There's Nothing Strange In My Neighbourhood

Posted Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 9:04 AM

1984 was an amazing year for movies that have resonated in our culture: Terminator. The Karate Kid. The Neverending Story. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Gremlins. Beverly Hills Cop. Romancing the Stone. The Last Starfighter. Top Secret! But top of the list will always be Ghostbusters.

Simulcast with JetSimian, Jamas Enright, and whoever this guy is.

There's something about this comedy that everybody loves, with endlessly quotable dialogue, fantastic iconography, and naturally funny performances, which never get old. It made stars of its cast, it became a touchstone of pop culture, and it's still compared with modern comedies today; everyone is trying to make something as good as Ghostbusters.

Originally written by Dan Aykroyd, a man obsessed by the occult in real life, his draft relied a bit too heavily on unfilmable spectacle, so Aykroyd's friend Harold Ramis and director Ivan Reitman rewrote it to emphasise the characters more. They cast other SNL and Second City alumni (John Candy turned it down, but Rick Moranis filled his slot) to flesh it out, the keystone undoubtedly Bill Murray as Venkman, famously reluctant to do any project. Annie Potts as Janine and Sigourney Weaver as Dana, the only two women in the cast, add more than just oestrogen; holding their own and making their mark against such a strong cast of guys is no mean feat.

The movie starts off expertly, with a ghostly apparition in a library leading straight into a fantastic song by Ray Parker Jr (apparently modelled after a Huey Lewis and the News Song, though I can barely detect it). Then it's straight into the main characters, each introduction artfully establishing their individual quirks and motivations. It's so effortlessly done, it's no wonder this is a movie many want to emulate and see more of.

After establishing Ghostbusters as a company, they successfully capture a ghost haunting a hotel, causing thousands of dollars in damage in the process, but this gets them noticed, and soon their traps are full of ghosts. Sigourney Weaver, who was still a big name after her role in Alien, discovers she has a possessed fridge, somehow turned into a gateway to the underworld guarded by Zuul. Apparently a lot of the weird supernatural mumbo jumbo is genuine mythology, thanks to Dan Aykroyd's contributions to the script. Despite her asking for help from the game show host Venkman, Dana ends up possessed, leading to a fantastic scene where Venkman is caught between wanting to take advantage of her exciting state of demonic possession for a bit of happy fun times, and yet compassionately wanting to look after the real Dana.

Neighbour Louis Tully, Rick Moranis playing a sad sack, who also becomes possessed by the Keymaster Vinz Clortho in an amazing scene where he is chased by a demon dog and screams for help, but the patrons of the restaurant completely ignore him, completes the circle.

Dealing with a man with no dick, the nasty Walter Peck, an EPA official who wants their business shut down, causing the ghosts to be released back into the city, fleshes out the story in a way that anchors it in reality. The fantasy here never feels like it's out of hand or at ridiculous levels. The comedy is gentle, not insulting or aggressive like a lot of modern comedy can be, and the drama has serious consequences, with lives and the city on the line. Having red tape and an interfering busybody to deal with helps emphasise the scale of some of the larger issues the team are dealing with.

The end battle is the weak point, in my opinion. The threat Gozer is supposed to represent doesn't really come across very effectively. Her final appearance as a dancer flipping across the rooftop in a burlesque bubble costume is disappointing and not very imposing, and the comedy nature of the gigantic StaPuft Marshmallow Man taking the wind out of the villain's supposedly evil nature's sails even further. Defeating them by "crossing the streams" isn't really a solution so much as the result of desperation, and doesn't really satisfyingly resolve anything so much as just end things with an explosion, and everything is magically all better now.

But Ghostbusters place in the history of cinema can't be denied. Though a product of its time, it is almost a perfect comedy (its place at the top only surpassed by Ramis and Murray's own Groundhog Day a decade later) and can hold its head high. Thank goodness nobody ever made any sequels or has any plans to reboot the series with an entirely new cast.

5 Reasoned Responses:

Jet Simian said...

Confession time: I always thought that when the GBs blast Gozer in her/his original form, that it's a feint and s/he essentially teleports to return as the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man (conflicted on his arrival - like you, it's really not that scary, but the bathos is what they're going for I guess. And I never got the 'streams' thing.

Your thoughts on the newly-announced cast for the reboot? I got very little. Don't mind the cast, but I'm really hoping the script is up to the task this time.

GuanoLad said...

Of the announced cast, I only know Kristen Wiig (who is always great). I've never seen anything the others have done. I still think it's a gimmick. I don't like what they're doing. I hope my disliking the whole idea doesn't come across as sexist, because it's the reboot and gimmicky nature that I don't like.

Continue the series canonically with an international TV multi-series, I say!

Jet Simian said...

Now you've got me thinking about how the franchise would have fared then with international variants... Ghostbusters UK with Not the Nine O'Clock News or Blackadder alumni, Ghostbusters Italy under Roberto Benigni, Monsieur Depardieu with- I'll stop now.

But the facility to put GBs in other global and historical cities is really tempting! Better than shooting Vancouver-for-Wherever a la 90s TV (and yes, the Dr Who TV Movie should be included!)

GuanoLad said...

A few months ago I wrote a post about it elsewhere.

Al said...

Ah Walter Peck... may I take this opportunity to recall that a pre-watershed screening of Ghostbusters in the UK once redubbed that most famous of lines with:
"Yes, this man has no twinkie..."
(No, I'm not making it up)

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