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Ghostbusters (1984)

"We came - we saw - we kicked its ass!"

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Director: Ivan Reitman

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton

Screenplay: Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis

Synopsis: Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), three university-based researchers into paranormal phenomena, are called in when a librarian at the New York Public Library sees a ghost. The three encounter the ghost themselves, and flee in terror. Returning to the university, they discover that their appointments have been terminated. Setting themselves up as the Ghostbusters, the team develops a way of trapping ghostly manifestations.

Their first client is Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), who has had a strange experience in her apartment, hearing a voice in her refrigerator say "Zuul". Venkman is immediately smitten by Dana. At a high-class hotel, the team traps its first ghost. As ghost sightings become more and more frequent, the Ghostbusters become famous, being profiled on TV and in the newspapers. They take on a new team member, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), who suggests that the recent events may have biblical implications.

Venkman sees Dana again and talks her into a date. When he arrives at her apartment, he discovers that she has been possessed by Zuul, an ancient Babylonian spirit/follower of Gozer, the Destructor. An employee of the EPA (William Atherton) arrives at the Ghostbusters' headquarters with a court-order, demanding that they shut down the power supply of the equipment confining the trapped ghosts. When the power is cut there is a huge explosion during which the ghosts escape, causing havoc throughout New York. The team ends up in jail, where Spengler tells the others that Dana’s apartment building is actually a huge conducting structure able to draw cosmic power into itself. The Mayor of New York frees the team, allowing them to fight the final battle against the powers of Gozer.

Comments: Ordinarily, I dislike big-budget, special effects-based studio movies. I exempt Ghostbusters from this classification because it is one of those rare films that puts as much thought into its characters and screenplay as its flashy visual set pieces. The chemistry between the principals is very obvious, and they receive admirable support from Annie Potts and William Atherton, in particular. The acting honours probably go to Bill Murray for his performance as the cynical, self-serving Venkman, who is redeemed by his sudden passion for Dana Barrett. The by-play between Murray and Sigourney Weaver is one of the film’s greatest charms.

Equally appealing are the scenes between Annie Potts’ Janine (that voice) and Harold Ramis’ dead-pan Egon Spengler ("Do you have any hobbies?" Janine asks hopefully. "I collect spores, molds and fungus," replies Spengler seriously. Now there’s a man I could love.)

The script maintains its humour throughout, and while some of it is pretty basic (the team’s demolition of the hotel’s banquet hall as part of their "discreet" service), most of it is extremely witty, carried by the cast’s straight face and verbal dexterity. The rest of the jokes are predicated upon the public perception of how scientists behave (giving rise to one of my favorite moments in the film, the exchange between Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray: "You know, you don’t act like a scientist---" "They’re usually pretty stiff." "---you’re more like a game show host." People might be surprised to know how many scientists are like that), and it is here that I have a problem with the film, namely the script’s insistence on introducing unnecessary religious overtones. One of the most common - and most fallacious - assumptions about scientists is that no "real" scientist could have any religious beliefs. Thus, the script finds it necessary to rather belatedly introduce the untrained Winston Zeddemore, who is permitted to raise the possibility of Armageddon. (Similarly, it is the "unscientific" Venkman who protests the destruction of a church.) While the film swiftly dismisses any serious suggestion of a religious manifestation, it can't quite let the subject go.

Running simultaneous with this are the scenes of the Ghostbusters as a media phenomenum. While the TV and magazine frenzy is both funny and accurate (the fading of the closing scene into a news broadcast is particularly clever), the crowds cheering the team on at the end of the film have the feeling of a forced hand, like canned laughter. Included in that crowd are a group of ministers, seen blessing the team as they leave the scene. Who needs God when they’ve got the Ghostbusters?

Still, in saying all this I’m probably taking the film more seriously than it deserves. Above all, Ghostbusters is one of recent film’s great rarities, a comedy that sustains its humour from start to finish without allowing its more serious moments to disrupt the overall tone. The special effects are also funny, and more importantly are never allowed to dominate the film until the climactic showdown. The appearance of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is one of modern cinema’s great visual jokes.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB