Released in 1955, The Righteous Brothers’s classic tune “Unchained Melody” tells the story of one lover’s unending yearning for another. The music is soft, yet insistent, as the lyrics describe the relentless hunger for contact. By the time Jerry Zucker’s Ghost would release in 1990, “Unchained Melody” would already be a chart-topping song several times over in a variety of countries and yet, with its use in Ghost, the song would become inextricably linked for the rest of cinema history. So great is their connection, so strong the audience’s reaction to Zucker’s supernatural romance, so timeless a story has it become that NBC comedy Community would later lampoon that connection with the creation of a “no Ghosting” rule in Season 1, Episode 19: “Beginner Pottery.” Whether you are among those who can hum that song while picturing Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore working a pottery wheel or among those who’ve never seen it, with the 30th anniversary edition release on the Paramount Presents label, you can take a journey where the line between this world and the next is connected by love anytime you like.
Banker Sam Wheat (Swayze) and his artist girlfriend Molly (Moore) seem like they have it all. They’ve just moved into a new loft they’ve renovated themselves, Sam’s up for a new promotion, and Molly has all the space she needs for her projects. That is, until a mugging leaves Sam in limbo and Molly mourning the life she’ll never have. Except things aren’t what they seem as Sam discovers that the mugger is a hired gun, turning the wayward spirit toward a mission of vengeance for himself and protection for his beloved Molly. Unable to speak to Molly directly, Sam finds help in the form of psychic Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), except the more Oda Mae tries, the less Molly believes. With time ticking and Molly’s life under threat more and more each day, it’s up to Sam to figure out the mystery of his murder before it’s too late.
Usually a genre mash-up of supernatural-thriller-romance would sound like something you might find in the bargain bin at your local supermarket. To accomplish the needs of each genre successfully, the narrative must allow for sincere approaches to each in order to create any kind of cohesion. Ghost is the rare film that not only balances each one with relative ease, but does so in a manner that resonates even 30 years later. It certainly helps that the principle cast — Swayze, Moore, Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn, and Rick Aviles — are more than up to the task, elevating their characters to a point where each one possesses a darkness and light. For a film rooted in the supernatural, specifically the existence of Heaven and Hell, the fact that Bruce Joel Rubin’s (Jacob’s Ladder) script allows for the best and worst of its characters to possess any kind of complexity that might question where one might go is both surprising and important. Take Aviles’s Willy Lopez, the hired gun who is presented as willing to do all kinds of dirty work if he can get paid. Yet, the script allows for a moment when the audience can see where Lopez lives and directly connects his residential area to Oda Mae. Subtextually, it asks the audience to consider if Lopez is any worse than Oda Mae, a woman who, when the audience first meets her, is ripping people off. Perhaps that’s why Lopez’s fate, while absolutely earned, contains a measure of sorrow. For all its darkness, Ghost even allows for lighter moments to off-set it. Whether it’s in the wonderful back-and-forths that occur between Sam and Oda Mae (credit to both the writing of the characters and the performances by Swayze/Goldberg) or in Sam learning how to engage with the world as a spirit, these moments remind the audience that life is a complex entity comprised of a great deal of shades. Perhaps the most important being that it’s ok to laugh when faced with mortality. Of course, Zucker being one of the directors behind Airplane!, finding humor is not something unexpected, it’s just that Ghost finds the humor where it makes sense, where it comes naturally versus a more forced or set-up way. This is especially important as the bulk of Ghost feels like something out of a Shakespearian tale. Rubin comments in the featurette “Ghost Stories: The Making of a Classic” that the film is inspired by an idea born from Hamlet wherein a ghost asks for vengeance; the connection to Shakespeare is made stronger still as Sam and Molly are attacked after leaving a production of Macbeth, a story about a man driven to kill his best friend, the king, in order to take the throne. This aspect is far more in-line with the narrative of Ghost and is even hinted at shortly after Sam and Molly are introduced via a strategically placed visage of a noose.
Presuming, of course, that you’ve come to this article looking for information on the 30th anniversary edition, let’s dig into what’s new and what’s not. First, the disc is a new remaster from a 4K film transfer, which was supervised by Zucker. So while the film itself isn’t brand-new, it certainly looks it. There is a lovely clarity to the presentation, even if it’s very clearly not from a modern production. Additionally, this release includes an interesting six-minute featurette with Zucker discussing the process of making Ghost, along with some factoids about the production. This is all that’s new with the release, as the remaining two featurettes and theatrical trailer were included in prior editions. For collectors, it is worth noting that this edition follows in the new tradition of other Paramount Presents releases in that the slipcover contains a mini version of the theatrical poster and the case itself is clear plastic, allowing for still images to be seen on the inside with the disc. This is the definition of a brand-new package.
Ghost Special Features
- *New* Filmmaker Focus: Director Jerry Zucker on Ghost (6:25)
- Ghost Stories: The Making of a Classic (13:06)
- Alchemy of a Love Scene (6:17)
- Theatrical Trailer
Available on Blu-ray beginning July 21st, 2020.