Ghostbusters (1984)

20 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Ghostbusters” is a highly enjoyable comedy. It features three elements that make it inventive (the casting of SNL/SCTV alumni, state-of-the-art ILM special effects, and a B-movie plot) and a sharp screenplay with some very funny dialogue to make it work. We have Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis as a team of paranormal investigators/”ghost exterminators,” and a whole lot of special effects. But because it’s Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis as the three heroes in a special-effects summer blockbuster, the effects do not overshadow them in the slightest. They instead assist them. And rightly so, because these three make for very funny company—they’re like a group of college buddies who know the score of their own jokes. I could listen to these guys talk and watch them interact with each other for hours, and they do plenty of that in “Ghostbusters,” even in some heavy-duty FX sequences when they should try and be serious.

Murray plays Peter Venkman, Aykroyd is Ray Stantz, and Ramis is Egon Spengler. They are parapsychologists working at Columbia University, but are somewhat of a misfit group. Stantz and Spengler are more serious about their work, but haven’t necessarily stumbled upon anything yet. Venkman, on the other hand, is a class-A goofball who likes to tease his research students with shock therapy. But one day, the three encounter a ghost for the first time at the local library, and after they are fired from their jobs at Columbia, they decide to start their own “ghost-catching” business. They call themselves “Ghostbusters” and are able to create a special sort of technology that can allow them to “contain” apparitions. Their first bust is a green, disgusting blob (“Slimer”) at a hotel, and once more and more ghosts appear, the Ghostbusters are on call to contain them.

One assignment that has them busy is Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), whose refrigerator apparently to be haunted by a demonic spirit known as “Zuul.” As Stantz and Spengler discover, the penthouse apartments of her building are the source of the paranormal activity happening around the city, which means that something big is about to happen—something of apocalyptic proportions. And if that sounds completely ridiculous for a comedy, you really shouldn’t care, because the movie is all about laughs in the face of the situation. Dana does become possessed by Zuul, after being attacked by two beasts that serve as a dark lord’s pets (or something like that), so when Venkman arrives for their date and notices the change in her, he decides to mess around with the situation. He says things like, “That’s a new look for you, isn’t it?” and when he asks “Zuul” if he can talk to Dana to which he gets a response in a deep demonic voice, he responds, “What a lovely singing voice you have.”

And the rest of the movie goes on like that, which is fascinating in the way that these actors are game and funny enough to make a movie like this work. This of course leads to a climax in which the Ghostbusters must stand up against a shape-shifting god of destruction, and the film never allows the special-effects to reduce the actors. There are still plenty of funny lines said by the heroes to keep things interesting and funny, and the special-effects come to their assistance in the final battle whose key to its success is an effect that is an absolutely hilarious visual gag. (Those who have seen the movie know what I’m talking about.)

Also, I should add that the Ghostbusters don’t act as if this is the “grand adventure” they’re supposed to be doing in the way other characters act in other special-effects movies. Instead, it feels as if they’re just simply winging it and making things up as they go along, which is a clever move. Sure, they’re intelligent and bright, but they don’t always know what they’re doing and they are genuinely funny.

The dialogue in “Ghostbusters,” with a screenplay written by Aykroyd and Ramis themselves, is utterly hilarious. I could listen to these characters speak even longer than the film’s running time if I thought they could come up with enough wit, irony, skepticism, and merry goofiness to keep going. I don’t know how many people who’ve seen this movie can’t quote less than ten memorable lines from the movie. Or how about 20?

Bill Murray is excellent in this movie. He’s hilarious throughout, as his Venkman is more the wise-guy of the group. His deadpan delivery practically makes this movie, as he gets most of the best lines—his reaction to Dana telling the Ghostbusters about her refrigerator being haunted by Zuul: “Generally, you don’t see that kind of behavior in a major appliance.” Dan Aykroyd is enjoyable as the cheerful scientist who takes every bit of phenomena with joy. Harold Ramis, probably the drier wit of the group, is suitably witty as the smartest member. All three are terrific in their low-key, funny performances. The supporting cast is game as well. Sigourney Weaver does what she’s required to do, and having to act possessed and ultimately come on to Murray in a seductive manner is quite amusing. Even better are Rick Moranis as Dana’s nerdy neighbor who has his own encounter with the supernatural; the calm, cool presence of Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore who joins the Ghostbusters later in the film (he says he’ll believe in the supernatural “if there’s a steady paycheck in it”); and Annie Potts as the Ghostbusters’ deadpan secretary. There’s also William Atherton who is beyond over-the-top as Walter Peck, an environmentalist who wants to shut the Ghostbusters down and will take no bullcrap, even as Murray puts him down.

“Ghostbusters” is a sly, very funny and enjoyable movie that is fun to watch and even more fun to listen to. I tell you, I could quote practically the entire movie with a few friends if the time came. This is one of my favorite comedies; I’ve seen it a hundred times before, and I’ll probably see it a hundred more times in the future.

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