This year we are getting a remake of Ghostbusters. So to celebrate or commiserate, depending on the end result, I thought I would kick off my blog reviews with one of my favorite film of all time, 1984’s Ghostbusters. This was the first film that truly captured my imagination as a child. I may have wanted to be Indiana Jones but it was Ghostbusters that I pestered my Mum to rent repeatedly from the video shop.
I will always try my best to keep my reviews balanced, highlighting the negative as well as the things I enjoy. However with Ghostbusters it’s difficult to find anything negative, to me this is one of the best films ever made. Yeah, I can admit that the special effects have dated in some places but this happens to the majority of films (although Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 still look as great today as they did over 20 years ago). Everything else in this film is brilliant, so where do I start? easy, the Ghostbusters themselves.
Sometimes you capture lightening in a bottle, everything perfectly placed and working at its best. In this case the three leads, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, had known each other for a quite a while by 1984. They had worked on Saturday Night Live and several other films together. They understood each other’s strengths and styles and were able to bounce adlibbed lines off each other with ease. They were young, confident and clearly having a great time making the movie.
The general consensus, with which I agree, is that Murray is leading the charge. He’s a comedy powerhouse in this film as Dr Peter Venkman. Not letting ego stop him from coming across as a bit of an arse from the opening scene in which he happily electrocutes a poor student in order to impress a female student. The characters attitude and charisma remain strong throughout the film and whilst Aykroyd maybe the Heart of the Ghostbusters Murray is the mouth, producing the majority of the best and most quotable lines (too many to start listing them here!).
Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stanz is an eternal optimist with the excitement of a puppy. It’s impossible to not be charmed by Aykroyd’s joy at the prospect of sleeping over in the dilapidated fire house that becomes the now iconic HQ. Throughout the film he is a joy to watch. He is that friend that keeps you going at the end of the night but will also make sure you get home safe. While Murray creates a character we want to watch, Aykroyd creates a character you want to be your friend.
Harold Ramis was never a superstar, a better writer than actor (he also wrote and directed Groundhog Day – another great Murray film!). By playing it down in this film and being a little wooden he creates a genuinely unique character in Egon Spengler. Looking at it now I would even suggest that Egon could appear on the Autism scale. He is socially awkward, singularly focused needing structure and facts. He is the brains of the team and the straight man to so many great moments set up my Murray.
Last but by no mean least, I have to give some space to Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddmore. The regular Joe in a room of crazy scientists, Hudson does a great job of grounding this film and giving it accessibility. I will get on to perfect escalation in a bit but Winston is a great example of it in this film. You totally buy into his story and the fact he is a regular guy who, by the end of the film, becomes perfectly comfortable taking on a god.
In addition to the main players, this film is filled with amazing supporting characters such as Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett and Rick Moranis’ hapless Louis Tully. In addition to these I always loved of Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz and William Atherton as the dickless Walter Peck. These are all people that can only exist in the Ghostbusters universe and make it more colourful and exciting.
The original concept was created by Aykroyd. He placed it in the future, in which ghostbusting was a service much like the fire service and the film was intended to be around an ongoing escalation of Ghost activity leading the final confrontation with Goza. The central joke would be that these four men would be dealing with this extraordinary situation with a boredom that comes from many years doing the same job. It was the films eventual director, Ivan Reitman, who suggested some changes advising Aykroyd to use Harold Ramis as a co-writer; it was this team that brought us the film that I love to this day.
It is that central concept that I love so much, these are a bunch of guys that set up a business that shouldn’t (and almost doesn’t) work and get into an adventure way over their heads. Also, as I have gotten older I have started to appreciate the way that each section is written. I believe that Aykroyd and Ramis’ previous comedy experience led them to structure the film to contain a series of, what could be, comedy sketches. Such as the opening scene with Venkman and his student volunteers, the trip to the library, their first major job chasing Slimmer at the hotel, or the Louis Tully party and the Devil dog. Each of these is a little standalone story and could be watched as a short sketch, each providing insight into the characters, the situation and with a satisfying payoff.
When this film was released in 1984 the UK British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) gave it a PG rating. It has been released on Blu-ray recently ad has been given a 12. Why? Firstly there wasn’t a 12 in 1984 (this was created a few years later due to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and secondly there isn’t enough swearing or nudity to warrant a 15, so why the change? Well take a look at the content of this film. From the outset it has some scary (for kids) moments, for example the library ghost, which scared the crap out of me as a child. I loved this film but the moment Aykroyd shouts “Get her!” my hands covered my eyes. The skeletal Taxi driver also freaked me out. Then we have Ray Stanz’s sex dream, yes that’s right, sex dream. In the dream sequence Ray is lying in bed and a ghost unzips his trousers and it then shows his “Happy Face”. As a kid I didn’t know what this was but it made me laugh. This was a hard PG film yet because it was seen as a kid’s comedy, with a cartoon spin off, I don’t think my parents noticed. However, that extra edge is also what made it better. This is like an introduction to scares and adult(ish) humour for kids. This is a very 80’s trend and something that current production companies shy away from.
One of the things that I consider when watching a film is “perfect escalation”, the achievement of making the final act or conflict perfectly in keeping with the films universe and the story that has been told so far. A good example of failing, in my opinion, is “Signs”, an ending that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really fit. This is not the case with Ghostbusters. The film starts with a single library ghost and escalates to them confronting a god on the top of a building whilst being attacked by a giant marshmallow man and because of how it plays out it all makes sense. How is it that three scientists and a regular Joe end up in this situation and as a viewer I totally accept it? Brilliant writing and drip feeding ideas and concepts as you go along. The scope of the story increases a little bit at a time, not overloading the viewer with information or making too many leaps in logic or credibility. Each of the story developments or exposition scenes builds on the previous ones within the limits of credibility within this universe. So by the end of the film inter-dimensional god Gozer is as acceptable as a library ghost.
In summary, this is a film with a brilliant screenplay, amazing characters being expertly played by guys at the top of their game. It progresses at a perfect pace to an awesome finale. I will always recommend this film to anyone and it would take a lot to knock this film the top spot on my list of favorite films.