Director: Ivan Reitman
When I was a kid, it was fairly common for me to get wrapped up in whatever cartoon/toy line was hot at the time. I would get absolutely addicted. If you don't believe me, I need to let you go through the various old boxes in my attic. I still have all my old He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys up there. Each of them continue have a special nostalgic place in my heart, but one of the few fads from my youth that I never really got over was the Ghostbusters. I was a mere two years old when the movie originally hit theaters in the summer of 1984, but I was absolutely enthralled with the cartoon that began airing Saturday mornings on ABC beginning in 1986. I had all the toys, the books, the lunchboxes, I played the video games, and I even dressed up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween one year. But it wasn't just the cartoon I loved; it was the movie as well. I absolutely wore out my copies of the movie and the soundtrack, to the point that I think my parents were getting sick of them. The movie frequently turns up on lists of the funniest movies of all time and is one of my personal favorites, so let's get to the review and find out why.
Our tale of the supernatural follows three eccentric parapsychology professors: over-enthusiastic Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), nerdy Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), and cynical womanizer Peter Venkman (Bill Murray). Their theories regarding the existence of the supernatural and the possibility of containing them are dismissed as signs of incompetence and the trio are fired from their cushy jobs at Columbia University, despite having actual visual contact with a ghost. They don't let their newfound unemployment bring them down, so the three associates go into business for themselves as the Ghostbusters, New York City's only paranormal investigators and eliminators.
Though business is quite slow practically nonexistent for them at first, they draw the attention of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), whose refrigerator may or may not be a portal to some demonic otherworld. After visiting the Ghostbusters's office to ask for help, Peter is immediately smitten and takes the case. He visits her apartment and fails to find any evidence of supernatural activity, but promises to solve her problem despite making a bad impression with his flippant and flirtatious attitude. However, Dana is almost pushed to the backburner when their first big bust pushes the Ghostbusters into the national spotlight. Everything from newspapers to political and scientific journals to talk shows and Casey Kasem's radio countdown has something to say about them. And as their business booms exponentially, the demand for their services becomes so high that they're forced to hire a fourth Ghostbuster, blue-collar Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), to help lighten the workload.
As time goes by, it becomes apparent that foul things are afoot in Manhattan. Dana's neighbor, a nerdy accountant by the name of Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), has become possessed by an entity that refers to itself as Vinz Clortho. He eventually ends up in Egon's care, where we learn his story: Vinz is the servant of an ancient Sumerian god named Gozer, and that his role in the grand scheme of things is that he is "the Keymaster of Gozer." Once he contacts another entity named Zuul, who we're told is the Gatekeeper of Gozer, the gates to Gozer's dimension will be opened and the apocalypse will be unleashed. So as Egon is quick to surmise, getting the Keymaster and Gatekeeper together would be bad times. And just their luck, Peter accidentally discovered exactly who Zuul has possessed: Dana. What were the odds of these two living next door to one another?
But this isn't the only thing the Ghostbusters have to worry about. Their massive success has attracted the attention of EPA inspector Walter Peck (William Atherton), a ruthless bureaucrat who is convinced that the Ghostbusters are nothing more than con artists using cheap parlor tricks to swindle innocent people out of their money. After Peter blows off Peck's inquiry about the safety and legality of their containment system, Peck returns with some police and a utility worker, along with a court order to cut the building's power. Despite being warned of the dire consequences, Peck gets the power shut down as he wanted. Naturally, that's not good. The containment unit goes up like a Roman candle, releasing the massive number of ghosts imprisoned inside it and allowing them to wreak havoc upon the city. In all the confusion, Louis escapes and heads straight for Dana's apartment while Peck has the Ghostbusters for causing the explosion. That's pretty stupid, if you ask me. He's the one that pulled the plug on the thing despite being told on numerous occasions that it was a bad idea.
While stuck in a prison holding cell, the Ghostbusters get a chance to study the blueprints of Dana and Louis's apartment building in Central Park West. Turns out that an insane physician and architect by the name of Ivo Shandor deemed society "too sick to survive" after the first World War, and founded a secret society dedicated to worshipping Gozer. Shandor designed the building as an antenna to bring Gozer to our world, and his cult performed rituals on the roof with the intention of ending life as we know it. And if you'll pardon the cliché, with the possessed Dana and Louis getting together and opening the portal, all Hell is about to break loose. The Ghostbusters are eventually called out of their cell by the mayor (David Margulies) with the hopes that they'll be able to explain what's going on. They explain the whole deal about Gozer and how the apocalypse is on its way, and in spite of Peck's baseless accusations about them, the mayor lets them go and gives them a full police escort to Central Park West. It all comes down to a big showdown atop the roof, as the Ghostbusters face off against Gozer (Slavitza Jovan) and of all things a 112-foot-tall marshmallow man.
Ghostbusters is one of those great '80s movies that's managed to withstand the test of time and become a true part of the pop culture lexicon. Any random person over the age of twenty will know the proper response to the question "who ya gonna call," and that the word "slime" is usable as both a noun and a verb. But how and why has it managed to hold up for so long? What makes it any different from any of the other comedies from the time? I think it's because the movie has the ability to appeal to the broadest audience possible. While other comedies from the time, especially those done by the Ghostbusters crew, are embraced by connoisseurs of '80s cinema, Ghostbusters has a little something for everybody. The humor is certainly prevalent, but there's also elements of horror, science fiction, and a little fantasy. And while the movie is quite obviously a tongue-in-cheek affair from the start to the end, it manages to work on all those levels without wearing itself too thin.
Director Ivan Reitman does a fantastic job, crafting the movie as if it were a straight horror flick. Reitman and cinematographer László Kovács use elaborate camera setups to establish a certain sense of dread beneath the movie's comedic surface, especially as the movie heads into the third act. It helps that the effects aren't all that bad either, in spite of a few instances where things look a little dubious (like the bit where the Stay-Puft Man steps on a church). And although the theme song composed by Ray Parker Jr. was a number-one hit for three weeks and earned Ghostbusters an Oscar nomination for Best Song, the score composed by Elmer Bernstein shouldn't be overlooked either. Bernstein's score fits each scene perfectly, going from a blues sound to something more horror oriented to a more heroic style in order to suit the movie's needs. But aside from the aforementioned theme song, none of the songs really hold up outside of the movie. Don't get me wrong, they're all fine while you're watching the movie, but they haven't really aged all that well. It's not one of those soundtracks that I think you'll be leaving in your CD player or on your iPod for anything longer than a passing listen. It's not that they're BAD songs or anything like that, but they're the kind of generic mid-'80s songs that nobody's really going to remember after hearing them.
And then there's the screenplay, credited to Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. Now I'm not sure exactly how much dialogue was written and how much was improvised on-set, but either way, it's hilarious stuff. There are an almost innumerable amount of memorable moments and quotable lines, the pacing is tight, and I'd be willing to put it up against the script from any other comedy from the last decade and say that at least eighty percent of the time, Ghostbusters would be the funnier movie.
Last but not least is the cast. There's a reason why Ghostbusters has withstood the test of time since its release, and that reason is the cast and their chemistry with one another. Our three stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis are all amazing, each amiable and engaging in their own special ways. Murray almost carries the whole movie by himself as the sarcastic wise-ass of the group, while Aykroyd and Ramis add a certain whimsy to the group with their enthusiastic performances. Sigourney Weaver is fantastic, as well. She plays the role with a certain elegance that is evident even after her character has been possessed by Zuul, almost as if she were Margaret Dumont and Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis's were the Marx brothers. Rick Moranis is quite funny as Dana's dorky neighbor, and Annie Potts's droll performance as the Ghostbusters's overworked secretary Janine is entertaining. Meanwhile, Ernie Hudson, the fourth Ghostbuster, is sadly relegated to what is, for all intents and purposes, an incredibly minor and thankless role. He only has two or three big moments, one of which is a lame "I love New York" gag, which is kind of a shame. Lastly are our two villains. Many people overlook Gozer due to the character's lack of screen time, but the contributions of Slavitza Jovan and voice actress Paddi Edwards as Gozer make the character an intimidating one. The other villain, Walter Peck, is a complete and total sleazebag that is perfectly played by William Atherton. He's great at making you want to hate the character, which is why I'm not surprised Atherton was hired to play the slimy reporter in Die Hard.
If you're a fan of '80s movies and have yet to see Ghostbusters, what's wrong with you? It's one of the seminal movies of the decade, and unlike some other '80s comedies, it's actually aged gracefully in the more than twenty years since it first hit theaters. An outstanding blend of comedy, sci-fi, and horror, Ghostbusters is one of those flicks that most definitely lives up to its reputation. So if you haven't seen it, go rent it right now. The final verdict for Ghostbusters is four and a half stars and a hearty seal of approval.
Final Rating: ****½