Ghostbusters (1984)

*. What a pleasant surprise. I was expecting to be underwhelmed by Ghostbusters this time around. I saw it, along with everyone else, when it first came out, and of course I loved it then. But I hadn’t seen it in a long time, maybe twenty years, and I figured it would have dated badly.
*. Not so. The dry humour of Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis holds up really well. I mean, it’s been Murray’s signature his entire career, and it’s never gone out of style. Sigourney Weaver is so obviously having a great time, even when she’s possessed by the demon Zuul, that you enjoy every scene she’s in. The special effects aren’t bad for the pre-CGI era. Hell, I was even singing along to Ray Parker, Jr.’s theme song, a bit of call-and-response ear candy that was patterned after an advertising jingle and that I don’t think anyone ever forgets.

*. The supporting company is great too. Annie Potts, Rick Moranis, and William Atherton (as the “dickless” dick) are perfectly cast. Ernie Hudson? He’s good, but you do have to wonder what he’s doing here. I like him as an actor and think he plays well, but the part seems so unnecessary.
*. On the commentary it’s said that Winston is the necessary everyman figure who the others can explain necessary plot points to, but really this only occurs in the one scene where they detail the working of the ghost trap in the basement, and they could have just as easily done that with Annie Potts. The rest of the time he seems like a fifth wheel. In a 2015 article for Entertainment Weekly, Hudson himself wrote: “I love the character and he’s got some great lines, but I felt the guy was just kind of there.”
*. Apparently the Winston Zeddmore part was supposed to be bigger because it was originally written for Eddie Murphy. When Murphy turned the role down it remained as a sort of vestigial tail to the script. Oh well. Apparently much of the script was improvised anyway, so you win some and lose others.
*. On the DVD commentary track Harold Ramis denies that there was any double meaning to the “crossing the streams” business. I don’t believe him for a minute, but part of what makes the movie so enjoyable is that the sexual angle is so deftly dealt with. There’s lots of that going on, but it’s never bawdy, and plausible deniability is maintained. That device Venkman brings with him on his first visit to Dana’s apartment? The post-coital positioning of Weaver and Moranis after the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster finally hook up? Those aren’t laughs, but they’re big smiles.

*. I think the funniest line is Stantz telling Venkman: “You never studied.” Such deadpan condescension, with just the faintest hint of wry amusement. But it makes me wonder what exactly it is that Dr. Venkman hasn’t studied. Aren’t they all experts in the paranormal?
*. It’s interesting that just a couple of years earlier The Entity had also introduced a ghost-busting unit that worked out of a university, but in that movie they played it straight. The genre of films where science is used to investigate the supernatural would go on to have a long life, but it was rarely the subject of comedy. Why not? It seems a natural fit.
*. What such a line as “You never studied” also serves to underscore is that it’s the little things here that are the funniest. Roger Ebert made a good point in his review of the film by mentioning how it upsets the general rule “that the more you spend, the fewer laughs you get.” In some ways it’s sort of like today’s Marvel Universe films, where a wisecracking, smartass superhero (Ant-Man or Deadpool) tear off one-liners in the face of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of CGI. Even the climax here, with the team assembled to shut down a portal from another dimension threatening to destroy NYC, is very Marvel-ish. And yet somehow it works.
*. Well, you can overanalyze comedy. I’ve never found Ghostbusters to be hysterically funny, but it was charming thirty-five years ago and it’s still charming today. Charming, I would add, without depending on nostalgia. Though I do miss the cards we see exploding from the drawers of the catalogue file at the library. Libraries used to be such magical places, you could believe a ghost was haunting the stacks. Now such spirits are almost as rare as books.

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