Review Date: October 25, 2007
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/9/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
The 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?
Firmly 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?
More 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.
Dianne 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?
Like 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.
At 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.
No 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.
Yet, 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.
Tobe 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.
This 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.
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.
The 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.
Considering 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).
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
, so who says joint direction is such a bad thing?
Movie - B-
Image Quality - A
Sound - A
Supplements - C
- Running time - 1 hour 54 minutes
- 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
- "They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists Revealed" documentary