July 12, 2010

In Appreciation of... GHOSTBUSTERS

The other night I was privileged enough (along with 700-odd others) to see Ghostbusters back on the big screen, some 26 years afer it was first released.Ghostbusters is one of those films, one of those formative films that every film-lover has. For a lot of people of my generation it’s Star Wars. And, sure, Star Wars was a big influence on me, but it wasn’t formative. No those formative films, for me, are: RoboCop, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (both on one awesome VHS taped off the TV!), The Transformers Movie, The Blues Brothers, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Ghostbusters.

When I first saw Ghostbusters (no doubt on TV), I couldn’t have been older than 6 or 7; I remember it being the first film to really scare me (and there is some truly frightening stuff going on). I even hid behind the couch during the Dana levitation scene! To this day, it is the only time I’ve done this and I really couldn’t tell you why it scared me so much. Just something about the whole sleeping “…four feet above her covers!” really freaked me out. This, of course, didn’t stop me running around school with my jersey tucked in my backpack with one arm hanging out as my No. 8 wire version of the proton pack.

Of course, at the age I was, I had no idea how damned hilarious Ghostbusters was. I didn’t know Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis were comedians, and Saturday Night Live alumni at that. Heck, I didn’t even know who they (or SNL) were. I knew there was humour in it (one of the greatest lines of all time: “Yes, it’s true. This man has no dick.”) but, with all the special effects and spookiness going on, the comedy totally missed me. Of course, I now realise it’s one of the greatest comedies of all time; not only is it a great supernatural blockbuster, it’s downright hilarious. One-liners are let fly with such regularity they trip over one another and just become part of the conversational dynamic.

And that dynamic, that wonderful relationship between the three leads, is what really drives the film. Harold Ramis’ Egon Spengler could almost be a Mad Scientist run amok, collecting “…spores moulds and fungus” and creating backpacks powered by unlicensed nuclear generators. But he’s held in check by the wide-eyed Ray Stantz, running around the old Fire Dept. building with his childlike enthusiasm, asking “Does this pole still work?” And Bill Murray is the wise-cracking parapsychologist, at once having a ball and also having a quiet snicker at the whole idea; he doesn’t act like a scientist but is instead “more like a game show host”. And sure, Murray does snaffle up all the best lines, and becomes the team’s de facto leader (he even comes out of the Stay Puft explosion relatively unscathed) but it never feels like they’re not all working as a team. Each of them has a part to play; even the (at first glance) perfunctory Winston Zeddemore – he’s the blue collar regular working stiff brought on to help the overworked ‘busters and he provides a brief average Joe glimpse on the proceedings.

And then of course there is the support – Sigourney Weaver as the haunted, and then possessed, Dana Barrett; Rick Moranis as the wonderfully nerdy accountant Louis Tully and the brilliantly dickheaded Walter Peck, played by veteran dickhead William Atherton (see Die Hard). The film wouldn’t be the same without any of them – it’s jarring to think of John Candy in the role of Louis Tully (the original actor cast, but he departed as his ideas – his Tully had a German accent and two dogs – weren’t being listened to. Thank goodness).

What really impresses with Ghostbusters is that it is absolutely fun science-fiction. More so even than Star Wars which, with its wise wizards, cocky fighters and noble knights carries itself far more seriously and po-faced. I love science-fiction, and I love sci-fi that explores ideas about who we are, where we're going and what it may look like when we get there. But there can't really be said to be a whole heck of a lot of fun sci-fi. Whereas, with Ghostbusters being run by comedians, they seem to be having a lot more fun with the whole conceit. And despite that fun, those laughs that so many little moments bring, it doesn’t shy away from the dark and scary. I’ve already mentioned the levitating Dana, but then there are also the demon arms in the sofa and the demon dogs (occasionally looking a little hokey in the stop-motion, but the puppets still look amazing) with their hellishly glowing eyes. Which is fantastic and totally works. It’s all a bit of a scare and a laugh, innit?

I, for one, hope the constantly talked about Ghostbusters 3 never happens. Ghostbusters 2 wasn’t all that great and just take a look at other belated sequels to 80’s classics: Blues Brothers 2000 and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. If it ain’t broke, don’t do a sequel 20-odd years down the track.

Ghostbusters is funny, smart, fantastical and a little scary. It has a top-notch cast working for a great script, and the more than occasional ad-lib. Ivan Reitman’s direction is spot on, balancing everything so the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It’s one of my all-time desert island favourite films and was a huge influence on me; not only in my taste in cinema and pop culture but in how I see the world. Watching the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man lumbering through downtown Manhattan is one of the greatest scenes in movies, and it was an absolute joy to see it on the big screen. Sure, some of the special effects don’t seem so special now (although a lot of the low-tech stuff is the stuff that works best. See the opening scene in the library) and the print we watched wasn’t in the best of nick. But absolutely none of that distracted from having a helluva blast at the cinema. Especially when there was 700 of us answering the question, “Who ya gonna call?”


What else have they done?

Bill Murray (Venkman): a slew of things from Groundhog Day, Ed Wood, Hamlet, Garfield, Lost in Translation and a slew of films with Wes Anderson. Also, a lot of golfing.

Dan Ackroyd (Stantz, co-writer): Blues Brothers, Coneheads, My Girl, Grosse Point Blank. He also apparantly wrote some episodes of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon show and (I didn't even know this existed): The Blus Brothers Animated Series. Reserve Commander for the Police Dept. in Harahan, Louisiana and noted Spiritualist and UFOlogist.

Harold Ramis (Spengler, co-writer): writer on Groundhog Day, Analyze This and (sadly) Year One.

Sigourney Weaver (Dana Barrett): Aliens, Gorillas in the Mist, Galaxy Quest, The Ice Storm, Avatar. Basically, one of the biggest female stars of her generation.

Rick Moranis (Louis Tully): Honey I Shrunk the Kids (and sequels), Parenthood, The Flintstones and Spaceballs. Retired from acting in 1997 to raise his kids after the death of his wife in 1991.

Ernie Hudson (Winston Zeddemore): Congo, Mr. Magoo, Miss Congeniality and a bunch of TV.

Ivan Reitman (director): Twins, Dave, Junior, My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Jason Reitman.

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