Ghostbusters

Synopsis: Suit up for classic comedy! When kooky, spooky college profs Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) lose their university jobs, they decide to go freelance, de-haunting houses in a new ghost removal service. As soon as they open their doors, their first order of business becomes saving beautiful cellist Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) and nerdy Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), who’ve inadvertently opened the gates of hell….. right in their own apartment building!
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Ghostbusters 8.5

eyelights: Bill Murray. Sigourney Weaver. Rick Moranis. the Ghostbusters’ first gig. the Ghostbusters Theme.
eyesores: the dated optical effects.

“Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night? Do you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic? Have you or your family ever seen a spook, spectre or ghost? If the answer is “yes,” then don’t wait another minute. Pick up the phone and call the professionals… Ghostbusters.”

I remember when the ‘Ghostbusters’ teaser trailer made its debut in cinemas. I can’t remember which movie I was seeing then (was it ‘Splash’, ‘Short Circuit’, ‘Back to the Future‘…?), but it became a staple of the trailers reel for weeks to come.

And boy was I underwhelmed!

I watched these middle-aged guys running down the street in their jumpsuits, carrying their “backpacks” and gear and wondered what it was all about. I remember not having any inkling of what ‘Ghostbusters’ was about, but it appeared lame to me.

It doesn’t change the fact that I ended up seeing the darned thing multiple times at the big screen, and that it’s been an all-time favourite of mine ever since. Honestly, I don’t know how often I’ve watched ‘Ghostbusters’, but it would be safe to say that it’s one of the movies I’ve seen the most.

And even today, as saturated as I should be, I get a fair bit of mileage out of it.

Granted, I have to pace myself these days, given that I probably know each line well before it’s uttered by the cast – there are simply no surprises left anymore. But, with timed exposure, my over-familiarity with ‘Ghostbusters’ can venture into the nostalgic just enough to bring it back to life all over again.

It isn’t fresh anymore, I’ll admit, but the writing is phenomenal, the dialogue is so well-suited to the characters, the cast suit their parts, the comic timing is absolutely pitch-perfect, and the concepts anchoring all the science-fiction/supernatural elements are plausible enough to stimulate one’s imagination – if not the funny-bone.

Oh, sure, it’s a ridiculous idea that a bunch of guys created a toolkit for capturing ghosts, but when it’s clarified that ghosts are nothing more than ectoplasm, something that has a scientific basis, and that their proton pack is akin to wearing “an unlicensed nuclear accelerator”, it’s easier to make that jump from disbelief to suspension.

It helps that the cast is convincing enough to sell you on it, of course:

Dana Barrett: “You know, you don’t act like a scientist.”
Dr. Peter Venkman: “They’re usually pretty stiff.”
Dana Barrett: “You’re more like a game show host.”

Bill Murray is incredible as Peter Venkman. His typical acerbic, nonchalant nature is on display here, but it’s never been so finely honed as it is in ‘Ghostbusters’. This is a guy who looks down upon the world and thinks that everything is BS and laughable. In real life, he would be a miserable person to be with but, as a screen character, he’s hilarious because his take is always sarcastic and slightly detached. Murray pretty much steals the show.

Dr. Ray Stantz: “My parents left me that house. I was born there.”
Dr. Peter Venkman: “You’re not gonna lose the house, everybody has three mortgages nowadays.”

Dan Aykroyd is as endearing as he’ll ever get in the role of Ray. He’s like a big kid who has been given awesome gadgets to play with and a world of possibilities to use them with. He firmly believes in his work and still gets wide-eyed whenever something new develops – or when he finds a new toy to play with. Aykroyd tended to play the smart-@$$ in his previous roles (‘1941’, ‘Neighbors’, ‘The Blues Brothers’), but he is far better at playing the pre-teen boy in a man’s body. Sure, he’s not a great actor – but his enthusiasm makes up for it.

Janine Melnitz: “You’re very handy, I can tell. I bet you like to read a lot, too.”
Dr. Egon Spengler: “Print is dead.”
Janine Melnitz: “Oh, that’s very fascinating to me. I read a lot myself. Some people think I’m too intellectual but I think it’s a fabulous way to spend your spare time. I also play racquetball. Do you have any hobbies?”
Dr. Egon Spengler: “I collect spores, molds, and fungus.”

Harold Ramis is hilarious as Egon, the brains behind the operation. He’s the stuffiest guy you could ever imagine, utterly fascinated with all that he can’t comprehend at a glance. Separately, he’s a boring character but, as a the straight man to Murray and Aykroyd, he’s the perfect match: he’s as serious as Peter isn’t and as grounded as Ray could never be. And he lends the film some credibility: with him, viewers have a seemingly intelligent person explaining things to them.

Winston Zeddemore: “I’m Winston Zeddmore, Your Honor. I’ve only been with the company for a couple of weeks, but these things are real. Since I joined these men, I’ve seen shit that’ll turn you white.”

Speaking of straight men, Ernie Hudson’s Winston is nothing but. The character is pretty much interchangeable and anyone could have played the role, but he was an essential ingredient because he was the late-coming disbeliever who was converted out of experience. This transition gives even the most sceptical audience members reason to finally believe. He also serves as the stand-in for the average person, seeing as everything has to be explained to him by the rest of the Ghostbusters.

Louis: “I am Vinz, Vinz Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer. Volguus Zildrohar, Lord of the Sebouillia. Are you the Gatekeeper?”
Coachman: “Hey, he pulls the wagon, I made the deals. You want a ride?”
[the possessed Louis growls at the coachman with his red-glowing eyes]
Louis (to the horse): “Wait for the sign. Then our prisoners will be released.”

I’m not a fan of Rick Moranis, neither of his acting ability nor his films, but I can’t even fathom ‘Ghostbusters’ without him in it. His turn as Louis, the nebbish accountant who gets possessed and runs amok in the city, looking for the Gatekeeper, is outrageously funny. He’s such a geeky loser, totally focused on his accounting practice and his health, and he tries so hard to be sociable. But he’s such a dork – so much so, in fact, that even when possessed he’s an idiot.

Dana Barrett: “Are you the Keymaster?”
Dr. Peter Venkman: “Not that I know of.”
[She slams the door in his face. Venkman knocks again]
Dana Barrett: “Are you the Keymaster?”
Dr. Peter Venkman: “Yes. Actually I’m a friend of his, he asked me to meet him here.”

And then there’s Sigourney Weaver as Dana, Peter’s love interest. Weaver plays it completely straight and it’s absolutely what was needed here, because it raises the stakes in the face of the threats that she faces. If she had been a cartoon or a more comedic character, she wouldn’t have felt like true flesh and blood. She wouldn’t seem at risk. Which leads me to the fact that this is Weaver’s sexiest part ever – after she is possessed, she becomes a fiery seductress. Since she was never pigeonholed as “the babe”, Weaver must have had tons of fun with this role.

Dr. Peter Venkman: “I make it a rule never to get involved with possessed people.”
[Dana starts passionately making out with him]
Dr. Peter Venkman: “Actually, it’s more of a guideline than a rule…”

Also of note are Annie Potts, as the whiny -but romantic- Janine, a character as cute as she is annoying, and William Atherton as the creepy inspector from the Environmental Protection Agency:

Dr. Ray Stantz: “Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by dickless here.”
Walter Peck: “They caused an explosion!”
Mayor: “Is this true?”
Dr. Peter Venkman: “Yes it’s true.”
[pause]
Dr. Peter Venkman: “This man has no dick.”

Aside from being a dickless prick, I’ll always remember just how ferocious and eager he was to have his way, to intrude on the Ghostbusters’ operations and dig being the scenes. What a jerk. I don’t know if the filmmakers meant anything by it, if they were voicing suspicion about the EPA, but it’s amusing that someone charged with protecting the environment is the villain of the piece – a clear sign of the times, given that there’s been such a role-reversal in the last 10-15 years (Captain Planet, anyone?).

‘Ghostbusters’ is incredibly well-paced and perfectly pitched. Everything works. Even the ridiculous ending with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man plays well because it’s totally in line with the characters and the humour. I’d say that the only things that don’t work as well as they should are the soundtrack music, which dates the movie considerably (heck, it wasn’t that great even back in the day – Ray Parker, jr., excepted, of course), and some of the special effects (frankly, despite their limitations, I prefer them to today’s CGI; at least optical effects and puppets feel real).

To me, ‘Ghostbusters’ will always be a winner – as do ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Gremlins’. There’s a reason why the expression “movie magic” exists, and I think that it accurately describes motion pictures that somehow worked wonders and can never be replicated – they’re the result of a glorious conjunction of all the right flavours, mixed together in just the right way at the just right time. It happens only once in a blue moon and usually cannot recreated. Not that people don’t try. And fail.

In fact, the proof is in the pudding: despite all efforts to repeat the success, ‘Ghostbusters II’ was a dismal failure on many counts. Far too many. They had the same cast and many of the same crew (including writers, director and producers), but somehow weren’t able to recapture that magic. It’s such a joyless affair, actually, that I may never get around to reviewing it – it’s far too boring to bother. Obviously, the fact that it is shadowed by the original isn’t helping things any: I’m so fondly attached to it that this one doesn’t stand a chance.

There has been talk of a third ‘Ghostbusters’ for many years, but I’m hoping that they won’t bother at this point. If it’s anything like the much-delayed sequel to ‘The Blues Brothers’, it will be a pale imitation of an all-time classic. And no one wants a forgery. There’s even talk of making it without Bill Murray. Seriously, it just doesn’t make any sense without his Peter Venkman. Not that he could bring it today anyway: he was at the height of his powers then – and he’s been sullen, subdued and increasingly self-absorbed in recent years.

So we might as well say farewell to daydreams of another ‘Ghostbusters’ film and stick to our fond memories of the first and only real ‘Ghostbusters’ picture (the sequel doesn’t count, in my mind). It will always be a fantastic comedy, an engaging thrill-ride, and a superb two hours of escapist fun. So, whenever I’m looking for sci-fi comedy with a supernatural bend to it, I know exactly who I’m going to call. Just don’t expect me to line up or clamour for another sequel, a remake or a reboot. Personally, I’m of the mind that the boys should keep their proton packs mothballed and carry on with their respective careers.

Dr. Ray Stantz: “I think we’d better split up.”
Dr. Egon Spengler: “Good idea.”
Dr. Peter Venkman: “Yeah… we can do more damage that way.”

Story: 8.5
Acting: 7.0
Production: 8.0

Chills: 6.5
Gore: 3.0
Violence: 4.0

Date of viewing: September 17, 2012

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2 responses to “Ghostbusters

  1. Pingback: Alien | thecriticaleye·

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