Bill Murray - Dr. Peter Venkman
Dan Aykroyd - Dr. Raymond Stantz
Sigourney Weaver - Dana Barrett
Harold Ramis - Dr. Egon Spengler
Ernie Hudson - Winston Zeddemore
Rick Moranis - Louis Tully
Annie Potts - Janine Menitz
William Atherton - Walter Peck
Slavitza Jovan - Gozer
Genre - Comedy/Action/Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts
Running Time - 107 Minutes
The reason I wanted to do this 1980's theme for September was to allow me an opportunity to discuss important films I wouldn't be allowed to focus on otherwise. As an 80's [and luckily, 90's] child, this decade really turned me into the man I am today. These 80's films made me want to be a filmmaker. These films turned me into a cinephile. Not all the films I'll discuss this month are my favorites, or even the best the decade had to offer critically or commercially. But they reflect a decade where risks were taken, technology took another step towards the future, and where having fun meant more than making money [although there was some of that too].
For this special 750th review (!), I wanted to pick a film that a big deal in the 1980's. I also wanted to pick a film I grew up with, making it a personal favorite of mine. It just so happened that this very film also celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, reminding me how old I am and how fast time really flies. Even today, I feel the film still holds up very well and the soundtrack puts a smile on my face. That film is Ivan Reitman's epic GHOSTBUSTERS - a movie that reminded me after all these years that bustin' does make me feel good.
Three scientists - Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) - study parapsychology at a local university in New York City. After some paranormal event inside the New York Public Library, they realize that ghosts really do exist. While the higher-ups at the university feel that their department is wasting funding that could be used for other sectors, Peter convinces his buddies to start their own Ghostbusters business inside of a firehouse. The business builds as paranormal activity increases around the city, tiring the trio out - leading to the hiring of a fourth member, Winston Zeddemore (Eddie Hudson), who is more religious and spiritual than the other three.
Their main business soon takes focus at a huge apartment building where Peter's potential love interest, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), lives. While Peter just wants to date Dana, Dana is dealing with a serious problem as her apartment seems to be the hub of an ancient demi-god named Gozer (Slavitza Jovan). When Dana and her neighbor, nerdy Louis (Rick Moranis), are possessed by Gozer's minions, the Ghostbusters must stop Gozer's intentions before the entire city is overtaken by evil spirits.
Usually when the idea of ghosts is tossed around in cinema, it's usually done for scares and shock value. But GHOSTBUSTERS uses the spiritual world for laughs, almost making fun of the paranormal while embracing it at the same time. I think that's a reason why GHOSTBUSTERS still resonates with so many after all these years. The concept is silly. The script makes fun of the entire spiritual situation. Yet, it never feels insulting or silly to the point that it'll turn off the audience. It's still a lot of fun to watch and one of the reasons why the 1980's are still embraced 30 years later.
The screenplay by Dan Akyroyd and Harold Ramis is very well-written, balancing the comedy with the fantasy nicely. Watching Peter, Ray, and Egon interact with each other is great because it's obvious from the start that they're three different individuals in all forms of their life. Peter is the sarcastic, skeptical, and perverted Ghostbuster - more worried about getting laid with beautiful women rather than taking his job seriously. Ray is the soul of the Ghostbusters - curious, eager, and willing to do anything with a childlike wonder to make their goals happen. Egon is the intellectual Ghostbuster - always concerned about knowledge, not really caring about his lack of a private life. Yet they all fit together like pieces of a puzzle, combining their personalities to get the job done.
GHOSTBUSTERS is great with characterization for the most part. The fourth Ghostbuster, Winston, believes in religion and just wants the job for a steady paycheck. But he's loyal to his team and will fight alongside with them. Dana could be the typical damsel-in-distress. But she has a toughness about her that gives her more depth, and an added sexiness when she's possessed by Zuul. Her relationship with Peter is flirty fun, which bumps up the romance quota a bit. But I do like the Dana character since she comes across as a real New Yorker.
I also like the other minor characters. Janine, the secretary, is sassy and sarcastic. Yet, she cares about the Ghostbusters business, and makes it clear she has a crush on Egon, who may or may not recognize it. Louis, Dana's nerdy neighbor, is a lot of fun since he gets silly and wacky things to do. He's the perfect kind of character who would become possessed by evil, just due to how oblivious he is. And Walter Peck is the prick who sees a success and wants to make sure it fails any way he can, only so he feels better about himself. He thinks the Ghostbusters are a menace to the city, supposedly hallucinating AN ENTIRE CITY just so they can be hired to do jobs. He's that guy you want to kick in the balls, and I mean that with the highest compliment possible.
The dialogue is also pretty great here. Just the way the characters interact and banter with one another feels genuine. That's really because most of the dialogue was improvised and ad-libbed by the actors, making them feel more real and loose. There are too many great lines to post here, but all of them are pretty damn funny. In particular, Peter Venkman has the best stuff to say. His seduction attempts at Dana, possessed or not, are pretty great. And his interactions with Walter Peck, especially in the Mayor's office, are laugh out loud comedy. Plus, I've always been partial to Egon's "I collect spores, molds, and fungus" line when it comes to his hobbies. There's so much great dialogue, written or otherwise, here. I think that's a huge reason why GHOSTBUSTERS is considered a pop culture institution 30 years later.
I think my only real issue with GHOSTBUSTERS is with its ending. Yeah, I know. It's a classic moment in 80's cinema. Gozer. The two devil dogs. And the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man who destroys New York City with a smile on his gooey face. And visually, it plays out pretty great even today. But it all ends pretty quickly and easily, leaving you wanting more. As a kid, I just loved the ending because of the cool special effects and the fact that the good guys won at the end. But as an adult, all I can say is "That was it?" There just seemed to be a lot of set up for the Gozer character, that I really expected more. Plus, Stay Puft is a monster that could have been utilized more. While it's spectacularly shot, I feel a bit deflated narrative wise. The confrontation really needed to be longer than it was.
Speaking of the visuals, yeah they're pretty dated. Watching CGI demon dogs run through an apartment building with ugly green screen edges showing now and then can be a bit distracting. But for their time, these effects were cutting edge. And even today, I think most of the effects still work great. Slimer is still awesome. I love Stay Puft. And the proton pack streams still look cool after all these years. What's even better is that these effects are done, not only to impress the audience watching, but to enhance the narrative. All the effects have a purpose to them, instead of seeing CGI for the sake of using CGI because it's expected and easy. So yeah, the SFX are 1984 SFX. But I think that's part of their charm.
The direction by Ivan Reitman, who famously directed MEATBALLS and KINDERGARTEN COP [among other films], is solid. The editing is fantastic, as the film has a great pace and never feels longer than it should. The tone between the fantasy and the comedy is dead on. Even the special effects, which I already discussed, are handled great due to how memorable and iconic they would soon become. I also loved how Reitman used the awesome score by Elmer Bernstein, as well as the classically cheesy Ray Parker Jr. theme song that became a monster hit. It's tough to say if GHOSTBUSTERS is Reitman's best work as a director, but it's definitely near the top.
The acting is even better. Bill Murray is just awesome as Peter Venkman, the sarcastic member of the Ghostbusters. A role originally for the late John Belushi, Murray only did the film so Columbia Pictures would remake 1946's THE RAZOR'S EDGE with him as the star. When the deal was agreed upon, Murray helped create an iconic film character. Most of his dialogue was ad-libbed, which adds to the role, making Venkman feel like a real human being who doesn't take himself or the situations around him seriously. His chemistry with the other actors is impeccable. Dan Aykroyd is also fantastic as Ray Stantz. Aykroyd's facial expressions, body language, and childlike energy really forges the soul of the Ghostbusters team. He's funny by just being himself. It's so effortless, it's great. The recently departed Harold Ramis, who originally didn't want to appear in the film as an actor, is very cool as Egon Spengler. He's the token nerd guy who is oblivious to anything that resembles a personal life. Ramis has some great dialogue as well, which he delivers so dryly, it's hilarious.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE TRYING NOT TO CROSS MY STREAM WITH THE NEXT GUY STANDING NEXT TO ME IN THE BATHROOM STALL
- Venkman, disbelieving a librarian's ghostly account, wondered if her delusions were the cause of her menstruating. Judging by the fact that she seemed to have trouble concentrating, the woman is obviously pregnant.
- There was a bunch of Ecto Plasm residue inside of the library. Randy Marsh must have lost his internet again...
- Dana's refrigerator is a gateway to the afterworld. That explains how Nicole Richie lost all that weight.
- Dana doesn't believe in paranormal activity. Says the woman who watched an alien burst through a man's stomach. Psh.
- Venkman got slimed by Slimer. And thus, bukkake was born.
- Larry King and Casey Kasem talked about the Ghostbusters phenomenon. Sad that both are now in the afterlife.
...What do you mean Larry King is still alive??? He's not a talking zombie???
- Louis' party is like a nerd convention. Or in 2014, a hit TV show on CBS.
- Dana was possessed by the spirit of Zuul. And that explains why she signed to do that ALIEN sequel with Winona Ryder. No one in their right mind would have thought that would be great for their career.
- Possessed Louis and Dana had a short make out session. The only thing shrinking in this sensual situation are the kids.
THE FINAL HOWL
GHOSTBUSTERS is, without a doubt, a cinematic classic. It's one of the few films that manages to balance a big-budget fantasy spectacle with great comedy that provides some nice characterization. It feels like a Saturday Night Live skit that actually deserved to be feature length. Great dialogue [ad-libbed or not], fantastic performances by all the leads, good special effects [even if some of it is pretty dated], and confident direction by Ivan Reitman - GHOSTBUSTERS is an institution for many of us who grew up with it during the 1980s. And while I do wish the final act was a bit longer, at least it's extremely memorable and well done. Bustin' may make Ray Parker Jr. feel real good, but watching GHOSTBUSTERS [even 30 years later] makes me feel better.