Each of us has a window of time in our mind that tells us how long is appropriate between films, sequels specifically. Release one too soon and you run the risk of the new film being too heavily compared to the first, but, if you release it too late, you run the risk of it being labeled little more than an attempt to further commodify an already mined piece of art. This is mostly subjective, of course, but one can’t ignore the way that some sequels are received versus others. There was an almost joyful reception to both Bad Boys for Life (2020) and Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020), both taking care to ret-con where necessary to create an energizing experience, whereas films like Tron Legacy (2010) (a film I adore) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) (a film I do not) are largely considered lesser than their predecessors. Things grow ever more complicated when the long-gestating sequel is part of a beloved franchise that’s grown to be part of the global pop culture zeitgeist and internal creative issues have prevented a new tale to be greenlit for decades. Enter Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021), directed by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), co-written by Gil Kenan (A Boy Called Christmas), and meant to be released Summer 2020 but was pushed to November 2021 due to COVID-19. By all accounts, the film shouldn’t work. It relies heavily on nostalgia in terms of its connections to the original 1984 film (characters, relationships, supernatural mythology), includes countless Easter eggs, and contains a lot of moments where it’s basically “Like that thing? Here’s more of it!.” And yet, what Reitman and Kenan developed with the characters created by original Ghostbusters Dan Akyroyd and the late Harold Ramis not only serves as a strong continuation from Ghostbusters II (1989), but as a loving tribute to the series as a whole and Ramis himself. With Afterlife headed to home video, purchasers now need only decide between the solo edition or ponying up for the Ultimate Collection set.
What follows is going to be a typical home release review in which specific aspects of the film will be discussed and examined. Post-synopsis (below) will be a dive into the bonus features before digging into the film proper to help those who (like this reviewer) had to rely on the home release to see Afterlife.
Roughly 32 years since the Ghostbusters prevented Vigo the Carpathian’s (Wilhelm von Homburg) return to the mortal plane, the once-heroic busters are disbanded. What caused it is largely unknown, but it began when Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) left New York City for Summerville, Oklahoma, leaving behind his friends and his daughter without an explanation. That is, until Spengler dies and his adult daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) and grandchildren Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) arrive at his farm in Summerville, only to discover something strange going on. With Callie too wrapped up in her anger about her abandonment to see the signs, it’s up to Phoebe, Trevor, local seismologist Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), and sheriff’s daughter Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) to uncover the truth before an old threat arises.
There are two main options to choose from: the Afterlife solo release or the Ultimate Collection release. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment sent a Blu-ray of Afterlife for review, so we can’t comment on the Ultimate Collection beyond the press release. The short version: You get 4K UHD and Blu-ray editions of Ghostbusters ’84, ’89, and Afterlife, as well as two discs containing previously released and brand-new bonus materials. This includes TV broadcast editions of ’84 and ’89, auditions, new deleted scenes, new commentary tracks, and more. For those who enjoyed the 2016 Paul Feig-directed Ghostbusters, it is included only as a digital copy. In terms of differences for Afterlife, “Jason’s Sneak Peek from Set” is included on the second special features disc and is not included at all with the Afterlife solo release. Frankly, as someone who already owns the first two films on 4K UHD, I feel like I have everything I need. However, if you are a completionist-type of collector and/or you really want the ghost trap-styled packaging, it may be the way to go. Be advised that the Ultimate Collection runs about $99.99 pre-tax.
Going the solo-release route, the bulk of the bonus features are included on all formats, except DVD. There are a total of seven featurettes ranging from the almost 20-minute “Summoning the Spirit: Making Ghostbusters: Afterlife” to the nearly four-minute “A Look Ahead” and one deleted scene, totaling roughly an hour’s worth of material. For audiences who’ve been fans since the ’84 release, the bonus features are a cornucopia of delicious behind the scenes nuggets. For instance, in “Bringing Ecto-1 Back to Life” we learn that there were two drivable versions of the Ecto-1 used in the film, with one of them being the original Ecto-1A from the ’89 release. With so many details backed into the production and art design of the film, it’s easy to miss a reference here and there. Thanks to “We Got One! Easter Eggs Revealed,” you’ll get clued in on some of the in-your-face references that may have gotten lost amid the newness of it all. Some are references to characters (the name Shandor sound familiar?) important to the plot of prior films and Afterlife, while others are small references to lines or character beats (perfectly stacked books and a Nestle Crunch wrapper); things which convey the lived-in nature of this world audiences have revisited for more than three decades. There’s a deeper dive into the new gadgets in the film (crafted by Egon) in the featurette “The Gearhead’s Guide to Ghostbusters Gadgets,” as well as a brief look at how they accomplished some of the special effects (practical and VFX) in “Special Effects: The Ghosts of Afterlife.” Whatever one thinks of the film itself, that Reitman sought to use as much of what made the original films special as a baseline for Afterlife is more than admirable. It’s a clear demonstration of not only his affection for the films, but his awareness of how audiences view these films, too. This means relying on practical effects as much as possible and, where one needs to use VFX, sometimes dipping into the original negative of the ’84 film to ensure the look is identical. The “Summoning the Spirit” featurette really takes a deep-dive into this process, as well as other aspects of Afterlife, so if you loved the film and/or just have a curiosity for filmmaking, make this your first stop. When making your home release selection, be advised that the DVD release only includes “Summoning the Spirit: Making Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”
If you’re in the mood to get emotional, your last two stops with the bonus features are the dual featurettes “Ghostbusters: A Look Back” and “A Look Ahead” in which original Ghostbusters Akyroyd, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson sit with Ivan Reitman to discuss the legacy of Ghostbusters and where it’s going to go next. Don’t worry, though, the featurettes aren’t a boys’ club, as we hear from Ghostbusters veterans Sigourney Weaver (Dana Barrett) and Annie Potts (Janine Melnitz), as well as the actors of Afterlife. Granted, all bonus features are promotional materials meant to tap into the love audiences have for the property, but there’s something innately emotional about watching these actors, especially the original cast members, talking about the franchise and Afterlife. Considering how long it took the creatives and cast to agree on a story worth telling, I found the usual love-fest for the project to be far more genuine than normal.
One major FYI: the Blu-ray slipcover states that it includes a Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy. Once removed, the case liner only says Blu-ray and digital. Inside the case was a DVD copy as well, but this is good to know as the Blu-ray without the slip implies otherwise.
So let’s talk Afterlife, which means your spoiler warning is officially in effect.
I found the entire film to be emotionally satisfying as a way to close loops I never really considered and as a means of finding a new way to pass the torch. I also see where some found Afterlife to be drenched in nostalgia and lacking in its own voice. Maybe it’s because I watched the three prior live-action Ghostbusters films ahead of Afterlife, but it seemed to me that Jason didn’t lean on nostalgia to create his film so much as kept things consistent across the films. The score from Rob Simonsen (Fast Color) contains obviously lifted riffs from Elmer Bernstein’s, which makes sense as several of those same beats were used by Randy Edelman in the ’89 score. It may feel like nostalgia after three decades, but it’s actually maintaining auditory continuity. It’s mentioned in the bonus features that Jason even staged a few shots like an echo from ’84, a decision made purposefully so that it would convey the same feeling. If it were any other director, it would feel like cribbing an artist’s work (example: the critical reaction of Todd Phillips’s Joker to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver), except that (a) Jason literally took part in the filming of both ’84 and ’89, (b) he was on set for the shooting of the films, and (c) original director Ivan was on-set during shooting as producer. It’s not uncommon for a child to have a similar artistic style as a parent, but it becomes even more likely when said parent is involved in production. This isn’t to say that Ivan had creative leadership on the film, Jason clearly does, it’s that it seems unfair to slight the film for being similar to the previous two films when Jason’s got this in his blood. That and the fact that sequels sharing a distinct visual and auditory style just goes hand-in-hand with the connective tissue that makes them great.
If I were to find fault with the film, it’s the inclusion of the Mini-Stay Puft creatures that are mostly involved for the sake of including the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man and to sell toys like Funkos. It’s not an issue for me, as a long-time fan, that the script ignores the 2009 video game (considered a cannon sequel at the time of release), but it does involve revisiting a similar thread of old favorites that just seem easier for audiences to go along with rather than introducing something new. Even the structure of the film follows the narrative style of the prior films: open on a ghostly event, introduce characters in their current situation, research, second ghost engagement involving proton packs, trouble with the law, final showdown, abrupt end. But again, these films had a rhythm to them that demonstrated the Ghostbusters worked best when they were underdogs. Bringing in Egon’s grandkids as the heroes not only starts the passing of the torch process, but makes them the outsiders we root for, as well as fitting into the more traditional “learning family secrets” trope that often befalls an adolescent-led story. While some might gripe that Egon wouldn’t just run off, I found it fascinating as a character choice to explain why Egon was on his own and his grandkids had no clue who he was. Since the script avoids any mention of Callie’s mom, we don’t know if she knew why Egon left. Some audiences might think it’s out of character for the Ghostbusters to lose contact like this, yet the script very loosely borrows from the real rift that formed between Ramis and Murray post-Ghostbusters II, which prevented any follow-up from happening. Friendships, even ones solidified by saving the world twice, can fall out; not even the Ghostbusters are impervious. In this way, having Egon’s formless ghost participate in guiding his family to stop the coming return of Gozer *and* having the spirit appear to help Phoebe and the retired Ghostbusters to defeat Gozer for good is poetic in a multitude of ways. I won’t argue how it could seem like a nostalgic manipulation of the worst kind from a certain perspective, yet it’s also quite a sweet and loving tribute to a linchpin character and the actor who portrayed him.
It may be late in the game for this type of declaration, but I always had a fondness for movie soundtracks. I loved the collection of tunes, often of different genres, that were collected and one of my favorite cassettes was Ghostbusters II. It remains a highlight soundtrack to revisit (now on CD and ripped to my iPod). I mention this because my love and appreciation for the Ghostbusters series goes back as far as I can remember. I’ve always enjoyed the second more than the first (less scary to me, more fun), but there’s no denying the obvious genius present in both films. Not everything in them translates well to the modern era, but they are, top to bottom, two of the best films of their time. To their credit, Jason and Kenan have crafted a tale that beautifully wraps up the story of four New Yorkers coming together to do good (and maybe make some cash in the process) through science. It also sets up what could possibly come next, not in terms of what force is on the horizon, but who will serve as the vanguard to protect us. In the words of Murray’s Peter Venkman, “…I think what I’m saying, is that sometimes, shit happens, someone has to deal with it, and who ya gonna call?” Phoebe, Trevor, and Lucky are ready to answer the call. They are ready to believe you.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital Special Features
- Summoning the Spirit: Making Ghostbusters: Afterlife (19:50)
- The Gearhead’s Guide to Ghostbusters Gadgets (6:13)
- Special Effects: The Ghosts of Afterlife (6:29)
- Bringing Ecto-1 Back to Life (4:50)
- We Got One! Easter Eggs Revealed (7:49)
- Ghostbusters: A Look Back (10:38)
- A Look Ahead (3:45)
- Deleted Scene: Is It Ever Too Late? (1:24)
Ghostbusters: Afterlife DVD Special Features
- Summoning the Spirit: Making Ghostbusters: Afterlife (19:50)
Available on digital January 4th, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD February 1st, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Ghostbusters website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.