“Back off man. I’m a scientist.”
With all the recent talk about a third installment/reboot of the franchise, it’s not hard to forget how timeless the original Ghostbusters actually is. Rumors swirl and Bill Murray’s soundbytes mislead almost monthly now, but all you need to revisit the comical science fiction stylings of a paranormal-infused New York City is to pop open your DVD case and let the magic crescendo through Ray Parker Jr.’s classic theme. It’s even easier when Sony decides to re-release the film in select cities across the country to counteract the present-day Halloween penchant for torture porn blood. Because for a guy like me, who could barely walk two steps without falling on his toddler face over twenty-five years ago, catching one of the best comedies in cinematic history on the big screen surrounded by die-hard fans cannot be beat.
Conceived by Dan Aykroyd through multiple iterations after director Ivan Reitman helped hone the budget of the project, original co-star John Belushi passed away, and the likes of John Candy and Eddie Murphy declined roles due to previous engagements, Ghostbusters was never supposed to be the semi-improvisational showcase for Murray we all mislabel it as. Putting heads together with co-writer Harold Ramis, the duo was able to create something we rarely see anymore—a bona fide uniquely original work. Aykroyd’s own interest in the paranormal sowed the seed, but it was the character development of their team of misfits volunteering to ensnare and imprison the ecto-plasmic transients that truly makes the whole an astronomically successful combination of its eccentric parts. A trio of scientists, strapping on unlicensed nuclear accelerators to chase after unexplained entities means they also need to be insane with misguided hero-complexes to boot.
The motley crew consists of brains—Ramis’ Egon Spengler; enthusiasm—Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz; and charisma—Murray’s Peter Venkman. Each is piece crucial to the job as well as the dynamic we learn to love very early on. Aykroyd overflows with glee at the discovery of a ghost in their public library and Ramis is fully engaged in the scientific research and development of capturing it—true believers beyond doubt. Watching Murray con a couple Columbia University students in order to inflict pain on one and sleep with the other, however, allows us to discover a playful adoration for his antics. Venkman appears to merely tag along so he can coast through his professorial career without ever achieving results or using his degrees as more than an excuse to snidely make people he dislikes call him ‘Doctor’. But once he sees the damage wrought and slime left by the translucent apparition hovering between bookshelves, the game changes. Stantz and Spengler sees the possibility for real journalistic integrity and Venkman the fame and its multitude of perks.
What makes Ghostbusters still feel fresh over two decades later is its competent construction. Rather than a mish-mash of skits like one would expect to come out of “Saturday Night Live” performer-scribed work now, Aykroyd really outdid himself creating a whole world. He brings in the ancient Sumerian destroyer Gozer and its lackies “The Gatekeeper” and “The Keymaster”, he doesn’t shy away from the political ramifications of storing highly volatile paranormal materials by letting the EPA put their hand into the mix, and rather than make ghouls manifest via Spengler’s ‘giant Twinkie’ prediction, he lets the charm of haunted hotels and houses become fodder for tamer creatures needing capture. I love the fact that their first real hire is a ritzy hotel whose owner acknowledges the fact staff has always talked about the disturbances on floor twelve. What would eventually be named Slimer didn’t just arrive out of the blue, he’d always been there wreaking his iconic brand of mischief.
But there does need to me a major event to raise the stakes and vault these man-childs to heights above and beyond the public’s buzz-worthy attention spans. The maleficent Gozer needs vessels with which to enter our world and a vehicle to harness its power. So Aykroyd and Ramis turn a real life apartment complex into a turning fork for the paranormal; a beacon for malicious energy to gather and possess two unsuspecting residents. For Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) and Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), their daily dance of her fighting off his affections and his fantastic attempts to bolster an ego weighed down by a geek’s physique and droll tales of accounting victories is soon thrown into the fire of hellish dog-like beasts and a sexually-infused forum for world domination. Their characters align with the Sumerian legend as Egon and Ray do their best to discover how to save the city from Biblical destruction.
William Atherton’s smarmy pencil pusher Walter Peck helps expedite things with his bureaucratic shutdown of the Ghostbusters’ containment unit, the sheer magnitude of evil released the catalyst for Gozer’s entry into New York. A lesser villain of the tale, Peck may also be the most crucial cog in his character’s impossible ability naturally fit the puzzle when his inclusion should be a horrible contrivance in service of the plot. But this is where Aykroyd is at his best, covering up all the strings to manufacture an implausible tale with an air of complete authenticity. We accept the science as well as the supernatural elements because the script allows us to invest in the characters and their journey from crackpots to superheroes. Just as New Yorkers chant their names while Murray’s Venkman riles them up like a flashy wide receiver jumping into the stands for adulation after scoring the winning touchdown, the audience is caught up in the fervor and let emotion takeover.
And all along the way come brilliant sight-gags—the art direction on Barrett’s apartment’s spiral staircase is superb; memorable oneliners—Murray is a bottomless wealth; and pitch-perfect comedy nuance—Ramis’ uncomfortability when his receptionist Janine (Annie Potts) turns up her sexy librarian vibe is hysterical. Laughs abound to temper the rather dark subject matter at its core with an odd couple comradery that has been copied time and time again since. The starkly different personalities of Stantz, Spengler, and Venkman can’t be beat and the inclusion of Ernie Hudson’s blue collar convert Winston only brings one more disparate opinion for insight and comedy. Even the special effects work complements the action with impeccable creature design and orchestration culminating in the large-scale Godzilla-like fight with the 100-foot tall Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. In what should be the campiest bit of the bunch, this monstrous creature has its own personality and charm. Nothing inGhostbusters is ever two-dimensional or arbitrary as the script and performances gel to form one the greatest comedies to ever grace the silver screen.
Rating: PG | Runtime: 105 minutes | Release Date: June 8th, 1984 (USA)
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director(s): Ivan Reitman
Writer(s): Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis