Terry Zwigoff’s first fiction film, adapted from a cult-classic comic by Daniel Clowes, is an idiosyncratic portrait of adolescent alienation that’s at once bleakly comic and wholly endearing. Set during the malaise-filled months following high-school graduation, Ghost World follows the proud misfit Enid (Thora Birch), who confronts an uncertain future amid the cultural wasteland of consumerist suburbia. As her cynicism becomes too much to bear even for her best friend, Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), Enid finds herself drawn to an unlikely kindred spirit: a sad-sack record collector many years her senior (Steve Buscemi). With its parade of oddball characters, quotable, Oscar-nominated script, and eclectic soundtrack of vintage obscurities, Ghost World is one of the twenty-first century’s most fiercely beloved comedies.
Terry Zwigoff’s first fictional feature Ghost World finally comes to Blu-ray, courtesy of the Criterion Collection. The film comes on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation that comes from a new 4K restoration. This restoration was taken from a scan of the original 35mm camera negative.
This looks exceptional. It’s not too old a film so there isn't much of a surprise that it looks good, but I was really taken aback by just how clean and film-like it is. This thing is sharp and crisp, delivering the fine details—including some of the cluttered backgrounds and the fine line patterns in Seymour's (Steve Buscemi) shirts—without breaking a sweat. They're all cleanly rendered without any hint of artifacting, the presentation even delivering the fine film grain with no sign of blocking or noise.
The film's colours are also stunning. They look nicely saturated and balanced, not really leaning warm or cold, and there are some very vivid moments. I was particularly taken by the reds, which look so pure and don't present any noticeable blocking or bleeding around the edges. Greens, like Enid's (Thora Birch) green punk hair at one moment, are impressive as well. We also get some great purples, pinks, oranges, and blues. Black levels are also strong, looking deep and rich without any sign of crushing and delivering excellent shadow detail in some of the darker scenes.
To sum it up this looks shockingly good. The restoration work has thoroughly cleaned this up and other than the film clip that opens this film (which I swear was also cleaned up here in comparison to what is on the MGM DVD) there isn't a blemish to speak of. The release delivers an incredibly filmic image and the wait was worth it.
Criterion presents the film's soundtrack in DTS-HD 5.1 surround, and it offers a decent upgrade over the previous MGM DVD. The track isn’t all that showy and its activity is limited, but the score works its way nicely through the environment and I found background effects from street scenes and gatherings like the art show to be nice. Range is good, overall sound quality is excellent, and it is free of any damage or distortion.
The MGM DVD had a handful of features: a featurette, deleted scenes, a trailer, and a clip from the film Gumnaam. At first glance this edition didn’t look like much of an upgrade but Criterion has put in a nice bit of effort here.
Despite his apparent reservation against doing an audio commentary (though he has now appeared in a few), director Terry Zwigoff participates in this new one recorded this year, and appears along with Ghost World artist/writer Daniel Clowes and producer Lianne Halfon. It’s a rather fascinating and funny track as the participants reveal details about its production. It goes back to Clowes and Zwigoff first meeting when the director showed the artist his documentary Crumb, then they talk at great length about actually trying to get financing for the film (no shock here but it wasn’t easy), and then go over its release, which was rather shaky since a lot of test audiences hated the film. Clowes and Zwigoff also talk about writing the script for the film, pointing out elements taken from the original comic book stories and what was inspired by other elements from the lives of both Clowes and Zwigoff, while also talking about the hiccups that popped up during writing. I’m amazed at the details all three participants recall and I was also amused by a few mental images brought on by the track, specifically the idea of Zwigoff going to see American Beauty with Robert Crumb. (Also, thanks to this track, I learned after all of these years there is a post-credit sequence, which was added as a surprise for Zwigoff during the first screening.)
Criterion also includes a new interview segment called Art as Dialogue featuring Illeana Douglas, Thora Birch, and Scarlett Johansson. Interviewed separately the three sit and chat about their experience making Ghost World and that time period in their careers. Douglas talks in depth about working with Zwigoff in creating her character, basing a lot of the eccentricities on her own experiences and the people she knew in the New York art scene during the 80s, sharing a few amusing stories. All three also talk about getting their respective roles (insanely, as mentioned here and in the commentary, Birch was originally considered for the Rebecca role—in the commentary Zwigoff admits that was a mistake) and developing their characters. They also share their experiences working with Zwigoff, who really allowed them a lot of free reign, even allowing Douglas to make the horrid art film her character shows in class (she laments that budget restrictions didn’t let her go as far as she wanted to). I almost wish they could have been recorded together, and it would have been great if Steve Buscemi could have participated here (or anywhere on this release; he is completely absent) but it’s still a wonderful and engaging feature, running a lengthy 40-minutes.
Like the MGM DVD Criterion also includes a collection of deleted scenes but they actually offer quite a few more here, along with some alternate bits and outtakes. You get a few extended/alternate/deleted moments with Doug, the nun chuck swinging, mullet-haired redneck straight out of a Mike Judge film/show (and I wasn’t surprised to learn from the feature commentary that Judge is the ones that recommended the actor, Dave Sheridan) that were on the DVD. Also from the DVD is a scene where Buscemi is working on selling some of his records to a collector at his “party.” On top of that Criterion also provides a couple of alternate edits to a couple of scenes, including one for the initial “Weird Al” diner sequence. And then there are some outtakes circling around Bruce Glover’s coffee patron. There is also another scene between Brad Renfro’s Josh and Birch’s Enid that came as a bit of a surprise (I won’t spoil). I was simply expecting the same simple selection found on the MGM DVD but that’s not the case; Zwigoff thankfully felt inclined to share more material. Altogether the deleted scenes run under 10-minutes.
One of the more curious things about the MGM DVD (though probably the coolest aspect of that DVD) was the inclusion of the dance number to “Jann Pehechaan Ho” from the film Gumnaam, which is used for the opening of Ghost World. Criterion ports that over to this edition but goes a bit more to town with it. The biggest surprise is that it looks to come from a new scan and is not only presented in high-definition but also in its original aspect ratio of about 1.37:1 (the MGM DVD cropped the scene to 1.85:1 and enhanced it for widescreen televisions). Though it looks to have been newly colour-graded (at least compared to the MGM presentation) it doesn’t look like much restoration has otherwise gone into it, the same splices that are in the old presentation still showing up here.
At any rate, it’s a fun sequence and getting it on its own is still a really thoughtful inclusion, but Criterion still ups it a notch: you also get an alternate audio track presenting an essay written by David Cairns and Stephen C. Horne and narrated by Roshni Dubey. The track goes over how this segment came to be in Ghost World and the reasoning behind why Zwigoff uses it. It also then goes into more detail about the sequence itself, its influences, the performers in it, and even offering a brief bit of insight into this period of Indian cinema. Though getting the sequence on its own again is still great the added alternate track, despite only being 6-minutes long, is terrific and a wonderful, unexpected surprise.
The disc then closes with the original theatrical trailer (you can tell they weren’t entirely sure how to sell the film) and the release then includes a couple of booklets. The first booklet features a rather lengthy essay by Howard Hampton followed by an update piece by Terry Zwigoff about the film’s music, originally written for the soundtrack release back in 2001. Throughout the booklet there are also various photos of artwork and paraphernalia related to the film. The second booklet is made up to look like an issue of Clowes’ Eightball comic book issues and features an excerpt from one of the Ghost World comics, this excerpt revolving around Enid’s garage sale. There’s also a short couple pages where Clowes offers a few “where are they now?” scenarios for Enid and Rebecca.
I wasn’t expecting this to be much of an upgrade in terms of extras, and admittedly I would have maybe liked more about Clowes’ work, but between the new features on here, the extra effort put into the Gumnaam excerpt, and then the two booklets it’s a very satisfying edition.
I figured this would ultimately be an acceptable but simple upgrade over the previous DVD, but that’s really not the case at all. This release offers a fairly astounding visual presentation and a number of rich features. For fans of the film this comes with a very easy recommendation.