Film Review: Ghostbusters (1984)
In 1984, Ivan Reitman released Ghostbusters, conceived by Dan Aykroyd as a project for himself and several alumni from Saturday Night Live. Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, William Atherton, David Margulies, Slavitza Jovan, and Paddi Edwards, the film grossed $295.2 million at the box office. It was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Visual Effects as well as the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The film garnered a sequel in 1989, two animated television series, several video games and a reboot starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarty, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones in July 2016.
Three parapsychology professors, Raymond Stantz, Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler, are fired from their positions at Columbia University and decided to go professional, setting up Ghostbusters, a company that provides scientific exorcisms. While business is slow at first, the number of ghosts in New York City begins increasing and eventually they find that the activity centers on an apartment building designed in the early 20th century by a cult in order to attract spirits and bring about the end of the world.
Well-made, intelligent and pretty funny, Ghostbusters continues to be a very good film, standing up after more than 30 years. What’s really interesting is how the plot turns a lot of tropes found in films dealing with the paranormal and supernatural around and presents audiences with a different approach to dealing with such problems. While many films that deal with the occult, sprits, ghosts and other paranormal conventions usually display the ineptitude of the secular methods used to try and take on the problem, this film actually made it so that science was the only thing capable of doing so. As such, the characters notably employ the scientific method in their attempts to take on the ghosts, making it so this film is one of those wonderful blends of science fiction and fantasy.
That blending of science fiction and fantasy with characters that fight the fantastic with technology and science actually makes for an interesting scene during the film’s climax. The Ghostbusters get to see the mayor and even though what they are suggesting sounds like a lunatic’s ramblings, they’re able to present their case and the urgency of their situation in a calm, reasonable and levelheaded manner. It shows how calculated they are as scientists as well as how they wouldn’t resort to falling apart and intensifying the dramatic for emphasis, even though Venkman does so at one point for humor. What also helps their case is how city officials, such as the fire chief, back up their observations and really gets the mayor on the Ghostbusters’ side. Contrast that with the EPA official, Walter Peck, who has the saner case but presents it like a madman with a grudge.
However, what’s really interesting is Peck’s character as a whole, considering he was first shown as an official whose initial request to observe the containment grid and make sure the equipment the Ghostbusters operate with is safe. But it’s only after he loses his temper when Venkman insults and brushes him off that he overreacts and winds up causing chaos leading to the climax. While Venkman was being a bit obstructionist with the EPA and what they needed to do, Peck did overstep his authority and jumped the gun with shutting the containment unit down simply because of his first interaction with Venkman. It’s entertaining to think that the whole climax started because of a cynical city official who thought too much of himself.
What’s really great about this film is the amount of comedy in the film that ranges from smart to silly to just plain absurd. Take the scene where they are going to confront the ghost in the library and Venkman tells Egon that the situation reminds him of the time he was going to drill a hole through his head and the latter remarks completely seriously that it would have worked. Some of the funny absurd humor comes in how much of a child Ray can be, shown when they’re touring the firehouse that would eventually become their headquarters. After Egon tells Venkman that the building should be condemned and the area is the worst possible area to move into, Ray gets ecstatic and practically makes the decision to move in because of the fire pole. The whole idea about the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man destroying the world is also pretty hilarious.
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