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Old 10-25-2007, 08:45 PM
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Default Poltergeist: 25th Anniversary Edition





Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: October 25, 2007

Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/9/2007
MSRP: $19.98
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes



inline ImageThe classic whodunit of our time: Was it Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg? Here Poltergeist was one of the biggest hits of the early eighties and yet nobody knew who really did it. In one corner we have Hooper, whose name is still on the credits and whose film is filled with face melting, pot smoking and other vices that would send Spielberg into a shiver. In the other corner we have Spielberg, who wrote and produced it, hired his ace editor and supervised the post-production process. There are rumors that Hooper quit or was fired before filming was even completed. Most of this is hearsay or IMDb trivia though, and the only conclusive evidence is what we have up there on the screen. Warner has done a restored 25th anniversary edition, so let’s go back and answer a question fit for 1982. Who shot PR?


The Story

inline ImageFirmly establishing itself as a piece of Americana, Poltergeist begins to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. The Freelings are asleep, but the television is on, playing the American national anthem. After it finishes, the screen changes to permanent static. White noise, even. Little Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) gets out of her bed in a daze and heads towards the white light of the cathode ray tube. She places her hands on the sides and engages in seeming conversation. Her parents, Dianne (Jobeth Williams) and Steve (Craig T. Nelson) wake up and promptly bring her back to bed. She had to be sleepwalking, but the question still remained…who was she talking to?

inline ImageMore than just a television gone awry, several more paranormal activities happen in the house. The kitchen miraculously rearranges chairs, the outside tree uses its branches as arms to try and grab the kids, and the television talks to Carol Anne once more (to which she famously announces “They’re Heeeeeeeere!”). Things get their worst when Carol Anne is horrifically sucked into the television, where she becomes stuck in a land of ghosts. The Freelings try everything to get her out, but other than the occasional scream, they have all but lost her. Then comes Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), a pint-sized investigator of the paranormal. She decrees the house to be on haunted ground, but will need more information if she’s to free Carol Anne from the grips of the unknown.

inline ImageDianne was always a free thinker, preferring to light up a joint before bed, but even she cannot understand the strange goings-on in this crazy house. It’s a brand new house in the suburbs, the American dream! Yet something terrible lurks within it, ghosts not ready to let go and spirits not ready to forgive. What has happened in this house, and how are they going to get their little Carol Anne back?

inline ImageLike the only other eighties entity that Spielberg wrote, The Goonies, this is yet another childlike attack at Conservative America. We see the dichotomy early on, when Dianne smokes up in her bed while her husband reads a biography of Ronald Reagan. He’s more the staunch, close-minded capitalist, the same one who took a free house in the burbs with no questions asked. He’s a realtor, and in his pursuit for the almighty dollar he served as a pawn in selling America housing on ancient burial ground. In The Goonies, the city kids fight against the suburbanites trying to tear down their neighbourhood to build a golf course. Here, it’s the earth itself that fights back against burbs, but it’s still just the same silly Spielberg rhetoric that plagues the majority of his eighties canon.

inline ImageAt least parents aren’t some cold, faceless entity like they are portrayed in E.T. Nelson and Williams actually offer up natural and likeable performances, most likely because Hooper was willing to exploit their flaws like he usually does in his ongoing infatuation with the American underbelly. So even when Steve’s rich, lying boss gets a good zap from the house in typical Spielberg storybook comeuppance, it doesn’t seem quite as hokey because the family that’s just dealt with the paranormal is one of flaws and not mere politics.

inline ImageNo matter how genuine, or heartfelt Spielberg considers his message about the restoring of good open family values, the film still partially reeks of the stench of his brand of eighties consumerism. Sure, him and George Lucas made movies in the eighties, but they also sold action figures, posters, happy meals and whatever else they could slap Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker or E.T. on to. Here, the caricatured son is a Star Wars fanatic, his room decked out with all the paraphernalia the Force could possibly allow. Less a nod to his longtime collaborator and more a subversive way to milk his child audience, Spielberg’s franchising tactics are mostly reprehensible. Of course they go mostly unnoticed in a film aimed at children, since apparently if something is good natured then it can sell you culture, no problem. The moment a horror film is Rated R though, even if it isn’t trying to feed you products, it’s bound to be subject to some controversy, while these harsher and more influential essays on consumption go entirely overlooked. In this regard, Spielberg’s name should be sole on the director’s chair.

inline ImageYet, there are still definite remnants, poltergeists, even, of Hooper’s hand in this production. It has a darker edge, most notably with a scene where a man sees his face rot off in the Freelings’ bathroom mirror. Is he disgusted with the smiling suburbanite he’s become? That’s probably Spielberg’s message, but Hooper finds a darker way to convey the perils of upper-class America. Likewise, he isn’t afraid to end the film with a slight sense of uncertainty. He ends on a long take, each second questioning the solitude that the main family has apparently been granted. Spielberg, who’d have even the soldier son of War of the Worlds return from the dead to his family, would never have been so bold.

inline ImageTobe Hooper is mostly a hack when allowed to celebrate his freakish impulses. But here, under (surely) strict guidance by Spielberg and the studios, he brings forth a work of considerable interest and polish. Is it the greatest ghost story ever made? Not even close. Look more to John Hough or Robert Wise for that. But for a Spielberg film that doesn’t totally sell out, he does deserve his fair share of praise. It’s rife with consumerism, no doubt, but you get a sense that there were two directors at war here, like a ghosts fighting between life and death. It’s fitting that a film imparted with two dimensions was also the product of two dimensions of thought, as well. There were two directors at play.

Image Quality

inline ImageThis is a big step up from the previous disc. While both are anamorphic and in 2.35:1, this new one has removed all of the dirt and debris from the print, as well as granting it a higher bitrate and completely revamped color correction. Everything about this transfer makes the film look totally contemporary – it looks like it could have been shot yesterday (especially since somehow the cast managed not to date their appearance). The colors are warmer in some scenes, and bluer during the ghost scenes, giving the film a more vibrant color scheme. Blacks look a lot deeper and richer, thanks in part to the added space devoted to the film, which cut down on the artifacting of the previous release. Blown up on a large television, there really are no imperfections with this sharp, clean and colorful transfer. A stellar job.

Sound

Now this is how you do a 5.1 remix! This Dolby Digital track is as omnipresent as the ghosts themselves, coming from all channels and surroundings. When lightning strikes or a spirit flies by, it wraps around the front and back speakers with life-like separation. The bass even gets a good show here, with the thunder and Jerry Goldsmith’s bombastic score getting mileage out of the LFE. I’ve been pretty disappointed with this year’s spate of 5.1 remixes, but this one is a notable exception. Considering the previous release had a stereo only track (which is also included here) this is a big improvement.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageThe iconic trailer is sadly missing on this release, instead replaced by a 30-minute investigation into the paranormal. The two sister featurettes feature virtually nobody from the cast (other than one of the parapsychics on the periphery of the film) and instead detail how real life “Ghost Hunters” search for life in the white noise of technology. Some of their methodologies are interesting, but no matter how they try to legitimize it, it all seems pretty phony to me. I’m not a believer. I do believe in one thing though, and that is that Hanz Holzer has been in more supplements for horror films on DVD than any other non-filmmaker. This ghost author is seriously in everything, and I loved him in those Amityville extras, and he’s hilarious here, looking like an aged gangsta rapper, slinked back in his chair and using his hand like he’s spittin’ rhymes. If you believe in ghosts this whole elaborate extra might entertain you, but otherwise you’ll want to see it for mac daddy Holzer.

inline ImageConsidering the controversy around who actually directed the film, and considering it is a Steven Spielberg vehicle, you’d think they would have focused more on the filmmakers themselves rather than the science of ghosts (like Amityville demanded, since the history was so rich and the filmmakers so shoddy).


Final Thoughts

The scariest thing in Poltergeist is how Steven Spielberg tries to spoon feed consumerism to his child audience with rampant Star Wars paraphernalia in the backgrounds, while at the same time denouncing yuppie shallowness with his preachy script. Hooper manages to just barely keep this nonsense in line, eliciting some real performances and a darker vision of suburbia. Warner Brothers has done great with their restoration of the film, the image and sound a notable improvement over the previous release. The extras, consisting of investigations into real paranormal activities, is less of a hit and far less interesting than the real history of the film itself. Regardless, Poltergeist is pretty much required viewing for any haunted house fan, even if it’s mostly just average. Still, it’s better than Eaten Alive or E.T., so who says joint direction is such a bad thing?

Rating

.
Movie - B-

Image Quality - A

Sound - A

Supplements - C



Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 54 minutes
  • Unrated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English Dolby Surround 2.0
  • French Dolby Surround 2.0
  • Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
  • Portuguese Mono
  • English subtitles
  • French subtitles
  • Spanish subtitles
  • Chinese subtitles
  • Portuguese subtitles

Supplements
  • "They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists Revealed" documentary

Other Pictures

 

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Old 10-26-2007, 04:43 AM
Screamy Bopper
I'm sure the face ripping could've been Spielberg's. Remember this is the guy who made Raiders the year before, and would subsequently make Temple of Doom. In those days, he loved a good gross out (even Jaws has a few gory moments).
 
 
Old 10-26-2007, 03:20 PM
Maniac
I sold the original dvd a while back in anticipation of an eventual double dip. Sounds like this new one is a winner and hopefully the hi-def versions will be stellar as well.
 
 
Old 10-31-2007, 12:30 AM
Remaking My Soul
"another childlike attack at Conservative America" - What the hell does that mean? Is Rhett a supporter of conservative values, or just a hater of Poltergeist?

Anyway, I was told Spielberg put out this ad in some paper saying that Hooper did all the directing himself. Which isn't surprising, since he also directed Salem's Lot. Which was entirely professional and impressive. For a TV movie.

Thank God for this review: if I had known looking in Wal-Mart that the only featurettes on this DVD aren't about the movie... I wouldn't buy it.
 
 
Old 12-02-2013, 11:35 PM
Screamy Bopper
A+, not B- for the movie. Poltergeist deserves nothing less than an A.
__________________
Look, Dr. Lesh, we don't care about the disturbances, the pounding and the flashing, the screaming, the music. We just want you to find our little girl.

Last edited by Steve Freeling; 12-10-2013 at 12:55 AM..
 
 
Old 12-03-2013, 03:35 PM
Moderator
Given your username I trust you are 100% unbiased.
__________________
Can't argue with a confident man.
 
 
Old 12-03-2013, 11:59 PM
Screamy Bopper
I just do different ones with whatever's on my mind. I saw it 8 years ago when I was 7...I had more than enough time to turn off on it. And didn't see it again until just the other day. And it still holds up. And this is after having seen several of the most popular ghost stories, such as Ghostbusters, The Sixth Sense, etc. I love ghosts and haunted houses and I think this is the best of them. No reply necessary. No need to get into a fight over this thing. I already got into it with somebody else on another site, so let's just leave this subject alone. I've already had one fight over it, and that's one too many.
__________________
Look, Dr. Lesh, we don't care about the disturbances, the pounding and the flashing, the screaming, the music. We just want you to find our little girl.

Last edited by Steve Freeling; 12-10-2013 at 12:56 AM..
 
 
Old 12-04-2013, 07:13 PM
Moderator
Hey man, glad to hear you like the movie, life's too short to be talking about bad movies. I like the movie too, so it's really semantics between an A and a B-. It's definitely a film I like to come back to every number of years. I'm also a fan of the third film and all its mirror trickery as well. I think you'll find this site isn't really combative about whether a movie is good or not - we've all got our opinions and the main thing is that we're able to watch these movies and share them.
__________________
Can't argue with a confident man.
 
 
Old 12-04-2013, 09:07 PM
Screamy Bopper
Thanks for understanding. Hey. I own the Blu-ray. How would I go about reviewing it once I've watched it? Is there some kind of rank? The way I saw it the other day was hotel room cable on a 4:3 set. But, It's PG, not Unrated. I have to say I think comparing Poltergeist and E.T. is like comparing apples and oranges, or like comparing Jaws and Raiders. Poltergeist and E.T., in my opinion are both great movies, but two different kinds, except that both are kid's movies, just like Jaws and Raiders are both great movies, but two different kinds. But hey, that's my opinion some may not agree.
__________________
Look, Dr. Lesh, we don't care about the disturbances, the pounding and the flashing, the screaming, the music. We just want you to find our little girl.

Last edited by Steve Freeling; 12-10-2013 at 12:53 AM..
 
 
Old 12-04-2013, 09:18 PM
Screamy Bopper
@Sam Loomis
It was Spielberg's idea. As a kid, Spielberg used to put wet paper towels on his face then tear them creating the illusion that he was ripping his face. It scared his sisters half to death. So he went ahead and wrote that in.
__________________
Look, Dr. Lesh, we don't care about the disturbances, the pounding and the flashing, the screaming, the music. We just want you to find our little girl.
 
 

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