They’re still the ones to call
30 years after its debut, ‘Ghostbusters’ holds up
When “Saturday Night Live” alum Dan Aykroyd first conceptualized the Ghostbusters, a trio of misfit scientists who become a supernatural pest control squad, there’s no way he could have predicted the 1984 film those characters inspired would still be relevant three decades later.
Yes, you read that correctly – three decades – and in celebration of the film’s 30th anniversary, “Ghostbusters” has been restored and re-released for a limited theatrical run.
The film’s basic premise could be recited by just about every child of the ’80s: Three parapsychologists – Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) – are booted from the university where they work, and they decide to take their unusual talents and start a business to exterminate the ghosts that are terrorizing New York City.
“Ghostbusters” doesn’t actually have much in the way of a plot – once the characters are established, it pretty much moves on to one ghostbusting incident after another – giving it a loose, spontaneous, off-the-cuff feel, which is pretty unusual for a summer blockbuster. The only things that really separate this film from director Ivan Reitman’s previous work (including “Meatballs” and “Stripes,” both vehicles for Murray, and the latter marking Ramis’ film acting debut) are the big action setpieces.
Those sequences are certainly the film’s most famous – there’s the encounter with a fat green ghoul, later dubbed Slimer, in the corridors of the Sedgewick Hotel, and the grand finale involving the most unlikely city-destroying monster in movie history – so it’s easy to forget that much of “Ghostbusters” is devoted to comic dialogue, much of which was reportedly improvised and remains infinitely quotable (my favorite: “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”).
Rewatching the film, I was also struck by how good its supporting cast is. Sigourney Weaver doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her performance as the Ghostbusters’ first real client; because she’s so earnest in the face of absurdity – raw eggs are cooking themselves on her counter, and there’s a demon living in her fridge which later possesses her – she grounds the movie in something resembling reality. Annie Potts, one of the best character actresses of the ’80s, is spirited and funny as the Ghostbusters’ weary secretary, as is Rick Moranis as Weaver’s nerdy neighbor. (It’s a shame that the great Ernie Hudson, as fourth Ghostbuster Winston Zeddemore, doesn’t get nearly enough to do here.)
After its initial theatrical run in 1984, “Ghostbusters” became one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time, later inspiring video games, action figures and two cartoon series. Its theme song by Ray Parker Jr. became a No. 1 hit (now it’s stuck in your head, isn’t it?), and it was followed by a less successful sequel in 1989, with the possibility of a third “Ghostbusters” being knocked about since the ’90s (Paul Feig is the latest director to be tentatively attached to the project).
Removing the original “Ghostbusters” from its cultural context, it holds up remarkably well 30 years later. Of course, you can often see the seams in the special effects, but that, oddly enough, lends them a sort of creaky, dated charm. And the film’s third act is a little too action heavy, a complaint that could be leveled at just about every blockbuster ever made.
But the not-so-secret weapon in the movie’s arsenal is Murray, one of cinema’s most lovable misanthropes. (Aykroyd, by the way, initially envisioned John Belushi and Eddie Murphy as his co-stars.) He brings such a droll, self-aware approach to Venkman that the movie has no choice but to follow suit, and you can see how its combination of high-tech special effects and deadpan jokes have shaped the tone of so many modern blockbusters – the “Men in Black” films, for instance, or any of Marvel’s best superhero films. (Imagine how perfectly a 30-something Murray could have pulled off Tony Stark, or Star-Lord from “Guardians of the Galaxy.”)
“Ghostbusters” is available to stream on Netflix (I can finally retire my worn pan and scan VHS copy), but you should really see it on the big screen in all its remastered glory this weekend. Not only is it better and funnier than anything Hollywood has put out this year (and I think we can safely add in next year’s batch, too), but it’s bound to give you a new appreciation for a film that remains as crafty and charismatic as it was in 1984.
When he’s not writing entertainment stories for The Spokesman-Review, Nathan Weinbender reviews movies for Spokane Public Radio’s “Movies 101.”