The 1980s was a very interesting decade in terms of popular culture. It played host to a whole new wave of music as well as a big boom of highly profitable movie and television franchises such as Back To The Future, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Franchises like these were so successful that many of them are still being capitalized on today (in case you hadn’t noticed). The 80s also gave us a little flick called Ghostbusters, a highly entertaining comedy about a trio of misfit scientists who start a ghost-catching business. I bring this film up because there’s been a lot of talk recently about rebooting this franchise in some way or another. While miracles can happen, I’m not too sure what good could really come from this as I really think that the original film is a classic and doesn’t need to be revisited over and over. With that said, I thought I’d take a look back at the original and remind people why it’s considered to be one of the greatest comedies ever made.
So let’s start with the obligatory summary of the plot, which is ingeniously quirky. We’re introduced to three parapsychologists, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis). Peter is an overconfident womanizer who takes nothing seriously and relies heavily on the other two, Ray is highly intelligent but far too overzealous, and Egon is a quiet and socially awkward super-genius. Shortly after their first encounter with a ghost at a public library, the three find themselves jobless and penniless due to their university grant being terminated by a disgruntled dean. At the suggestion of Peter, they decide to go into business for themselves as specialist paranormal investigators/eliminators and Ray is convinced to sell his old family home in order to provide funding. Things are slow at first, but after successfully capturing and containing their first “full roaming vapor” using the proton packs developed by Ray and Egon, the Ghostbusters become citywide celebrities. From there they are joined by Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), an average Joe looking for a job who knows nothing of the supernatural, and are tasked with saving the city and Peter’s love interest Dana Barrett from the clutches of the evil demigod Gozer. And as you can imagine, hilarity ensues.
Blending supernatural elements with comedy wasn’t really anything new when Ghostbusters hit the screens back in 1984, as it had been done previously in films such as Spook Busters (1946). What makes the concept work really well here though is that the comedy element is mixed with moments of genuine terror. A prime example would be the scene in which character Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) is dragged by a demon armchair into the paws of the terror dog Zuul. The contrast provided by these scarier moments make the comedic moments even more enjoyable and adds to the overall experience. I believe we can thank Ivan Reitman and his stellar directing for that.
The film is very well written, with the narrative structure and pacing being kept very tight throughout and the characters being very well conceived. Although in my opinion it’s the performances and chemistry of the cast that really provides the comedic spark. The three main actors are all terrific comedic performers in their own right and as a team they work off each other brilliantly. On top of that, this film produces more hilarious and quotable one-liners than most comedies I can think of, one of my personal favourites being Peter Venkman’s line: “back off man, I’m a scientist”. While the movie showcases many top of the class comedians of the time, including Aykroyd, Ramis and Rick Moranis, the star of the show is without a doubt Bill Murray. Without his dry, deadpan performance I don’t think the film would be quite as good as it is. His reactions towards the ridiculous situations he’s placed in are just priceless; only Murray could make a line like “he slimed me” sound so pitch-perfect.
The only thing as good as the acting is arguably the soundtrack, containing an effective mixture of eerie/dramatic orchestral music and lighthearted/jaunty stuff. And I don’t think I need to remind anyone of how awesome and unforgettable the main theme song is (so unforgettable you’ll never get it out of your head!). If any of us weren’t sure who we were gonna call, Ray Parker Jr. certainly cleared that up.
So is there anything bad about the film? Well, a lot of the special effects seem rather dated by today’s standards… but that’s perfectly understandable as it is 1984 we’re talking about here. Aside from that there is only one real problem I have with it: I don’t really see the purpose of Ernie Hudson’s character Winston. I get that he’s meant to be the “everyman” character that the audience can identify with more than the others, but in my eyes he doesn’t really do much. He’s introduced about half way through, we’re told nothing about his backstory, he’s given a few funny lines and he helps out in the climax, but apart from that there doesn’t seem to be any reason for him to be there. I’m certainly not knocking Ernie Hudson’s acting; he’s the king of cool, but I personally would like to have seen more of him throughout the film.
Finally, I would like to say that any criticisms I have of Ghostbusters are all nitpicks and don’t come close to spoiling what is an incredibly well conceived, written, acted and directed comedy. I actually think many comedies today could learn a thing or two from it. I’m sure you’ve all seen it, but if you haven’t, get on it!
Posted by Frank Short