Review for Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Ghostbusters is a lot like Highlander to me. They are both franchises that have failed to live up to the first film in the series, although Highlander has had more opportunities to fail. After the 1984 ‘supernatural spectacular’ which was the first film, Ghostbusters made the transition to kids TV with a couple of cartoon series, and that informed the first sequel in 1989. That took the original concept and changed the target audience demographic. People didn’t appreciate Ghostbusters 2 at the time; I certainly didn’t, although as time has passed, it’s been re-evaluated, and found a place in the hearts of many fans. It’s still not a patch on the original film though. Then in 2016, they rebooted the franchise completely in a film that is better forgotten at this point. It’s notably absent from the Ghostbusters Ultimate Collection. It got many things wrong, but for me its cardinal sin was missing the tone of the humour completely, something that even the comparatively childish Ghostbusters 2 got right. Anyway, when Ghostbusters Afterlife was announced, I was more wary than enthused. Despite Jason Reitman (Ivan’s son) at the helm, I refused to invest any hope or excitement in the film until I had seen it. Well, now I’ve seen it...
Callie is a single mother who tries hard to make ends meet, to raise her two children, Trevor and Phoebe. When the father that she never knew dies, she’s left a farmhouse in the Midwest in his will. She thinks that she’ll be able to get her rent sorted at least, but the family are evicted as soon as they leave their apartment, making a quick trip to Summerville a permanent move.
A small town isn’t ideal for kids used to a city, although Trevor’s willing to give the town a chance when he meets a girl named Lucky. Phoebe on the other hand is a bookish type with an interest in science, and who has a hard time making friends, but she finds a friend in the self-monikered Podcast. The summer school teacher, Mr Grooberson seems a kindred spirit with his interest in seismology. And Summerville has some weird earthquakes. But their grandfather was considered the town kook, owning a farmhouse but doing no farming, and leaving them a house full of secrets. As Phoebe uncovers these secrets, she learns where she inherited her aptitude for science. For her grandfather was a Ghostbuster, and there was a reason he’d set up shop in Summerville, a mission that will fall on his family to complete.
Ghostbusters Afterlife gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, with the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Italian, and DD 5.1 Surround English Audio Descriptive, Czech, Hungarian, and Polish, with subtitles in these languages and Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hebrew, Icelandic, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian, Slovene, and Slovakian. With such a recent film, there are no criticisms to be drawn with the technical qualities of the transfer, with a wonderfully clear and detailed image, supported by a vibrant and immersive audio experience. Ghostbusters Afterlife has a slightly subdued palette, with the colours ever so slightly de-saturated. It gives the film a cool feel that works well enough. The effects are excellent, and it seems that Jason Reitman went back to the visual effects techniques of the 1984 movie to accomplish the various ghosts and spectres in the film, exercising restraint when it comes to the CGI. Composer Rob Simonsen revisits the Elmer Bernstein soundtrack when it comes to the music, using familiar motifs and themes while giving the music a fresh feel. The pop music in the film isn’t quite as catchy as the tunes in the first two films, but then again, that’s only after one viewing. But you do get the OG Ray Parker Jr. theme song, no remix, no cover versions.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray style case, wrapped in an o-card slipcover. The disc boots to a static menu. The extras menu option popping up over the end credits is an annoyance.
On the disc you’ll find the following extras.
Summoning the Spirit: Making Ghostbusters Afterlife (19:50)
The Gearhead’s Guide to Ghostbusters Gadgets (6:12)
Spectral Effects: The Ghost of Afterlife (6:29)
Bringing Ecto-1 Back to Life (4:49)
We Got One! Easter Eggs Revealed (7:49)
Ghostbusters: A Look Back (10:57)
A Look Ahead (3:44)
Deleted Scene (1:24)
It took 35 years, but Ghostbusters finally got the sequel it deserved. It took a little getting into, but once the family reached the farmhouse, and things started going bump in the night, I was hooked, hanging on every word, sitting on the edge of my seat. Ghostbusters Afterlife is tremendous fun, and it gets almost everything right; most importantly that sense of humour. The comedy is dry to the point of arid, and the humour comes primarily from how the characters react to these weird situations. Just like the original film, they play it straight, no need to goof, gurn, or drop one-liners.
It’s not the original Ghostbusters in terms of character interaction, which heavily built on the kind of frat boy comedy that SNL was known for in the eighties. It was a fun supernatural romp that didn’t have to hit home with a wholesome message or make an emotional connection to the audience. Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters has a purpose. The spooks and spectres are there, the busting action is all present and correct, but what this movie is really about is healing a broken family. Callie has abandonment issues to reconcile with her late father, and Phoebe has to find her place in this world, an oddball outsider with a passion for science, and learning just how much of this is inherited from her late grandfather gives her the focus she needs.
Then there is the nostalgia, which hits all the right notes. I’ve already mentioned the film’s music, which leans heavily on the original film. Right from the beginning, nostalgia buttons are being pushed subliminally. There’s a sense of rediscovery to the film, with the conceit that the original Ghostbusters were just too good at their jobs; they busted themselves out of business, and the memory of those supernatural incidents quickly faded from memory, to the point that they’re little more than a conspiracy theory. No one believes in ghosts anymore, certainly not the scientific minded Phoebe, so her first encounter with the supernatural is subtle, and the more she learns about her grandfather, the more she discovers about the science behind ghostbusting. We’re along for the ride as she encounters her first PKE meter, her first trap, her first proton pack. Jason Reitman has the habit of denying satisfaction which makes it all the sweeter when it does arrive. When Trevor goes exploring in a shed, he’s about to uncover an iconic vehicle, which is just when the lights go out.
The end result was that I was cheering when the first ghost was trapped. I was shouting a catchphrase at the screen when it became obvious that a character was going to say it. The story is a direct sequel to the original film, so plot elements, characters and back-story, as well as the spectral antagonists will be familiar. There are also plenty of cameos in the film linking it to the original, and it all works; none of it feels forced or out of place, not even a CGI cameo at the end which done less sympathetically could have been in poor taste. The only moment that gave me pause came towards the end of the film, where events actually started to mirror the first film. But I just made the choice to go with the flow, and take it as the love letter to the original Ghostbusters that it is.
Ghostbusters Afterlife was a delight. It’s got enough nostalgia to satisfy any fan of the original film, but does enough that is new to make it stand alone as a film just as strongly. It also has heart, and an emotional depth which is new to the franchise, but given the story couldn’t be more appropriate. It looks fantastic on this Blu-ray and comes with a nice, but brief selection of extra features. And it didn’t get a single Oscar nomination. Typical!