Paramount // 1990 // 126 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Packard (Retired) // March 13th, 2007
Before Sam was murdered he told Molly he'd love and protect her forever.
The film that probably generated the sale of a bazillion cassingles of The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" and boosted enrollment in pottery-making classes everywhere has manifested into a spiffy "Special Collector's Edition" DVD. With an Academy Award-winning screenplay by writer Bruce Joel Rubin (Jacob's Ladder, My Life, Deep Impact), great direction by Jerry Zucker (Airplane!, The Naked Gun), and a bevy of solid acting performances, Ghost continues to prove itself a true modern classic nearly twenty years after theater audiences first turned on the waterworks and honked wet noses into wadded tissues.
Life is good for lovers Sam (Patrick Swayze) and Molly (Demi Moore), the two of whom share an apartment they've renovated in the Big Apple. Sam's a successful young Wall Street banker whose only fault seems to be his inability to say "I love you, too" whenever Molly professes her love to him. (Sam responds with his trademark "Ditto" instead.) Molly is an artist who does the pottery thing, and Sam has no issues getting down and dirty with his lady and a load of goopy, wet clay. Unfortunately, "happy ever after" isn't in the cards for this couple when a seedy mugger (the late Rick Aviles) transforms Sam into the titular spirit.
Despite his best efforts, Sam can't make contact with his beloved, and Molly withdraws into herself as she struggles with her grief. Carl (Tony Goldwyn), the couple's mutual friend and Sam's co-worker, rushes to a grieving Molly's side as Sam soon learns the horrifying truth behind the attack that took his life. With Molly in increasing danger, a frustrated Sam eventually seeks the help of Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), a shady "psychic" who soon realizes she actually has the family gift for chatting with the dearly departed. With a grumpy Oda Mae in tow, an unwavering Sam races to save Molly from joining him six feet under.
The main reason Ghost works is that it's a great story. Despite the title, the film is first and foremost a love story, but it's one that smartly mixes in other genres to create something unique. The romance works because the film devotes the perfect amount of time to Sam and Molly, giving us a brief yet ample opportunity to get to know them both as characters and a couple: Spend less time on them, and we can't invest emotionally in Sam's death and Molly's grief. Spend more time, and Sam's flesh-and-blood existence eats into his ghostly counterpart's screen time, important because Sam needs some time to learn about and adapt to his new existence as an earthbound spook. Perhaps most important is that Swayze and Moore have the critical natural chemistry that allows them to click as a couple. And many will swoon simply because a man has turned down his one-way ticket into The Light to remain with his beloved. (If you find that particularly moving, you may want to check out the highly-inferior What Dreams May Come, in which a man chooses eternal hell to be with his wife.)
Going beyond the romance angle, there's a current of suspense that kicks in shortly after Sam's demise. Without giving too much away, there's a twist that horrifies Sam and suddenly puts Molly's life in peril. It's at this point that Ghost largely becomes a thriller with supernatural elements. There are several sequences where Sam hasn't figured out how to interact with the physical world, and the tenseness slowly begins to build due to his inability to help Molly. Even when Sam finally achieves the spiritual equivalent of Jedi status, the dangers to his lady's life have only increased.
It's during the beginning of this new-found suspense that the film deftly sprinkles moments of comedy relief into the mix thanks to Whoopi Goldberg's portrayal of Oda Mae, a role that earned her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. As learned in the extras, it's a role that Goldberg was lucky to get, and I simply can't imagine anyone else in this role. The comedy is a natural one generated by the character's own journey from a selfish fraud with a rap sheet to an empathic soul who begins to accept her own abilities, and Goldberg taps into it with perfection. If you don't crack a smile when Oda Mae closes an account at a bank, you may want to check your pulse.
And yes, of course, Ghost has ghosts. Now, I admit that one could claim I have a bit of bias toward the film due to my own personal interests in the genre (I've done investigations of alleged paranormal activity as a side hobby), but that's not why I've loved this film since I saw it in a jammed theatre full of couples young and old nearly twenty years ago. Call me a sensitive guy, but the relationship between Sam and Molly, coupled with Goldberg's hilarious portrayal of Oda Mae, is what does it for me.
The taut script is brought to life and afterlife by a slew of other notable acting performances besides Goldberg's. I've always felt Swayze's performance in Ghost was underrated. From his horrified reactions at learning of his own death and, later, the real story behind it, to his "growth" as a ghost and unyielding desire to protect Molly, Swayze delivers. Despite his more rugged, physical roles prior to Ghost, he's completely believable as a white collar nine-to-fiver. Oh, he still loses his shirt for the ladies in several scenes (the film begins with a dusty, shirtless Sam and Carl as they hammer at walls in the budding apartment), but his role is much more dramatic than it was in fare like Road House, Next of Kin, or Dirty Dancing.
I also love character actor extraordinaire Vincent Schiavelli's brief take as a subway-bound specter who finally assists a persistent Sam in learning how to manipulate objects in the physical world. He doesn't have a lot of screen time, but he takes what he does have and creates a truly mysterious character with a dangerous mixture of malevolence and madness just under his skin.
But the performance that ranks as my personal favorite is Tony Goldwyn's portrayal of Carl. Goldwyn really nails it as Carl's yuppie life begins to crumble around him. From the shaky voice and mannerisms to the wild, anxiety-filled eyes, Goldwyn manages to bring a bit of sympathy to such a despicable character. I almost feel a twinge of pity for Carl's descent into delirium when the proverbial shit hits the fan. You know you're having a bad day when you've just bilked drug dealers out of $4 million and an unseen entity is beating the crap out of you, and Goldwyn makes us feel every twitchy, sweaty moment of it.
Aside from the acting, Maurice Jarre turns in a wonderful score that incorporates its own original elements with the weepy notes of The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." At times menacing, other times emotional, it's a dead-on (no pun intended) score that lifts Ghost to another level.
Most of the extras presented on this DVD are actually worthwhile, something I find rare in so many DVDs these days. Both entertaining and informative, they go beyond the standard commentary track (included here with Rubin and Zucker) in providing glimpses into the genesis and making of the film through interviews with Rubin, Zucker, and the cast (although it should be mentioned that while most of the cast and crew's input seems to be from recent times, Moore's involvement is cut and pasted from a 1990 interview). "Ghost Stories: The Making of a Classic" kicks off the fun as Rubin recalls his excitement at hearing of a director being assigned to his screenplay countered by his initial shock of slapstick comedy directory Zucker as the choice. The cast also weighs in with their thoughts on the characters they portrayed. "Inside the Paranormal" dishes up a collection of actual psychic mediums (including the better-known James Van Praagh) discussing the film, favorite moments, and scenes they feel accurately portray aspects of what it's like to be someone who can communicate with The Other Side. "Alchemy of a Love Scene" will be adored by anyone who loves Ghost's signature lovemaking scene featuring Swayze, Moore, and sensuous, phallic clay. All of these featurettes include occasional behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of the movie as well.
Aside from the original theatrical trailer and a decent photo gallery (check out the fun snapshot of Swayze screaming at the cat), "Cinema's Great Romances" falls a bit flat in that it has little to do with Ghost until the end. Profiling the American Film Institute's (AFI) "100 Years...100 Passions" list of the greatest cinematic love stories of all time, this extra serves up a brief look and commentary on a dozen flicks that made the top 100. (For the record, Ghost claims the 19th spot on the list.)
Technically, there are no show-stoppers here, but Ghost won't be the DVD you choose to showcase your home theater's capabilities. While the video is clean and free of any dirt or debris (save for the theatrical trailer which is crammed with it), edge enhancement is incredibly noticeable. I'll be the first to admit I'm not a technical perfectionist, but I didn't have to pause the film and zoom in on the picture to see the layer of light that traces many of the actors' faces throughout the movie. The sound is your standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that offers almost zilch in the way of rear speaker use; then again, this really isn't the type of film that requires it.
Don't call it a "chick flick." Ghost is a great yarn incorporating several genres, brought to life (or afterlife?) by several notable performances. It has earned the right to be called a modern classic, and it deserves a place in your DVD library. Absolutely recommended.
Did someone say "not guilty?" Ditto!
Review content copyright © 2007 David Packard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary by Director Jerry Zucker and Writer Bruce Joel Rubin
* Ghost Stories: The Making of a Classic
* Inside the Paranormal
* Alchemy of a Love Scene
* Cinema's Great Romances
* Theatrical Trailer
* Photo Gallery