After countless viewings for the last four decades, Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist remains a horror favorite and an immensely enjoyable watch that terrifically balances the spine-chilling thrills and poignant drama with smarts and a perceptive fable of suburbanites challenged by unseen forces. The film celebrates its 40th anniversary on Ultra HD with a fantastic 4K video, an impressive DTS-HD MA track but ports over the same small set of supplements. The overall UHD edition nonetheless makes for a Highly Recommended addition to the 4K horror library.
Without diving too deep into the discussion of who actually directed Poltergeist, there is no denying that the production undoubtedly displays Steven Spielberg's signature style, flaunting his familiar tropes and oozing in that unmistakable Spielbergian atmosphere. But the more impressive aspect of this now-classic supernatural thriller is how smoothly that style gels with Tobe Hooper's own aesthetic and camerawork, creating a unique viewing experience where a horror film is both scary and strangely family-friendly. This is one of the great horror movies that can be watched with the entire family. As he demonstrated in his cult classic The Funhouse, Hooper bides his time in building up an ominous tone and mood, allowing the story to unfold organically where the frights and nightmarish visuals enjoy equal weight as the drama anchoring this fantastical tale about a family confronted by the possibility of life after death. In fact, the story begins with an uncomfortable conversation about death after the family pet bird dies.
Set in an idyllic suburban neighborhood that immediately feels safe and secure, the opening moments quickly instill a wholesome vibe with a conventional family living conventional lives, free from the stress and influences of the outside world. The parents (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams), once rebellious hippie liberals in their youth, have conformed to the 80s Reaganized conservative way of life with their three children (Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins and Heather O'Rourke), finding comfort and peace of mind in their middle-class prosperity and privileged bubble. That is until an unearthly presence emanates from the television set — a not-so-subtle metaphor for media consumption and technology intruding on the nuclear family — and disturbs their peaceful existence. This encroachment requires the expertise of a spiritual medium (Zelda Rubinstein) and a parapsychologist (Beatrice Straight), ostensibly testing the family's unbelief and skepticism.
Ultimately, Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist is a modern fable of suburbanites challenged by unseen forces infiltrating their false sense of security and certainty about the world.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out our review of the 2008 Blu-ray HERE.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Celebrating its 40th anniversary and just in time for Halloween, Warner Home Video brings Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital Copy. When redeeming said code, owners are granted access to the 4K UHD version with Dolby Vision and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc, and both are housed inside a black, eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to a generic static screen with usual options along the bottom and music playing in the background.
The supernatural horror classic moves into the tranquil Ultra HD neighborhood with a fantastic and often gorgeous HEVC H.265 encode. Reportedly coming from a new remaster of the original 35mm camera negatives, the native 4K transfer showcases a welcomed uptick in overall definition and clarity, exposing the nook and crannies of the Freeling house and the neighborhood. It's not a leaps and bounds jump from its Blu-ray predecessor, but individual hairs are sharper, small objects decorating the background are plainer to see and the surrounding foliage is more distinct. Several scenes are softer and blurrier than others, but much of that is inherent to the original stylized cinematography while the visual and practical effects hold up extraordinarily well despite still looking pretty dated. In either case, this is a notable upgrade with a more refined, better grain structure that is consistent throughout, furnishing the 2.39:1 image with an attractive film-like quality.
The HDR10 presentation also comes with excellent contrast and brightness balance, boasting clean, brilliant whites and rich, raven blacks with impressive gradational differences in the various shades while maintaining strong visibility in the darkest corners of the frame. The specular highlights supply a crisp, radiant sparkle along metallic surfaces and a tighter, more vivid glow around the ghostly figures and the intensely bright light from the other side while still allowing better clarity of the finer details in the hottest spots. Likewise, the color palette displays fuller, sumptuous primaries with reds and blues, in particular, looking more animated and energetic. A wider, richer array of secondary hues shower the rest of the visuals with various lovely shades of pinks, browns, tans, oranges, and warm golden yellows around light fixtures. Facial complexions are highly revealing with lifelike textures and a more accurate, peachy-rose tone in the entire cast. (HDR10 Video Rating: 86/100)
The 80s horror favorite terrorizes home theaters with a surprisingly good and noteworthy DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that was reportedly struck from a new remaster of the original audio elements. Compared to its Dolby TrueHD counterpart, the new lossless mix delivers better acoustical details and a more dynamic mid-range, displaying impressive clarity and crisp distinction in the upper frequencies and during the loudest segments. Various ambient effects and background information flawlessly move between the surrounds with terrific effectiveness and without ever feeling forced or artificial. The action sequences come alive when applying the receivers' Auro-3D up-mixing functionality, convincingly expanding the soundfield into the top heights with a variety of atmospherics to create an awesome listening environment from start to finish. All the while, dialogue and character interactions remain front and center without ever being drowned out by the rest of the action. The low-end is also surprisingly robust and palpable in a few selective sequences, providing an unexpected but appreciable sense of presence to the visuals and making this a fantastic complement to the film. (Audio Rating: 92/100)
For this UHD edition, Warner ports over the same small set of supplements as previous releases, and they are all contained on the accompanying Blu-ray disc.
Since childhood, Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist has been a horror favorite, and after countless viewings for the last four decades, my appreciation for the film has only grown and intensified. The Speilberg-produced supernatural classic remains an immensely enjoyable watch that terrifically balances the spine-chilling thrills and poignant drama with smarts and a perceptive fable of suburbanites challenged by unseen forces. The film celebrates its 40th anniversary on 4K Ultra HD with a fantastic HDR10 video presentation and an impressive DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, delivering a notable upgrade over its Blu-ray counterpart. Although it ports over the same small set of supplements as that previous release, this overall UHD edition nonetheless makes for a highly recommended addition to the 4K horror library.
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