Monday, October 26, 2009

“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!”

Admit it. You saw the title quote. You saw the poster. You’re humming the theme right now. You know who to call. Hell, you’ve probably been wondering if I was going to put this movie on this month’s list. Well, after seeing Zombieland, 1984’s Ghostbusters was a very logical follow up (no, seriously, it is).

Three disgraced parapsychologists get some actual results in their research and find a way to capture and contain ghosts. With no academic means of income, they decide to go into business for themselves as the Ghostbuster (dun dun Dun!). After some initial success, one of them gets involved with a woman who’s apartment is turning into a conduit for a dark god to try and enter the world to destroy it. Hilarity ensues for the next 105 minutes.

Dr. Peter Venkman: Bill Murray is the deadpan, laidback, fast talking member, and totally not particularly enthusiastic about the venture as his colleagues. Something of a hustler, he’s generally the more decisive of the group. Nobody, and I mean nobody, can stand up to his low key scenery chewing performance, and for that, he is the badass of the film.

Dr. Raymond Stantz: Dan Aykroyd plays the eager, idealistic Ghostbuster who’s essentially the “heart” of the team. He also tends to screw up from time to time to help escalate the plot.

Dr. Egon Spengler: Harold Ramis plays the serious, stuffy big brain of the team and another source of deadpan delivery.

Winston Zeddmore: Ernie Hudson plays a guy who’s looking for work that the Ghostbusters hire. He’s kind of an everyman character who gets in over his head but manages to adjust to the weirdness pretty well. After all, he’s seen shit that could turn you white.

Janine Melnitz: Annie Potts is the sarcastic, extremely deadpan secretary that the Ghostbusters hire to take their calls and do paperwork. She gets some great banter with Peter and some intentionally awkward flirting with Egon.

Dana Barrett: Sigourney Weaver plays a classical musician who’s apartment happens to be located in a building designed to be a conduit to allow Gozer the Gozerian, an ancient Sumerian god, to enter New York City and destroy the world. She turns to the Ghostbusters, Venkman unrelentingly pursues her and then things get really weird for her.

Louis Tully: Rick Moranis is Dana’s neighbor, a neurotic anal retentive accountant and generally hapless schlub who gets swept up in the whole Gozer incident.

Walter Peck: William Atherton plays the smug, slimy EPA official who hates the Ghostbusters (well, Venkman definitely) and wants to see them shut down for good. This leads to…complications.

Gozer the Gozerian, Gozer the Destructor, Volguus Zildrohar, Gozer the Traveler, Lord of Sebouillia: Our big bad evil god for the film doesn’t have a major presence until the end, but then you realize that Gozer is serious business, despite first appearing as a flat-topped female gymnast. That nimble little minx then manifests as a 100 foot tall Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, which is both ridiculous and awesome. Gozer’s even got a posse, Zuul and Vinz Clortho, that helps pave the way for Gozer’s coming.

Ivan Reitman brings a really good visual style to the movie. Filmed a lot in New York, the supernatural is treated as a mostly down to earth thing. People’s reactions to the Ghostbusters and their mission is usually bemused skepticism. The pacing is rock solid, and the movie is probably at its streamlined best when we get a montage of the Ghostbusters expanding their marketing, doing their jobs and then getting public reactions. Sure, its been done before, but its really done well here and it’s a great little touch.

Now, the effects are worth mentioning. They’re outstanding; merging puppetry, camera tricks and stop motion effects to great effect. Everything’s also done “pre-computer” which means no CGI, something that the cast & crew were quite proud of when I watched the commentary several years ago. And the ghost effects being played straight also worked in favor of the horror elements that were present. Admit it, you weren’t ready for the Librarian’s reaction to “Get her!” when you saw it the first time.

Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis & Rick Moranis caught lightning in a bottle. Out of work college professors decide to hunt ghosts in New York professionally. It’s a concept rife with potential, and the plot turns wildly through the course of the film, but it all works out in its favor. Dialog is incredibly quotable, made all the more incredible since much of it was improvised.

The original score by Elmer Bernstein is a very solid, atmospheric piece of movie music, definitely. However, that is completely overshadowed by Ray Parker, Jr.’s theme song, which manages to be both incredibly 80’s and incredibly timeless at the same time.

Like I was going to pan Ghostbusters instead of recommending it. It’s a modern classic that takes a solid idea and runs hand in hand with hilarious dialog, memorable characters, inspired visuals and they all frolic together in a cinematic happy place as anthropomorphic personifications of storytelling.

…What? They laugh, they cry and by the end of the day, they’ve all learned a little something about themselves.

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