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Ghost World

review by Eric Dahl and Andres J.

 

 

Rating: R

Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas, Steve Buscemi

Written by: Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff
Based on the comic book by: Daniel Clowes

Directed by: Terry Zwigoff

 

Studio: MGM

Retail Price: $26.98

Features: Deleted and Alternate Scenes, "Making of 'Ghost World'" Featurette, Gumnaam Music Video "Jaan Pehechaan Ho", Theatrical Trailer, Promotional DVD Spots

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (16 Scenes)

Released: February 5th, 2002

 

 

Editor's Note: Hey everyone... here at DVDlaunch we're trying out something different and more experimental. I'm hoping this "trial" will be a success and more will be done in the future. Anyhow, it doesn't have a name (DVDlaunch Viewpoints sounds good though) but the idea for this medium section is that we have two different medium reviews on the movie itself. Granted, both are 5/5 reviews, but each leave strong but some different impressions on each reviewer. For "Ghost World," here's Eric Dahl and Andres J. First up is Eric:

After having watched this film for the third time in as many days, I can now safely say something that I had been thinking each and every time I viewed it. "Ghost World" is amazing. This sophomore effort from director Terry Zwigoff (the man who helmed the critically adored documentary "Crumb", about the life and times of cartoonist R. Crumb) tells the story of two teenage girls named Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson). These are the two social outcast / best friends that everybody remembers from high school. I'm still there and to be completely honest, I know many people who have elements of Enid and Rebecca in them. Upon graduating, the duo begin to plan and map out the remainder of their lives. The only problem is that Rebecca is getting tired of the "outcast" lifestyle and begins the painful separation from her life-long best friend who is intent on keeping her place in the world. Enter Seymour, played by one of my favorite actors, Steve Buscemi, in probably the best role I have ever seen him play. Seymour is an "outcast" just like Enid and Rebecca, except for the fact that he is twenty years older than both of them. A mousy, mostly passive 78 record collector, he has let life pass him by while immersing himself into his hobby so much that he has become anti-social. This is just perfect for Enid, who immidiately takes a liking to Seymour and tries to hook him up with a woman that he might possibly relate to. And that is just barely scratching the surface of this wonderful film.

At first view of the film's cover, one might think this to be just another one of Hollywood's run-of-the-mill teenage films with insipid dialogue, chiched characters, and the latest Top-40 song thrown in to sell soundtrack CDs. Not here. The dialogue is witty, and in Enid's case, 90% wonderfully dripping with sarcasm. This is due to the fantastic script by Daniel Clowes (who wrote the comic book that this film was based from) and Zwigoff, which, although nominated, did not win the Oscar. The characters, with maybe the possible exception of Rebecca, are well fleshed out so that we believe that these are actual people and not just actors playing a role. On that note, every single person hits their character with such precision that I was just left aghast. Thora Birch's Enid shows that, man, this girl can act. Compared to her role as Jane Burnham in 1999's "American Beauty", it's hard to believe that both roles were performed by the same girl. As for the soundtrack, it is said that director Zwigoff is as much of a 78 fanatic in real life as his character Seymour is in the film, and the music in the film reflects this. While mostly composed of blues and jazz from the '20s and '30s, he does throw in the occasional curveball with the go-go '60s rock of the opening track "Jaan Pehechaan Ho", a number from a Bollywood musical titled "Gumnaam". Enid is shown dancing to this during the opening credits, in just another great example of just how quirky this girl really is.

While shown in only limited release during it's theatrical run last year, "Ghost World" deserved a much, much larger audience. True, while the film is very offbeat, which, in my experience anyway, does tend to turn some viewers off, I think it would have found its key audience somehow. Now on video and DVD, more and more people are discovering just how good this film really is. In my eye, it's very refreshing to find a film about teenagers that doesn't treat them like Sarah Michelle Gellar / Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie cliches, but as real, living people with insecurities and oddball idiosyncrasies. Even the ending to this film, which I will not reveal here, is a beautiful counter to its saccharine-soaked "She's All That"-esque counterparts. It is ripe with metaphor and depth, and while bittersweet, is more akin to real life than any other teenage film that I think I have ever seen. But to call this merely a "teenage film" would be to pigeonhole something that shouldn't be as such. I have heard it described as a "The Catcher in the Rye" for a new generation. As a fan of the work of J.D. Salinger, I can say that the reason that book captured the minds of teenagers upon its release was that every living teenager could relate to the main character. He wasn't high and mighty or popular or even well liked. Hell, he was even a lying hypocrite who was, unbeknownst to him, exactly the kind of person he claimed to hate so much. Such was the irony of the novel. But even though he was a liar and a hard person to like, we all could feel his pain as he wandered through a world that was full of "phonies" who weren't interested in true, human emotion, but were on a never-ending quest to try and sell us things. This is exactly what the main character in this film, Enid, is going through, and her realization that the world sees her not as an individual, but merely as a demographic to market to is heartbreaking. I can't say much more about this film except to recommend that you go and see it. It is truly one of the best films I have ever seen.

Andres' review:

Most successful comedic films are amusing because they present entertaining situations, ideas, or conversations. Usually, the comedic occurrences in these films are off the wall and outside the norm, which is why they make us laugh. "Ghost World" is a different kind of funny. It is moving, yet provides many laughs by poking fun at people and situations that are often easily recognizable from real life. It amuses the viewer, yet makes one ponder absurdities in real life. In other words, it's funny because it's true.

"Ghost World" is a truly unique independent film based upon the underground comic book by Daniel Clowes, who co-wrote the movie's screenplay with director Terry Zwigoff. Before watching the movie, I had read the source material, and had come away very impressed. The comic told a story as funny as it was touching It successfully portrayed teen life with an authenticity that caused numerous critics to praise it, and even drew many comparisons with J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye." So with high expectations I watched this movie, and I am happy to report that it captures the feeling of its source material and does it justice. It is also an excellent work in its own right, and a significantly different story that is truly one of the best movies of last year.

"Ghost World" follows two protagonists, Enid and Rebecca, who have just graduated from high school. While their classmates prepare for college, the two friends have made other plans, hoping to eventually move into an apartment together and find jobs. Until then, they enjoy studying and sometimes tormenting other people. During one prank, they respond to a personal ad in the newspaper and leave a message on an answering machine in which they pretend to be a sincere single woman and set up a false meeting at the local diner. They go there to watch him from a distance, and he seems rather pathetic. After the middle aged dweeb leaves the diner after waiting for a while and gets into an argument with another driver on the way out of the parking lot, the girls follow him to a garage sale where Enid has a short conversation with him. Afterwards, Enid reveals that she thinks the man, Seymour, is actually "kind of cool." She calls him "the opposite of everything I hate" and the two of them become friends. As the story progresses, Enid struggles with events that threaten her friendship with Rebecca as well her relationship with Seymour. Most importantly, though, she deals with the difficulty of finding a path when she is not sure what she really wants from life.

It's a shame that the description on the back of the box makes "Ghost World" sound like one of those "teen movies" because it's not, and so many things about it are quite original. It touches upon the issues of being an outsider and finding one's self in a way that is funny and sad at the same time. It dares to suggest that some "outsiders" are quite normal and that often the majority, as well as society, is what's all wrong. This is evident throughout the film.

As the movie begins to the tune of "Guunam penchaan ho" we know we're in for something a little different. The graduation ceremony near the beginning is hilarious all the more because it mirrors real life. The tone of a real high school ceremony is captured perfectly, and said ceremony's absurdities are exposed as the popular "alcoholic crack head" gives an anti drug speech. The administration tries to organize something "cool" with a god-awful "Graduation Rap," and dialogue is nearly indistinguishable from something you might hear walking down the hall of your local high school, as it was in the comic. By the time the credits roll, you'll probably be in deep thought about what you've just seen.

This film does justice to the comic book very nicely. At this point, I'd like to say a few little things about the two versions of this tale, so if you haven't read the source material, this may be "spoilerish," and this will really only benefit comic fans. That said, I'm gonna say some stuff. As previously stated, I was quite happy with the way the film turned out. There were quite a few big changes, but I think they work well. The Seymour character truly adds a lot, turning this inot an emotional story. This character is in the movie only, and I think he is intregal to this great story. The trade off is that the film focuses much less on Rebecca than the comic did. It has always been Enid's story for the most part, but Rebecca is an interesting memorable character in her own right. I would have liked to see more of her, maybe more closure to her story, but I suppose that trading this for Seymour is worth it. Another subplot in the film is Enid's "found art," an old, politically incorrect image she brings to art class which seems quite racist. The issues raised in this situation are interesting, and comic fans will recognize the many similarities between this subplot and a situation from the Daniel Clowes's "Gynecology" story, a comic which he published in Eightball magazine. It's very cool in the same way as copies of some Daniel Clowes comics popping up on the shelf of a store in the film. Overall, though, I think "Ghost World" tops "Superman" and "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" to take the title of best comic book adaptation ever. But forgive my rambling. The comic is most definetely not required to enjoy this. Everyone should see this masterpiece. This film spoke to me in a way that no other movie has. Props to Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff for bringing us a unique work of art.

 

"Ghost World" is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for those with 16:9 widescreen televisions. The film, while utilizing an extremely diverse color palate, never seems oversaturated, everything is crisp and clean, and I didn't notice one instance of pixellation or artifacting. The black level is spot-on and the transfer has an amazing sense of depth to it. Overall, this is a pristine transfer.

 

The film is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix which, though it won't press your audio capabilities to the limits, is excellent for what it is. The film is mostly dialogue driven and stays mostly in the center. The exceptions are the music that we hear from Seymour's 78 collection and the hauntingly beautiful piano score from David Kitay, which envelope the listener from the front left and rights as well as the surround speakers. Other than that, the surrounds are just used for city-life ambience. You won't be using this to demo your new sound system, but it fits the film perfectly.

 

The extras for "Ghost World" are somewhat sparse, so here goes:

First off, we have an approximately 13-minute-long "Making of 'Ghost World'" featurette which includes interviews with director Terry Zwigoff and other members of the cast and crew. While most of this is your typical studio-produced promotional fluff, there are a few redeeming moments where we hear from the original author of the graphic novel (read: comic book) and see how images from his book translated to the screen almost identically.

Second, we have several short deleted and/or extended scenes. Most of these are extremely short, and one can see why they were cut, as they have pretty much absolutely nothing to do with progressing the plot of the film. However, the two scenes extending the mop/nunchucks fight between the owner of the Sidewinder and the hilarious mullet-clad Doug are hysterical and, in my opinion, should have been left in the film. Alas, they weren't, so their presence here is most welcome.

Third, a so called "Music Video", but more accurately is a clip from the Indian film "Gumnaam" which is showcased in "Ghost World's" opening credits, in which a go-go band with 1960's Batman and Robin-ish blindfolds sing their film's opening number "Jaan Pehechaan Ho". As we only see a fraction of it in "Ghost World", it's inclusion here in it's entirety is a great extra.

Fourth, there are promotional spots for "Ghost World", and the now-released MGM DVDs for "The Terminator: Special Edition", "The Princess Bride: Special Edition", "Ghost World", and also for the "Ghost World" soundtrack.

 

Even with the apparent lack of extras, this is one DVD that definitely deserves a purchase, just for the quality of the film. Hopefully, someday, MGM may put together a special edition with a commentary from Zwigoff and Clowes, and maybe perhaps an extended documentary about the making of the film. On that day, I will most definitely rebuy the film. But until then, I'm quite content with what I have.