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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Back in 1982, I entered the Cinerama theater on Broadway in NYC to see "Poltergeist"
in 70mm with some reservations. Could a PG rated horror film deliver the goods? Beginning
in 1973, the genre had become quite explicit in it's level of gore and graphic on screen violence
starting with "The Exorcist" and continuing with "Alien" (1979) and "The Thing" (1982). I was
a fan of these type of grisly images but they could only be done in R rated movies.
In addition I was making my own first feature film, "Splatter University" that year and planned
on utilizing these type of special effects

Like all horror buffs I recognized the name of the director, Tobe Hooper who had made
the cult film "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in 1974. He had shot it in 16mm and blown
it up to 35mm exactly as I was doing on my film and of course it was a hit so Hooper
was an inspiration for me.

However, the writer and producer was Steven Spielberg. I was also a fan of his and "Jaws"
was my favorite adventure thriller. I had seen it five times on it's original release. However,
it wasn't particularly graphic and Spielberg movies tended to be very mainstream, lacking the
edge of cruder horror flicks like the Hooper picture and Romero's living dead series.

Well I was surprised how scary and effective "Poltergeist" was in 70mm. The film was structured
cleverly with two climaxes and elaborate George Lucas special effects. Even with the absence
of graphic gore, the movie had an eerie atmosphere and utilized weird strobe lighting
combined with noisey sound effects in six channel stereo to shock the viewer.

So I left the theater satisfied but then thought about the movie a bit more and discovered not
much actually happened. It was the flashy visuals and audio that carried the story. Nothing
inherantly wrong in that although it didn't have the lingering impact of the far more disturbing
Chainsaw film.

Craig Nelson is a real estate developer who accidently builds a housing development on top
of a graveyard which angers the ghosts of the people buried there. His daughter played
by Heather O'Rourke (a very creepy looking child who tragically died young) is kidnapped
and brought into another dimension through the TV set which was a clever idea although
it's never really explained. So the family is haunted by Poltergeists which are
supposed to be playful ghosts but in reality are trying to kill them with boy eating trees
and corpses drowning them in the swimming pool.

Nelson and wife JoBeth Williams bring in a paranormal team lead by Beatrice Straight to
set up primitive closed circuit television and old 3/4" video recorders. When that does
nothing to get back their daughter they call a midget psychic played by Zelda Rubenstein
to try to drag her back from the other dimension. Now if this was Tobe Hooper produced
movie there would've been some suspense as to whether the child would survive but because
it was an Amblin Entertainment production there was no question she would be saved.

This movie is an entertaining rollercoaster ride along the lines of Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost
Arc". It does deliver the goods although they are more flashy than terrifying. However, if you
have a good home set up, the blu ray will jolt you with it's audio and visual gimmicks.
It's not a good idea to think about the story too closely because it doesn't make much sense
and is pretty far fetched. I was a bit confused where the other dimension was supposed to
be located. In the TV set, in the closet or in the ceiling. Although the ghosts are called Poltergiests
they are more like vengeful zombies. It wasn't plausible for Nelson and Williams to go to a paranormal
team first rather than call the police. And what made them think videotaping the ghosts would help
get their daughter back? That wasn't clear. If they needed a professional psychic, why not call in
Rubenstein first?

Another controversy was who really directed this film. There's no question
that Hooper worked with the actors but since it was Spielberg's story, visual design
and production, it's likely that he was the 'auteur' since it contains so much of
his style from the era with lots of cultural references to his career rather than Hooper's.
Composer Jerry Goldsmith stated that he worked with Spielberg alone on the score which
was effective but imitation John Williams. If you didn't read the credits in advance you
would swear that Williams had done the music tracks. Goldsmith was one of the greatest
composers in film history but I preferred his more innovative atonal scores to "Planet of the
Apes", "The Omen" and "Alien". Spielberg was going for a mainstream horror film rather
than an edgey thriller so the score is more traditional than quirky or off kilter.

Does the film hold up now decades later? In general it does and I enjoyed seeing it again
on blu ray which reminded me of the 70mm print. There were some limited but effective
subwoofer effects as part of the slick and flashy style. The image looks fine although the
nature of the photography didn't generate the ultra fine grain type of visuals that modern
T grain stock does. Parts of the movie were underlit which resulted in some murkiness with
the stock they used back then. Nothing too objectionable but don't expect the ultra sharp
imagery of "Thunderball" or "The Wild Bunch" where you could see the pores of the actor's face.
Here the overall image is softer due to the lighting design.

Some aspects of the film might confuse contemporary viewers. Back in 1982, some TV stations
didn't broadcast for 24 hours and used to play the National Anthem before
signing off and letting the screen air static for a few hours. The cumbersome video
equipment used to record the ghosts will look very strange to modern day audiences
used to palm camcorders. The most rediculous scene has Nelson reading a book about
Ronald Reagan while JoBeth smokes a joint to make a statement about the couple's
conflicting party affiliations. Unless the movie is specifically about politics, it's wise to
leave out that type of stuff since it dates the movie years later and comes off rather silly.
I certainly didn't believe a suburban mom would smoke pot with her kids in the other room.

So I recommend this blu ray if you like non-threatening, mainstream horror films that
are safe for a family to watch. You won't be intellectually challenged or get re-occuring
nightmares like you will with the best horror films but it's a fun flick providing you can suspend
your disbelief.

440 Posts
Nice write up Richard

I’ve been a fan of this film since it came out PAL VHS rental, around early 1983 I think?

I must have watched it three four times panned and scanned in one day. Yeah panned and scanned. I didn’t get to see projected theatrically until mid 1980’s around no that’s not right I think it was early 1990 with double bill at the Cannon cinema Bournemouth screen 2 in Dolby stereo type A. They had Poltergeist and Poltergeist II which I have seen projected theatrically a few years earlier on its release.

I was stunned by the matrix Dolby mix but it’s not the final word in sound presentation as we both know. Still it was better than nothing. Seeing it in scope for the first time was WOW so much more image to look at.

The sound mix for the DVD and no doubt Bluray will be 4.1 the surrounds are monaural since most films produced with the Dolby process on 70mm mag was ether Dolby stereo with baby boom or split-surrounds. There has only been few handful of titles that was ever produced with split-surrounds from 1978 till the format retired early around, 2000?

I brought my first Bluray player this week with one title and I was almost, almost going to buy Poltergeist, now then. I was just like most stuck on what to buy and reading the technical specifications carefully before choosing.

I have Poltergeist on DVD region 2 but will consider it next time around. I ended up buying Terminator 3 Rise of the Machines for £15.00 pounds, which I also have on region 2 DVD.

I noticed on the technical specifications for Poltergeist it stated PCM 5.1 my player and my decoder old that it maybe will support Dolby digital I have very little issues with Terminator 3 with DolbyTrue it seems to work, so I’m not going to knock it.

One other thing I like about Poltergeist and I’m sure you’ve guessed it. Is the Dolby film mix. The Jerry Goldsmith score is wondrous and pleasant at times and then goes into gothic chilling chaos of strings and horns blaring and whooshing around the room as Go into the light there is peace and tranquillity in the light, something like that.

The pulsing pushing of the LFE.1 track slams with hard jolt as it gives you sense of feeling the light has some type of energy pulsating pressure kinder like liquid/water

I think the loudness is bit high on the DVD and I’m hoping I will sound more or less like what Terminator 3 sounded like. More exact sounding smoother tonal quality, oh yes I do like it.

Here’s a thread that I started over on the Lansing Heritage site a few years ago. The very first part starts off with Poltergeist.

There are still occasional 70mm road show runs of Poltergeist

440 Posts
Thank you.

I do miss seeing films in 70mm but that format was phased out with the megaplexes in
the nineties.

Hey Richard how's it going?

Almost, almost it did hang in there with the rival of Dolby SR-D making it more practical in terms of getting six-track into more cinema houses than before where as you know the 70mm was costly package to produce, and maintain the penthouse that holds the magnetic pick-up heads.

Also the house that disappears at the end is rather impressive visual effect.
In the book Industrial Light & Magic there is an illustration diagram that shows how the effect was accomplished, very simple yet it baffled me for years.

The last time I viewed Poltergeist was on Halloween night with a whole cluster of classics from the past and few ones from present day.

As much as I enjoyed seeing and hearing feeling 70mm though the early 1980’s till around late 1990’s with a few handful re-runs of some popular Dolby stereo 70mm I do greatly so miss it.

Some cinemas that still have the dual 35/70mm projectors along with the Dolby processors Dolby CP200 to run all the different sound formats, they just can’t be asked to get some 70mm prints in. They are too wound up with this Dolby digital cinema thingy and 3D of some rather lame looking films.

I hope Bob Harris is doing more restoration on classic 70mm prints to keep them going on for more years to come.

There was screening of Poltergeist in the UK in 70mm a few years back at City Screen York.

There is additional information as to where Poltergeist played in Los Angeles

Poltergeist New York city

440 Posts
I’m almost positive that Poltergeist has the same green smearing issues I’ll have to re-watch it later on in the day for scenes that have this green smearing offender. I guess it would be in some of the optical effects where there is some hot white light and bluish background.

The connection should be obvious it’s blue + white light = green smearing. Check the Too Much Green or you can view your bluray because I’m going to buy it at some point soon.

440 Posts

The reason the video looks edgy is my pc or the Kworld device that’s patched from the Laserdisc/DVD/Bluary player

It’s funny how her mom says oh honey, you're gonna ruin your eyes. This not good for you. Then switches to war film playing that has troop screaming The Wilhelm!

The Wilhelm scream can be heard on countless many popular film titles
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