Friday, September 5, 2014

IN RETROSPECT: Ghostbusters (1984)

In honor of its 30th anniversary, 1984’s Ghostbusters (Originally Ghost Busters)has been playing in movie theaters across the country. It makes me happy that this movie is still an endearing classic that people will gather to see. Like many of its fans, I found it to be a fun movie to grow up with. There was so much in that movie for a kid to love and a lot of comedy to interpret when I got older.

Ghostbusters is a unique example of where dark sci-fi fantasy and goofball comedy find a strange place to coexist. The movie does an excellent balancing act between big laughs and awe-inspiring special effects that thrill and sometimes genuinely scare.

When you look back at the early eighties, the popularity of state-of-the-art big-budget spectacle, spearheaded by Lucas and Spielberg films, was infectious. When you think about it, comic writer/actors from Saturday Night Live, SCTV and National Lampoon bringing their irreverent humor to such sophisticated technical filmmaking was a strange gamble, but it paid off.

The eccentric Dan Aykroyd wrote the script’s original draft, which was set in the future and was to feature himself and John Belushi as a follow-up vehicle to their success in The Blues Brothers. After Belushi’s untimely death, the script was reworked and rewritten with the help of the now-departed Harold Ramis who would eventually star as well. Director Ivan Reitman brought his producer experience to the project, raising the budget above what any of its initial creators were probably expecting.   

The final story wound up being about a group of paranormal investigators (with a charlatan as their spokesperson) who are cutoff from university funding and facilities. With enough research and scientific understanding of ghosts, they go into the business of harnessing supernatural beings using self-made high-tech tools and discover a lot of normally unreported hauntings. They do all of this in the guise of sloppy exterminators.    

The film’s most effective player, Bill Murray, delivers comic understatements in reaction to the marvels he witnesses. Like Murray’s best roles, he’s a reassuring presence to jaded moviegoers who desire a little relief from the pretentiousness of cinema.

If Murray deserves the most credit for the film’s laughs, then just as much credit is due to Sigourney Weaver for bringing a relatable humanity to the love-interest character. Her earnest straight face is complementary to the movie’s silliness –especially in the presence of scene-stealer Rick Moranis as her obliviously rude twerp of a neighbor.

Many movies that followed took inspiration from the entertaining achievements of Ghostbusters. Only a year later, Back to the Future proved to be a similar success of bold jaw-dropping high-tech filmmaking with a carefree attitude - as did Men in Black in 1997 and all the way up to this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

What’s sad is how telling it was that the makers of Ghostbusters never managed to imitate the quality they got the first time around. Ghostbusters II was fun when I was a kid and had a fair share of funny and scary moments alike - with even better effects work – but it was ultimately a disappointing sequel, dependent on the brand name that the first film created rather than respecting the lucky circumstances that made it work so well. In spite of Ramis's unfortunate passing, the dreadful discussion of a third part or reboot is still out there.

To watch deleted scenes from the first movie’s shoot reveals how much goofier they intended it to be. One of the strangest missing scenes involved Aykroyd and Murray playing homeless oddballs in Central Park as if they intended the movie to take a detour from its engaging narrative into sketch comedy humor. Somehow, in editing, they made decisions that led to a new kind of movie.

I have no idea if they really expected Richard Edlund’s optical effects to be so captivating. It’s hard to imagine the movie working well without those trippy streaks of light hovering over Manhattan. Elmer Bernstein’s grand score was also a major contribution that elevated the supernatural eerie tone of the film and served as an effective contrast to the comedy. Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song was pretty catchy too.
There is nothing like a laugh that follows a scare. It’s why so many of us love Halloween. Ghostbusters is a one-of-a-kind movie, which emulates that feeling and when there is a fall-like chill in the air again, I am sure to pop some corn, make some Stay Puft s’mores and enjoy the hell out of this old favorite. 

Bustin' makes me feel good.

Aside from this brief theatrical run, Ghostbusters is currently on Netflix and an Anniversary Re-Mastered Blu-ray set of the two movies will be available on September16th

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