nominations (Picture, Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Score, and Editing).
Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin and star Whoopi Goldberg would take home the gold for Ghost, an unqualified populist success that largely won over critics along with audiences. The principal objection many might have with the film, its savvy commerciality, isn't in and of itself a crime, but rather an admirable skill. Better yet, the film, no matter how simplistic, was fresh: a good idea that hadn't yet been exploited. Ghost works because it tackles several genres and succeeds in each of them: romantic melodrama, mystery thriller, and comedy; it also works because it evinces a sincerity rarely felt in today's cinema. The whole thing could easily have failed to coalesce, or fallen apart, but instead it finds a rhythm and, rather than slowing down, builds up steam to a satisfying climax.
Patrick Swayze (another fresh choice for these genres) stars as Sam Wheat, an investment banker who discovers financial irregularities and is promptly murdered in what appears to be a random mugging. His live-in girlfriend Molly (Demi Moore) cannot be consoled, not even by friend and seeming "boyfriend material" Carl (Tony Goldwyn), a co-worker to Sam. As Sam gathers himself in the non-corporeal afterlife, he begins to learn that he has the ability to reach out to the living, primarily through a bogus psychic named Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg). After a lifetime of swindling suckers, Oda Mae proves more surprised than anyone that her gift has at last emerged for real. With Oda Mae's help, Sam embarks to solve his murder and save Molly from imminent danger.
For much of his career, Rubin's stock in trade has been spirituality and what lies beyond life and death, themes he also explored in the romantic drama My Life and the supernatural thriller Jacob's Ladder. Ghost may be corny ("The love inside, you take it with you"), but there's a place for movies that wear their hearts on their sleeves to such full effect. Jerry Zucker's breakthrough helming--after making his name as a comedy director (Airplane!, Ruthless People)--made a well-oiled ensemble of disparate stars and created moments so memorable they invited Zucker-esque parody. No scene proved more memorable than the one pairing the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" with a pottery wheel and the randy lovers. Jerry's brother and Airplane! co-director David would be among the first one year later, when Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley took to a pottery wheel in The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.
Paramount returns to a bestselling catalog perennial for a Blu-ray edition of Ghost. Having seen this film on the big screen and frequently seen its imagery on TV since, I wasn't expecting much from the hi-def upgrade: Ghost has tended to look dull, soft and cramped on my home displays. But color me surprised: the Blu-ray transfer (built from the same high-def master used for the most recent DVD reisuue) is exceptional, making the 18-year-old film look better than I imagined possible. Keeping in mind that hazy glows are a major part of the film's visual scheme, this is a very nicely detailed transfer that accurately renders color and has quite good shadow detail. Put simply, the film looks younger than its age, with none of the side effects associated with a face lift. Ghost shows its age a bit more when it comes to the sound, but the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround mix squeezes decent dynamism from relatively rudimentary source material.
Despite some unfortunate gaps in the gab, a commentary by director Jerry Zucker and writer Bruce Joel Rubin is worthwhile for the film's fans, offering as it does a chance to hear Zucker and Rubin trade stories (they are interviewed separately in the video-based features). The two acknowledge their bumpy start, with Rubin unnerved by Zucker's lack of experience in the dramatic arena, and the various casting dramas and brainstorms that led Ghost to become a runaway hit in the end.
"Ghost Stories: The Making of a Classic" (13:06, SD) is a concise but effective making-of that crams in the most important observations and anecdotes about the development of the film. Rubin, Zucker, Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore (archival), Whoopi Goldberg, and production designer Jane Musky contribute.
"Inside the Paranormal" (8:35, SD) will set many eyes rolling, but those who buy the film hook, line, and sinker may find themselves equally entranced by the self-serving soothsaying of "spiritual medium/psychic" Shelley Duffy, "psychic medium" Laurie Campbell, "medium" George E. Dalzell, and "spiritual medium" James Van Praagh, who explain how Ghost is completely true to life in their "experience."
"Alchemy of a Love Scene" (6:16) explores all aspects of the pottery scene, with comments from Rubin, Zucker, Musky, Moore (archival), director of photography Adam Greenberg, and Swayze. It seems apparent that Moore didn't get along with anyone, including Swayze, but Swayze explains how even negative emotions can feed screen passion.
"Cinema's Great Romances" (19:45) reviews the Paramount titles from AFI's "100 Years...100 Passions" list: Roman Holiday, Love Story, A Place in the Sun, Barefoot in the Park, Sabrina, Reds, Grease, An Officer and a Gentleman, To Catch a Thief, Harold and Maude, Witness, Titanic, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Ghost. Commentators include AFI historian Patricia Hanson, film critic Jamie Bernard, USC professor Drew Casper, Rubin, author Kim Adelman, and Goldberg.
Lastly, the disc includes a Photo Gallery and the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:26, HD). Though the DVD shares the same special features, the handsome Blu-ray is the best way to enjoy the film.
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