“Bustin’ makes me feel good!”
Ghostbusters is legitimately one of the greatest films ever made. I like it more every time I see it, and I get more out of it each time I see it. There is something about it that simply works, whether it’s the encapsulation of New York City in 1984, the special effects that still hold up 27 years later, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis or simply its flawless script. The only element that is not all there is the soundtrack, which features a bizarre Ghostbusters swing on two occasions.
Still, this is a brand of perfection and it endures for that very reason. Not for Ghostbusters is the endless mystery of enduring popularity; Ivan Reitman, in his days of talent, laid his cards on the table: Ghostbusters is flat-out great.
It’s 1984, and parapsychologists Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) are kicked out of their offices and have their grant revoked. They decide to go private, and the Ghostbusters are formed just in time for New York to be hit by a massive wave of supernatural activity, centred around the Art Deco apartment of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver).
The patina of horror sprinkled over Ghostbusters is negligible, except for small children. At this Halloween screening, one child began to sob after the second scene in the library. Naturally, the rest of the audience laughed at her. This is a movie that suggests that there may well be horrors from beyond the grave encroaching on our personal space, but we’re got to accept them and laugh in their faces; we come, we see, we kick their asses.
Given that we have no expectations of legitimate scares from Ghostbusters, we are presented instead with a very funny paranormal comedy that pitches itself near perfectly to its audience. Each scene serves a higher purpose than mere narrative progression; Dana’s first visit to her apartment – the first intonation of Zuul – also introduces Rick Moranis’ Louis, who can elevate a scene simply by appearing on the camera. He has a set list of expected jokes, such as locking himself out of his apartment, but Moranis’ sheer physicality alone is enough to provoke laughter. Similarly, Bill Murray owns every scene that he is in, frequently talking to the other actors as if he’s not expecting answers – only an audience. Even after multiple repeat viewings, Murray’s Venkman remains thoroughly unpredictable and totally narcissistic.
Moranis and Murray’s characters have very little to do with each other, but they orbit Dana as the film’s comedic poles. They balance each other perfectly, even if the “wrong” one gets the girl within the boundaries of the story; this is allowed to work precisely because nothing is ever made of it; sexual congress is a major plot point that has absolutely no bearing on character.
Entirely apart from the marvellous performances, dialogue and jokes, Ghostbusters excels because its plot is tightly developed with no wastage. The Cult of Gozer is credible and also gives rise to one of the single best lines in cinematic history, “Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar that day I can tell you.” Ghostbusters doesn’t strictly have an emotional core (Ghostbusters II possibly overcompensates for this), but it doesn’t really need one: this is a movie that has a homicidal marshmallow man rampaging through the streets of New York City as its centrepiece.
There was a time when every film had to have a montage set to magazine covers, and Ghostbusters does not disappoint on that front. The flavour of the team’s rise is well-captured, if potentially exaggerated; skepticism levels are never entirely consistent within the film but one can take most of it at face value: ghosts are real and they’re in your fridge. Who you gonna call indeed? Unlike that other Bill Murray vehicle, Tootsie, the passage of time is not impossible to fathom. The montage is also an excuse to play the title song, long before it became the diegetic masterpiece presented in the under appreciated Ghostbusters II.
Despite the awful “Cleanin’ Up The Town” (a grudge that I will bear unto my grave), Reitman essentially gets the feel of this movie spot on. New York is bright and spacious, but also crowded and dirty. Every establishing shot of Dana’s building is so suitably ominous that you can’t imagine why anyone would want to live there, while at the same time Dana’s apartment, egg cooking counter aside, looks a very nice place to live. Every space that the Ghostbusters occupy looks conceivably lived in by these people: quintessential bachelor pads that Venkman somehow believes he can pick up in.
Because Ghostbusters doesn’t need to scare us, it doesn’t shy away from showing its spooks. The effects, particularly the transparent ghosts and Stay-Puft, mostly look very good even by today’s standards, with some of them still in the realm of “how did they do that?”. As good as we can make films in the modern age, the idea of “oh, computers” will never fill me with the same awe as stop motion animation, miniatures and simple wire work.
The librarian at the start looks like a “real” ghost, and Stay-Puft looks like he’s attacking New York for the simple reason that he is. This is not to discount the effort involved in modern industry, but the practical magic of films like Ghostbusters, Alien and Blade Runner is a major part of their appeal.
Halloween is as good an excuse as any to see Ghostbusters again. It really shines in a cinema populated by people with a love for the film; while there are some lines guaranteed only to hit you and no one else (“Listen! Can you smell something?”), there are others equally guaranteed to bring the house down (“It’s true. This man has no dick.”). If I could somehow convince Australian cinemas to play this film once a year, I would see it each year. I would bring my friends.
For Ghostbusters, I would cross the streams.