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Thursday, January 17, 2013

GHOST HUNTERS ACADEMY -- DVD review by porfle

My first experience with this franchise was the DVD set "Ghost Hunters International Season One: Part 1", which was pleasant enough except that in the first few episodes it looked like they were aiming to include the usual reality TV-type interpersonal intrigue, back-biting, etc. rather than straight ghost-hunting, which I feared would get old fast.  Thankfully, they dropped that angle early on.

Unfortunately, GHOST HUNTERS ACADEMY jumps into all that with both feet and wallows around in it.  Image Entertainment's 4-disc DVD collection of this two-season spin-off series (2009-10), which lasted for only twelve episodes, is the standard elimination-style competition (a la "Survivor") in which contestants for a spot on "Ghost Hunters" are not only evaluated for their performances after each session but goaded into revealing who they think should be given the axe at episode's end.

It's like "Ghost Hunters" with a mean streak, with host-instructors Steve Gonsalvez and Dave Tango--mere second stringers on the main show--coming off like a couple of bullying, know-it-all doofs who have suddenly been given too much authority.  They seem to thrive on putting the earnest, nervous contestants on the spot and making them sweat ("WHY did you place a camera where NO VISUAL ACTIVITY has been reported?  WHY?") or lavishly berating them for not performing to their own elevated standards. 

Familiar locations are revisited, such as Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Shawshank Prison, the creepy Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Colorado's Stanley Hotel (the inspiration for Stephen King's "The Shining"), and, my favorite, the Buffalo Central Terminal where the indy horror flick PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED was shot.  The investigations seem rather cursory this time, however--there's no reveal to the site's host, only a caustic evaluation by Steve and Tango of the contestants' grievous failings. 

In fact, it occurred to me somewhere around episode five or six that there hadn't been a single convincingly paranormal event in the entire series thus far, besides those in "Ghost Hunters" flashbacks.  The episode titles themselves tell the story, pointing out the emphasis on personal drama rather than eerie encounters: "Web of Deceit" (referring to one contestant's failure to disclose her psychic abilities), "The Honeymoon's Over", "Back to Basics", "Drama Queen", "The Blame Game", and so on. 

Episode seven introduces a new group of hopefuls and a slightly new format in response to what were probably less than stellar ratings.  TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) co-founder Jason Hewes comes on to help whip the show into shape and the "cadets" as they're called seem more down-to-business.  But the "Survivor" template is adhered to even more closely, with everyone dishing the dirt on everyone else as bad feelings and grudges are encouraged. 

This second stage of the series does seem to get a little more into the "spirit" of the investigations, so to speak--there seems to be a bit more paranormal hoo-hah going on in these episodes.  But there's also a lot of boring down time, with a giggling Steve and Tango playing practical jokes on the contestants that are ostensibly meant to "test" them but come off mainly as simple pranks of the kind that are an anathema to this kind of show.

It's almost disheartening to hear the contestants' interview segments in which they speak excitedly about joining the GH team and becoming bonafide paranormal investigators, only to see them get bogged down in this superficial show's uninteresting machinations.  (The fact that we already know the second season's winner--since he's a part of the regular "Ghost Hunters" team already--eliminates much of the show's suspense as well.)
The 4-disc DVD set from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby stereo sound.  No subtitles.  Disc four consists of several deleted and expanded scenes. 

There's no joy or catharsis when the final winner of GHOST HUNTERS ACADEMY is announced, only the feeling that we've just been through a lot of unpleasant rigamarole for nothing.  With the lack of paranormal activity throughout most of these episodes, you also get the distinct impression that the spirits themselves didn't consider the series worth showing up for.

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