Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: Ghostbusters (1984)

So, pretty much nothing interesting came out last week, and this week looks no different. (Okay, I liked the first Dolphin Tale, but I wasn't exactly waiting for a sequel.) On the other hand, the Ghostbusters 30th anniversary rerelease is still in theaters...

Ghostbusters (1984)

Rated PG

Score: 5 out of 5

Nothin' strange about what I'm about to say. In a decade that produced no shortage of classic comedies, Ghostbusters is one of the best. It's a hysterical, supernatural laugh riot that's up there with Men in Black as one of the all-time great comedy blockbusters, a movie that kids and parents alike can enjoy, made by hilarious comedians at the top of their game and filled with great special effects that still stand the test of time. It's telling that, even though the sequel was a mixed bag, this movie is so beloved that people still get excited about a Ghostbusters III after more than twenty years of false starts. If you haven't already seen this movie at least twice, then what the hell is wrong with you?

I probably don't need to recount the plot, but if you must, here goes: Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are scientists at Columbia University involved in parapsychology research, i.e. the study of psychic powers and ghosts. When the university shuts down the department due to lack of results, the three of them are out on their asses, forced to enter business in order to raise money for their research. They hit upon the idea of using the ghost-hunting gadgets they created to become professional ghost hunters/exorcists, and before long, they're rolling in cash and have become minor celebrities. Peter falls for Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), a musician living in Central Park West whose apartment is haunted by an especially malicious demon called Zuul, while Dana's neighbor, a nerdy accountant named Lewis (Rick Moranis), is desperately trying to gather up the courage to ask her out. And Walter Peck (William Atherton), an EPA agent who believes the Ghostbusters are frauds, seeks to shut them down.

As with the plot, I also probably don't need you to tell you that this movie's hilarious, but I'll say it loudly and proudly. Ghostbusters is a very, very funny movie. From slapstick sliming to misguided attempts to taunt angry spirits to insulting a man's masculinity, this movie lays 'em on fast and thick. It ain't high-brow, and in fact it rejects and mocks such, but while it is admittedly dumb comedy, it's dumb comedy written by very smart people who know how to get the biggest laughs. This was clearly a labor of love for Aykroyd and Ramis, who wrote the film in addition to starring in it, as well as Murray, who improvised many of his lines. Not only does just about every joke work perfectly, but it's obvious that Aykroyd, a real-life paranormal enthusiast, went to great lengths to create a believable world, with nearly all the supernatural phenomena in the film being rooted in real-life beliefs about such things. (Seriously. Scroll down to #2 on this list and be amazed at just how into this stuff Aykroyd really is.)

The main three aren't the only ones who turn in great work here. Sigourney Weaver as Dana gets to do a whole lot more than just play the girlfriend, vamping it up in the third act and delivering a drop-dead sexy performance. Ernie Hudson makes for a very likable everyman as the fourth member of the team, the working-class recruit Winston Zeddemore who's just learned about the paranormal, while Walter Peck is brought to life by William Atherton in a performance that made me want to reach through the screen and punch him in the dick he doesn't have. Last but certainly not least, the film just wouldn't be the same without Annie Potts as Janine, the thickly Noo Yawk-accented, overworked, underpaid secretary for the Ghostbusters who you know secretly hates Peter's guts and probably wouldn't mine seeing him become a ghost. Even Rick Moranis took a tiny role that could easily have been grating and had me cracking up. The irony of just how he finally managed to hook up with Dana and live out his dream -- with the two of them possessed by demons and unable to control what they're doing, and likely not even aware of it -- added a whole layer of hilarious subtext to that scene. And of course, there's the soundtrack, filled with funk and jazz that create an appropriately lighthearted mood that makes the funny parts that much funnier and the creepy bits go down much smoother.

Of course, it's not just funny, but also a great showcase of some of the best special effects the '80s had to offer. The ghosts look downright otherworldly, yet still have a sort of presence when they interact with the world around them, as did the alternate dimension that Gozer the Destroyer inhabited. (The unique look of matte paintings, when done right, can easily be underappreciated.) The blasts of the proton pack still look virtually indistinguishable from modern CGI, and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man... I'm still amazed at how seamless they made that effect. Really, the only special effects that really stuck out to my modern eyes were those used to create the gargoyles at the end. The animatronics looked like plastic, and when you've seen seamless computer-animated motion, the jerkiness of stop-motion paired with live-action cinematography becomes a lot harder to watch without it constantly reminding you that you're watching a movie. Speaking of the gargoyles, I must note that this film would probably receive a PG-13 rating if released today (it was released just a month before that rating was introduced, in fact), between the S-bombs, Weaver being sexy, and especially the many creepy moments. I can't quite call this an out-and-out horror-comedy, but it would still likely give anyone under the age of eight nightmares.

The Bottom Line

"...when there's somethin' strange, in the neighborhood..." ...oh, where was I? Oh yeah, Ghostbusters deserves every ounce of praise it's gotten and then some. Come for the ghosts, stay for the great '80s funnymen. Now who you gonna call?

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