Ghostbusters (1984) / Comedy-Horror

MPAA Rated: PG for scary images, some language, and smoking
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, William Atherton
Small roles and cameos: Larry King, Joe Franklin, Casey Kasem, Reginald VelJohnson, Jean Kasem, Ron Jeremy, Ivan Reitman (voice), Bill Walton
Director: Ivan Reitman
Screenplay: Dan Aykroy, Harold Ramis

Review published October 28, 2013

Ghostbusters centers on three university researchers of paranormal activity who go into business of their own once they get into trouble for their uncouth antics, and their grant money runs out.  They emerge on the scene as the "Ghostbusters", a trio of exterminators (of sorts), willing to investigate phenomena from anyone in New York City willing to call their number and pay their fees.  Though the public is initially skeptical, these men soon become heroes, then celebrities, for their success rate, drawing the attention of the media, as well as the EPA (who are curious about their containment system), as the amount of ghostly appearances seems to be on a major upswing. 

Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Working Girl) co-stars as a cellist named Dana Barrett, who is one of the first in her old building to begin seeing strange things in her refrigerator, causing her to make the call she never thought she'd have to make.  Along with her neighbor, Louis Tully (Moranis, Brewster's Millions), she becomes the conduit for the rise of malevolent Babylonian spirit, whose aims are to bring darkness onto the world.

Ghostbusters is scripted by two of the four proton pack-wearing heroes, Dan Aykroyd (Doctor Detroit, The Blues Brothers), who has a real-life fascination with paranormal subject matter, and Harold Ramis (Stripes, Groundhog Day).  Though they had originally drawn up the role of Dr. Peter Venkman for the late John Belushi, former SNL co-star Bill Murray (Tootsie, Caddyshack), who agreed to the film in exchange for funding for his pet project, a remake of The Razor's Edge, proves to have been the best move possible, as he effortlessly charms his way through the film, exuding not only a propensity for deadpan ad-libbing, but also making for a suitable romantic comedy lead, a side which would serve Murray quite well in future comedies quite well.  His involvement wasn't the only one to have forced a rewrite of the script, as the role of Winston had been written with Eddie Murphy in mind; when Murphy decided to to Beverly Hills Cop instead, Ernie Hudson (Two of a Kind, The Octagon) was cast, and his character reduced to being only in the latter half of the film.  Moranis' co-"SCTV" buddy John Candy had also been reportedly linked as a possible Louis Tully early in the film's development.

Aykroyd and Ramis set out to make a throwback film to comedies of old, mixing the slapstick styles of Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Hope and Crosby, and the Three Stooges with the more modern slacker style of laughs.  With Murray playing the loveable rascal, Aykroyd gets the big kid at heart role, while Ramis balances out the somewhat immature other two-thirds by being all serious, all the time, to the point where he is actually quite funny on his own.

Even with casting problems, script rewrites, and a sky-high budget (reportedly, the highest up to that point for a comedy), Ghostbusters wildly exceeded all expectations, and would quickly become something of an instant pop culture phenomenon.  Ivan Reitman (Meatballs, Kindergarten Cop), who could seemingly do no wrong in the comedy department in this era, delivers possibly the best effort of his long career, though, interestingly, he would never come close to this level of comedic skill again. 

The ghosts themselves are a mix of unnerving and comical, blending intentionally goofy puppetry and stop-motion animation that does date the film, but works well within the confines of a screwball comedy.  Yet, some of the effects truly do stand out, such as the scene of a street crumbling as if torn asunder by a mighty earthquake, with people (our heroes!) and vehicles enveloped along with it.  Or the indelible sight of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, perhaps the film's most humorous and most inspired sight gag, trouncing and bouncing through the city streets, hell-bent on utter destruction.

One aspect of the film that is often unnoticed, but it's as important as anything else, is the fantastic score by Elmer Bernstein (Trading Places, Spacehunter), which sets the mood for nearly every scene, and even certain beats within each scene.  It's light and mirthful when the beats hit for comedy and eerie when going for a bit more horrific vibes.  It's marvelous to hear how it changes throughout the course of conversations, and how well it sets the audience up to build for a hearty laugh or a big scare.  Working in concert with Bernstein is a popular soundtrack, including Ray Parker Jr.'s now-iconic smash hit theme song, and just another piece that came together in just the right way.

If anyone were to tell me that there's no such thing as "chemistry" in a film, I'd cite Ghostbusters as a counter-argument.  There really is no way to quantify exactly why it all works, and works so well, as each part of the ensemble only adds to the overall piece.  Also helping my argument would be the example of its sequel, Ghostbusters II, released five years later, which contained all of the same pieces, and yet couldn't string together any two scenes to achieve comedic momentum.  It's just one of those films that had been at the right place at the right time for all of these actors and creative minds to do what they do best, and each is obviously on the same page, having fun with the material, and letting us in on one hell of a wild, inventive ride.

-- In addition to Ghostbusters II (1989), this film was followed by two animated television series, "The Real Ghostbusters" (1986) and "Extreme Ghostbusters" (1997).

Qwipster's rating:

1997, 2013 Vince Leo