Who ya gonna call?
Let’s take it back a bit, shall we? This month marks the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters, one of the most beloved comedies from the 1980s, and a classic piece of geeky film history. At the time it was released, it was the highest grossing comedy of all time at over $238 million according to imdb, and was so popular, it was in theaters from June 1984 to January 1985 and then was re-relased in August of that same year. It’s hard to imagine a movie these days getting re-released less than a year after leaving theaters. So in honor of the 30th anniversary, let’s take a look back and see how it holds up to the test of time.
Ghostbusters is, of course, a comedy, and with the likes of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis with Ivan Reitman at the helm, what more could we expect? The para-scientists Dr. Peter Venkman (Murray), Dr. Raymond Stantz (Aykroyd), and Dr. Egon Spengler (Ramis), are defunded and kicked out of a New York university (possibly meant to be Columbia) and left to fend for themselves in the “real world” outside of academia. Over a shared brown booze bottle Stantz and Venkman hatch a plan to become ghost-exterminators and their company Ghostbusters is born. Soon they’ve added Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudon), who says he’ll believe anything if the paycheck is right, and their crew is complete.
Once assembled, the movie careens forward with the Ghostbusters getting called in to deal with an ever-increasing number of cases as New York City is apparently crawling with supernatural pests that need to be removed and contained in their firehouse office. Of course they garner quite a lot of attention and soon are being investigated by the EPA and threatened with jail. In the meantime, they realize something huge is about to go down, and try to convince the mayor that only they can save New York from the impending supernatural disaster (by playing the “think of all the registered voters” card). Our heroes rush to face a pre-Sumarian entity bent on bringing destruction (for no apparent reason other than DESTRUCTION) and their final confrontation with the biggest marshmallow you’ve ever seen.
The comedy in this movie absolutely holds up to a modern viewing. The way these actors play off of one another, sometimes in very subtle ways, bring the characters to life while still letting the audience in on the jokes. The commentaries reveal that a huge portion of the dialog was improvised, and that in almost every scene he’s in, Bill Murray ad libbed at least some part of it. The entire party scene with Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) wandering through his apartment is pretty much off the cuff by Moranis, and filmed in one continuous shot as Louis wanders through his party and talks about everything you shouldn’t, from the cost of the salmon, to the financial state of each guest (who are all his clients).
Much of the comedy comes from the peculiar situations our heroes encounter, such as the coupling of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) and Louis after they are possessed by the Terror Dogs of Gozer. The joke, of course, is that Louis has been trying to woo Dana the entire time, though she avoids him like the proverbial plague.
The effects in this movie are varied, and many of them hold up to a modern audience. The scenes with the puppet ghosts (like Slimer and the Librarian) are so well done that we don’t really notice where they’ve been spliced into the film. This is probably because of course a ghost has a little bit of white shimmering border around it, whereas the Terror Dogs and other puppets stand out because the border is visible and doesn’t fit as well. At the time, though, these were cutting edge special effects, and probably very impressive.
Another thing to note about the effects is that, because it was filmed in the early 1980s, CGI didn’t really exist. Anything animated looks very much like a cartoon, so they had to use a variety of tricks and tools to achieve different effects. For instance, when Dana levitates from her bed, they used a type of rigid harness that has been around in stage magic shows for decades and is still sometimes used today. Mixing the techniques keeps the eye from spotting many of them and creates some really cool scenes.
Also, in light of the boom in ghost hunting “reality” shows in the last decade, it’s especially entertaining to watch these guys form a team and, using equipment they’ve rigged themselves, go in search of the paranormal. Many of their devices wouldn’t look out of place on modern shows, and they throw jargon around like the best of them. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that these are famous actors that everyone recognizes, you could almost suspend your disbelief in some of the scenes and buy into what they are doing.
Things I noticed watching this time around included the ESP research in the first scene with Dr. Venkman. He is testing two subjects for the ability to predict the image on cards and, weirdly enough, is actually performing a real test. The male student (who is being punished for every answer, Venkman even says he’s studying “negative reinforcement”) seems to be able to predict the cards. It’s a bit funny, especially because Venkman later claims he doesn’t believe in anything of the sort (though probably just to continue hitting on Dana) and seems to care the least about the subject out of any of them.
I also noticed that despite the guys being apparently broke (they spent the last petty cash on takeout), they’ve got three full size arcade games in the firehouse! The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is also alluded to twice before appearing on screen in giant form if you’re a careful observer. Trivia about this one is everywhere, but for more fun details in the movie itself, check out the Nostalgia Critic’s video of the Top 11 Moments You Never Noticed in Ghostbusters.
And if you want to really drink in the full nostalgia of it all, Ghostbusters.com has announced a theatrical re-release (in the US and Canada) on August 29. Check it out, and remember, don’t cross the streams.*
*Unless you can send Gozer back through an inter-dimensional portal, and then it’s probably okay. ~_^