EMPIRE ESSAY: Ghostbusters Review

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Three unemployed parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service.


Halfway through the initial release of Ghostbusters, director Ivan Reitman decided to run a new trailer on TV. He simply took the mock-television commercial snippet from the movie and inserted a real usable number. At the other end was a recorded message, from Murray and Akroyd, running along the lines of "Hi, we're out catching ghosts right now, please leave a message." The line received 1000 calls an hour, 24 hours a day for six weeks. Ghostbusters was more than just a groovy comedy from the Saturday Night Live stable, more than a special effects driven, spoofy blockbuster, more than just a smash hit movie. It was a bona fide phenomenon. Something that had eked out of the cinemas straight into the public conscious as its exuberant mantra "Who ya gonna call?" chimed from playgrounds to shopping malls.

The original idea, born in Dan Aykroyd's head, was of a set of intergalactic Ghostbusters competing with rival companies in the future. Director Ivan Reitman was the man to ground the idea, bringing it back to Earth and New York City and introduced the notion of this madcap start-up company arriving, just as seriously sinister goings on hit town. Originally, a range of different names were suggested for the main roles: John Belushi for Venkman, Eddie Murphy for Winston, John Candy for Louis Tully. But you can't imagine a more fitting trio for the bumbling, boilersuited spiritual pest control than Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis.

The characterisation and much of the comedy is constructed around the differing (and conflicting) personalities — and varying attitudes toward their science — of the three main Ghostbusters (loosely modelled on the Three Stooges). Peter Venkman (Murray — Moe) is a feast of asinine one-liners, a vessel of dominant sarcasm for whom the pursuit of knowledge is inseparably entwined with the pursuit of girls. Raymond Stantz (Ackroyd — Curly) is bumbling and loveable; brains wrapped up in a clown's clothing: science is a way of avoiding a proper job. Egon Spengler (Ramis — Larry) is nerdy and absent-mindedly professorial, for whom science is everything at the expense of common sense. Ernie Hudson's PC-friendly presence as fourth, blue collar 'Buster Winston feels token and underdeveloped.

Constructed with deft commercialism, the film is as about as undemanding as you can get. The supernatural element is cartoonish and barmy ("Gozer the Traveller, He will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, the traveller came as a large and moving Torg!") and the set pieces spectacular but credible within the confines of the story (New York is given a weird, Gothic expansiveness). The script — by Ramis and Aykroyd — skillfully grounds itself in Venkman's teasing bile ("I don't have to take this abuse from you, I've got hundreds of people dying to abuse me") as it spouts out ludicrous pseudo-rational scientific jargon ("Free floating, full torso, vaporous apparition"). Even its plot makes some kind of sense with a park-side apartment building becoming a gateway to the netherworld and the reincarnation of a Babylonian demon. Not to forget the contribution of Ray Parker Jr.'s hit theme song, adding to the joie de vivre of blockbuster success.

Vitally important to the hook, was the juxtaposition between New York's brazen cynicism and the daft supernaturalism. The Mayoral office — led by William Atherton's (Thornburg from Die 5 Hard) snidley bureaucratic meddler—refuse to give credence to the phantasmagoric threat until it is almost too late. For every far- fetched episode Venkman has a snide retort — after a headlong collision with a bulbous lime green entity, Venkman, coated in ectoplasm, just moans, "He slimed me!" Another pivot is the
combo of romantic interest cellist
^ Sigourney Weaver and her dweeby o pest of a neighbour, Rick Moranis' goofball accountant — both soon H to be possessed by sinister spirits
2 (to become known as the
Keyholder and the Gatekeeper, fnarr!) and become the focus of the impending apocalypse. Events hurtle along, leaving little room to stop and ponder why it is so many otherwordly events directly coincide with the formation of this outfit. And while the effects feel dated by today's standards (the Sta-Puft Marshmallow man
stomping up the street is evidently a giant inflatable) there is a quaint charm to their limitations.
Given its hugeness, the movie was followed by an inevitable but grossly inefficient sequel — something to do with yet another evil entity knocking at the door of reality and a giant river of slime under Manhattan. Strangely,
though, given the popular levels Ghostbusters reached in the mid-80s, it has left little trace of itself. Apart from the marketing, that is, this was the birth of the movie-as-logo (everything from Batman to Jurassic Park followed suit). Yet this was the first true fusion of blockbuster and all-out comedy.

Perfect merger of comedy and sci-fi.