Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ghostbusters

What is the genius of Ghostbusters (1984)? The filmmakers spent countless millions of dollars on elaborate, eye-popping special effects, creating all sorts of ghosts, ghouls, and other supernatural baddies, and Bill Murray will not react to any of it. If nothing else, Ghostbusters is probably the best example of the 80s comedy: a wacky premise, a great cast, endlessly quotable dialogue, former SNL cast members at their comedic peaks, smart aleck humor, and real effort in making the special effects come alive (or dead).

After being kicked out their university, New York City parapsychologists Peter Venkman (Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) decide to go into business as the Ghostbusters, catching and storing ghosts and specters. Despite a slow start, the business catches on to the point they hire a fourth teammate, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson). Meanwhile, all the paranormal activity they're investigating seems to be related to something even bigger than they could possibly imagine, and it has to do with the apartment building of their first client -and Venkman's love interest- Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) and her neighbor Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). Worse, EPA official Walter Peck (William Atherton) is determined to shut the boys down.

For a plot threatened to be overwhelmed by chaos, Ghostbusters remains remarkably in control of the action. Quite often, movies that have such elaborate effects and fantastic plots tend to become bogged down, enthralled to all the activity and noise. It's hard to laugh when you're standing in awe.

But what keeps it working, I think, is how all the Ghostbusters are well drawn and individualized. Venkman is the cynical wise-ass, heckling his teammates and not at all hesitant to use his position to score a date. Ray is the overgrown, excitable kid, Egon is the analytical, overly-technical scientist, and Winston is the down-to-earth, cool one ("Ray, when someone asks if you're a god, you say YES!"). They work great together. Even the supporting cast is fun, especially the nerdy Louis ("Okay, who brought the dog?").

The Oscar-nominated effects by Richard Edlund were really something back in 1984, and they still hold up very well. The floating spirits such as the librarian ghost and Slime, the demon dogs, and of course, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man are effectively spooky and funny. They seem real. The way the Ghostbusters, particularly Vankman, react to them, at turns horrified and dismissive, provides much of the film's laughs. The underlying material about ghosts and demons is presented so plausibly and effectively, there's real opportunities for jokes.

So that's Ghostbusters. I'm sure most you have already seen and love it, but if you haven't, what's wrong with you? If nothing else, it gave us one excellent title track by Ray Parker Jr.

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