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After years of hoping and wishing (and practically making a perpetual home for itself near the top of TVShowsOnDVD's list of shows that fans wanted to see on DVD) and a couple of test DVD releases by Sony, TimeLife finally brings fans one of the cartoons of the 80's to DVD in a massive 25-disc set with all the trimmings in THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS - THE COMPLETE COLLECTION. Really, do I need to ask if this was worth the wait?
Finally! That word and words/phrases like it came from countless Ghostbusters fans the moment that it was announced that the series was finally getting the DVD treatment it sorely needed (and deserved). The show was my absolute favorite as a kid, next to TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES and THE TRANSFORMERS. It just goes to show you that in the 80's, cartoons kicked ass.
Bar none, THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS rocked. Head writer and story editor J. Michael Straczynski gave the show a much-welcomed dark tone the first couple of seasons, making for some genuinely spooky Saturday mornings. Couple that with great voice-casting from the likes of Lorenzo Music, Frank Welker, Maurice LaMarche, Laura Summer and Arsenio Hall, the characters came alive and developed far beyond the 1984 film. We even got Janine strapping on the proton pack at times and kicking some ass. You go, girl!
The show was also one of the smartest cartoons I've ever had the pleasure of watching. This is the 80's I'm talking about, where many cartoons served as glorified commercials for kids. Taking a mix of folklore, mythology and pop culture while staying true to the film, the show introduced us to the likes of Samhain, Cthulhu, The Necronomicon and more. I mean, who could forget The Bogeyman? These weren't hokey-looking characters, and they certainly didn't sound like it, either (thank you, Frank Welker). The show even went so far as to do references to the original film, including an entire episode of the Ghostbusters in Hollywood to see the 1984 film!
But like many shows, the proton pack streams eventually started to get crossed. The focus shifted towards Slimer and his adventures, which were more light-hearted and simplistic than the main show. At the same time, the show itself took on a much lighter tone in an attempt to attract younger viewers. Voice actors and the animation style also changed, the Junior Ghostbusters were introduced (bugh) and the characters became more simplistic and one-dimensional. All of this change culminated in Straczynski leaving as head writer, the show's ratings diminishing, and ultimately its cancellation. Fans like myself were left with our VHS tapes and eventually the internet for comfort.
To say that the show helped turn me to the horror genre is one of the understatements of my so-called life. In some ways, the show was ahead for its time, incorporating not only intelligent stories, but also equally strong characters that developed beyond the one-dimensional status of most cartoon characters of the time. Simply put, the show was a masterpiece, and a forerunner for how to do cartoons that catered not only to the younger kids, but the older ones as well.
Video: The 1.33:1 fullscreen transfers are a bit of a surprise, in that they're just okay. While we're talking about a cartoon from the 1980's, I was expecting more of a cleanup job. The image is littered with specs and scratches at times, as well as having a washed-out look in some episodes. But realistically, this show is really meant to be seen on your parent's TV, not your 40-inch HD flatscreen (not that I have one of those).
The biggest surprise about the video comes from Volume 4, where select episodes appear to have problems with timing and sound. Fansites have already picked up on this, with the common explanation that the only masters for those episodes were in PAL format. The result has sluggish audio and video, which is quite noticeable at times. It's nice that the series is finally out on DVD, but I can't help but wonder if time could've been spent on cleaning up some of these issues.
Audio: Like the video, the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo experiences the same problems due to the era in which the show was produced. Dialogue and sound effects are clear and well balanced, but they sound flat, with no real differences in the treble or bass. Still, it retains the charm of the show, which is a good thing, considering some improvement jobs for past DVD releases of certain franchises were anything but (like Warner Bros.' out-of-print TRANSFORMERS boxsets).
An absolute goldmine. The first thing I have to point out is the sweet packaging, which consists of 5 SteelBook cases, the 52-page booklet with episode synopses and the bonus DVD, housed in a specially-constructed firehouse design box with lenticular panels and holograms of the Ghostbusters logo and Slimer. The 5 SteelBook cases house 5 DVDs each (save for Volume 5, which has 4 discs) with specially designed cover art and production sketches on the inside. The bonus DVD (if you ordered direct from TimeLife) comes in a cardboard sleeve. Overall, the set is quite hefty for its size (about six DVD cases stacked together) and looks great.
On selected episodes (88 in all), you have the option of playing Episode Introductions from talent behind the show. Short and a bit on the fluffy side, they're more neat than anything else.
For 21 episodes, you have the option of playing Visual Commentary Tracks featuring producers, writers, artists, voice actors, and other series personnel. With these, the actual show is played in the lower right corner, a slideshow of the episode next to it, and the participants taking up the upper half of the screen. Far more informative than the intros, these are chock full of trivia and info on the show's production. It's too bad that there weren't more filmed, but hey, what's here is solid.
Still with the episodes, you even have the option of watching 24 selected episodes with an Isolated Music and Effects Track, which is welcome for those who want to hear the music used in the show (including the music done by Tahiti). Finally, we also get the Original Series Bumpers (you know, the 'We'll be right back!' things before going to and returning from commercials?) for the episodes that had them.
Still not satisfied? Check out the 5 Featurettes. Spread out over the five volumes, these documentaries cover everything from character and ghost design, the genesis of the show, its animation and more. While they aren't the in-depth types of documentaries that you'd find for some television shows and films, these are still very informative and fun to watch, if only to see the enthusiasm these people have for the show.
Also spread out over the volumes are 9 Image Galleries, which include production art, equipment and character designs, background art design, the firehall headquarters art, and production designs from selected episodes.
If all that wasn't enough, the Bonus DVD included only in the boxset features the 4- minute Promotional Pilot, which looks and sounds surprisingly good given that the source is VHS. Some of the scenes were you'll have seen before in the opening credits, obviously redrawn, but the shots are the same.
Also included in the Bonus DVD are the Alternate Textless Series Credits, which features two versions of the closing credits without text on top of them, so you can actually see what's going on behind the wall of text, the 2008 Comic-Con Teaser Trailer, which was shown at the 2008 Comic-Con (duh) for the DVD set, and a Title Card Slideshow, featuring all 174 title cards for every Ghostbusters and Slimer! episode.
For DVD-ROM content on the Bonus disc, you have Series Bibles for Season One, the Syndicated Series, and Seasons Two/Three mashed together. Again, more information on the characters, though this would be geared towards the writing crew for the show. It's still a neat extra. Finally, spread out over all the volumes and Bonus DVD are Episodic Scripts for 29 RGB & Slimer! episodes, and Storyboards for 15 RGB Episodes and the Promo Pilot.
About the only negative that I have to say about this boxset (other than the video and audio issues) is the price, which runs at $179 before taxes, and the fact that you can only get this from TimeLife. Still, given the sheer amount of stuff included, as well as having taken fan input into consideration, this is pretty much the most awesome thing to arrive at my doorstep this year.
Take one of the most popular cartoons of all time, throw in a whack of supplements and cram it into 25 DVDs, and you pretty much have one of the largest accumulations of awesome in a boxset ever (even with the minor video issues). Hardcore fans (of which there are many) will want this immediately, while casual fans may want to hold out for the less expensive individual volumes coming out in 2009. However, you wouldn't get the cool case, booklet, SteelBook cases and Bonus DVD if you went that route.
So come on, you owe it to your childhood and yourself to grab this set now. Without a doubt, this is the best DVD release of the year, period.