It is the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters. Like many theatres across North America, my local theatre decided to run it for today to celebrate the milestone. I wasn’t born when it was originally released to the big picture, so going today was like my inner child opening like a Pandora’s box.
Ghostbusters is personally a very important movie for me. Released in 1984, I saw it when I was around three or four years old and it instantly became my favourite movie. I watched that movie religiously. More than religiously. You can be religious by going to church once a week. I watched the movie every day. I watched it so much I wore out the theatrical release VHS tape leading to my parents having to tape the movie instead from WXYZ in Detroit. There were some scenes missing from the TV cut (as well as an aspect ratio that cut out tons of visuals) so revisiting Ghostbusters always gives me a feeling of finding something new in something I’m very familiar with. If you need some verifiable proof of my love of the movie, here’s something straight from an old babysitter:
Ghostbusters was everything for me. It was why I got up on Saturday morning for the cartoon. I even watched the Filmnation show on YTV despite it having zero to do with the Dan Aykroyd creation aside from the name (which Filmnation originally owned). I had countless toys from the firehouse to the Ecto-1. I saw Ghostbusters II in theatres. Despite the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eventually entering my child life and taking over much of my primary focus, I still loved that franchise. I loved everything about it. My first ever friend came from me dressing up as a Ghostbuster and going beyond my backyard to try and catch ghosts. Despite him being a few years older, he ran to his house, got his Ghostbuster costume and we played in a field near my place. Ghostbusters was everything to my early years. This is a tribute to everything I love about the movie.
“Now there’s something you don’t see every day.”
There is no movie quite like Ghostbusters.
I’m sure this could be said for many films and it’s all about our own personal experiences, yadda yadda. But Ghostbusters leaps genres like an interdimensional traveller. It’s most grounded in comedy but it doesn’t work like your typical comedy, even for the 1980s. Movies like Stripes and Caddyshack and Trading Places do not have anything in common with the tone of Ghostbusters. Due to the super natural concept and science fiction gadgetry, Ghostbusters is able to take tonal leaps most movies would be grated against criticism for attempting. The most powerful scene for myself that proves the movie is unlike any other comedy is on the Brooklyn bridge when Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) are discussing the recent events and correlating it with the book of Revelations. Ray brings immediate skepticism to the concepts due to his knowledge of religion and myth. Winston, a blue collar new hiree (only making $11,500 per year to work the job!) points out the accuracy in the myths in the Book of Revelations or other doomsday myths: in the world of Ghostbusters, the dead are rising from the grave. Remember, we’re talking about a COMEDY. But are we?
This is what I mean by genre leaps. It begins silly and light hearted but by the end the tone has shifted dramatically. But even when it has shifted towards action and science fiction, the movie still grounds itself on its original bed of comedy. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) doesn’t stop with the quips, and the traveler of Gozer ends up a 100 foot tall Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. It’s brilliant. The only movie that could compare to their tonal shifts from comedy to drama was Robert Zemekis’ Back to the Future, which played into a different sense of phenomena. But while Back to the Future uses the time travels as a plot device to get to the heart of people changing who they are, Ghostbusters is really a movie about ghosts. It isn’t trying to tell you something. It’s just taking you for a ride.
“As a duly designated representative of the City, County and State of New York…”
Ghostbusters is a love letter to New York City unlike any other.
Many movies try to be a love letter to New York. Or Chicago. Or Los Angeles. Or Paris. Or wherever. It’s a trope so well defined that the parody They Came Together continues to call the “city” a star of the film. The hope is that if you show enough location shots of a town, you might be able to take your audience into the town and love it for what it is. Ghostbusters might have not been filmed completely in New York City, but nothing captures the spirit of the city quite like it.
A rundown of the locations they visit Columbia University, Manhattan City Bank, an abandoned firehouse, a several story high apartment building, the Sedgewick hotel, various parts of downtown Manhattan, a ride across the Brooklyn bridge and an ending in the streets of New York City outside of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver)’s apartment. Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) is even chased to the Tavern on the Green. You can watch a tour of New York City to the locations here. One of my favourite lines is when Casey Kasem said the Ghostbusters stopped some ghosts in a nightclub called The Rose and then danced the rest of the night. Just the visual is wonderful.
But any film can simply head to locations. Hitch went to locations. Ghostbusters was more than that. Ghostbusters captured the heart of New York City’s citizens, the people who make it the Big Apple, from the lower class, middle class and high class. Not only was every economic level of New York City represented (even Chinatown, where the Ghostbusters removed a ghost and were rewarded with chickens. It’s the 80s) but they also came together at the end to watch the Ghostbusters try to save the city (to the song “Saving the Day” by Alessi Brothers, who were pretty much doing a Kenny Loggins impression). Punks, yuppies, Rabbi’s, you name it. They were there.
“Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown!”
There’s a common concept in science fiction in that the only way humans will stop fighting with each other is if they have a common enemy to fight. In the Watchmen, this was aliens. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Boliver Trask wanted to unite humanity against mutants. In Ghostbusters, this is played out to the city of New York City uniting together to watch ghosts be defeated.
In most movies about ghosts or the supernatural, it’s always from a common bond. You know someone who is a ghost and you want the spirit at peace. Ghostbusters instead takes the corporate approach. Ghosts are a problem that need to be cleaned (Venkman calls himself an exterminator to a man near an elevator at the Sedgewick). They build a storage containment unit to leave the ghosts without much of a care. In a way they are like Animal Control, chasing stray dogs and cats (living together!) and then just containing them in traps. No wonder they caught the interest of Walter Peck (William Atherton) and the EPA. But Peck thinks they are charlatans. He doesn’t care about the well being or human connection of the ghosts. It’s interesting to me that it never really comes up. That’s because who the ghosts once were really isn’t the purpose of the movie like other plots about ghosts. What matters is cleaning them up. It’s a concept that allows New Yorkers to be united, regardless of differences. If the world was under attack by a growing amount of ghosts, nobody would care who they once belonged to ethically (except The Atlantic magazine). We’d only care about them being stopped. The Ghostbusters united humanity in this way.
“The heart of the Ghostbusters!”
For most, this was the breakout performance of Bill Murray. Everyone loves Peter Venkman and I don’t blame them for it. He carries the comedy with a leg kick and a spin. But for me, it was always about Ray.
Ray is such an oddball character. From what I gather, Dan Aykroyd as a person is no different. Aykroyd wrote the script as a vehicle for himself and John Belushi, no different to say the Blues Brothers. The script was an absolute mess of well fleshed out ideas but little structure. It took the handiwork of Ivan Reitman and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) to make it something that could be filmed. I feel this is a big reason why the movie is unlike anything else. It came from the hands of the son of a Spiritualist that believes in the paranormal, and was ready to go at great lengths to explain the science and reality behind a very unreal concept. It’s worth noting that when the Ghostbusters discuss Ivor Shandor and his bizarre apartment building’s architecture, they mention the secret society of Gozer Worshippers. Not to say he was, but Aykroyd’s father was a member of the Lily Dale Society in New York City. The Lily Dale Society is all about the paranormal. The material here isn’t from someone who has to a lot of research.
As a kid, what I loved about Ray was his childlike expressions on what was going on. Ray is convinced to stay in the firehouse due to a pole and conjures the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in order to think of something innocent and not a Destructor. Watching as an adult, Ray’s character has new dimensions for me. From his open bottle of Peach schnapps to the fact he’s always smoking a cigarette (today, movie characters don’t smoke unless it’s a part of their character’s plot. Ray smokes just because he smokes), to the fact he gets a blowjob from a ghost in his dream (originally a deleted scene).
I followed Aykroyd’s career since, as well as his enthusiasm to create a new Ghostbusters film (I’ll discuss later). While I don’t drink his vodka and wine all of the time and I won’t go see him in Get On Up just to continue following his career, I do feel he has been wildly underrated since the 80s ended. People forget what a quick, original writer he was on Saturday Night Live, or how great he was in creating characters (Blues Brothers, Coneheads) and worlds (Ghostbusters). Aykroyd is a Canadian treasure in my eyes and I hope more recognize his achievements, especially in Ghostbusters.
– Peter treats Janine (Annie Potts) horribly. There’s really no explanation as to why.
– It was odd they dropped the romance between Janine and Egon when it still plays out in the original cut.
– The deleted scene where Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd play homeless men discussing who would be the best fighter is one of the funniest deleted scenes in cinema.
– $11,500 was probably terrible pay even in the early 1980s. Winston must have been desperate for work.
– The film does play out as a story about entrepreneurs in New York. Ray early on mentions how he didn’t want to go into the private sector before being convinced to get a loan from a mortgage on his parents inherited house. Despite all of the equipment, they run out of money before their first job and happily charge $5,000 for cleaning it up. It’s difficult to say if it would have been a successful venture, though the second movie makes it clear they get shut down. I guess saving a town only goes so far. Problems with the EPA is another element of being a bunch of guys trying to start a new business.
– Watching the movie in a theatre today, I realized the first shot of the Zuul hound is transparent. You can see through it into the streets. Probably an error but I like finding new things about it.
– The kiss at the end looks so forced, you get the feeling Peter never really got the girl. The second Ghostbusters makes that pretty clear though Dana is much warmer to him in that. It’s only fair, seeing Peter is pretty lecherous throughout. If he isn’t being terrible to Janine, he’s hitting on every woman that moves. At least he had the guts to “go for broke” in her apartment. That said, I do not believe the theory he raped Dana when she was possessed.
– There are two moments in the movie where reactions felt real, even if they were meant to be. When Ray smiles at Peter giving Egon a Nestle Crunch bar, and when Ray tells Peter he never studied. It’s moments like that which feel so natural that it allows the viewer to be grounded in these characters more than most films.
– I’ve heard of who was supposed to be casted compared to who was casted. Originally, they wanted Eddie Murphy in the role of Winston. I’m actually glad it went to Hudson, since Murphy would have been too much of a comedic force to handle that late in the film. Hudson plays blue collar to perfection.
– Was the EPA actually protagonists in the movie? Were their interests actually positive? Should the Ghostbusters have been limited a bit more? Absolutely. But Peck shutting the protection grid down was a villainous move no matter how you look about it.
– Venkman did save the lives of millions of registered voters, leading to Lenny getting re-elected as mayor for the sequel. You would think he’d get more credit for that.
– Ghostbusters made $238 million in domestic back when it was released. The movie had tremendous legs, losing the #1 spot to Purple Rain and taking it back. Only Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom outgrossed it. Adjusted for inflation, it’s one of the most successful films of all time, especially since it saw a 1985 re-release. It’s an incredible achievement.
“I think we better split up.” “Yeah, we can do more damage that way.”
There hasn’t really been a Ghostbusters reunion since. Ernie Hudson made an appearance on the Super Mario Bros. Super Show as Winston. Dan Aykroyd donned the gear in the Casper film. Director Ivan Reitman did work with Bill Murray on the genius Groundhog Day, but it was the end of their professional working relationship. Bill Murray let Woody Harrelson wear the gear in Zombieland before coming out in full gear at the Scream Awards. We’re so used to seeing full scale reunions, it’s odd we never saw it with them on screen.
We did get everyone back together for the Ghostbusters videogame made by Atari. A brilliant game (avoid the Nintendo Wii version, which was cut to pieces with downgraded visuals) with a brilliant story, it contained everyone except Sigourney Weaver returning for voices. It’s probably what we have left as a reunion of the original series.
Unfortunately, Harold Ramis recently passed away, meaning we won’t ever get that proper reunion.
The hope for a reunion came in seeing them all together in Ghostbusters III, a film that has been in production hell since the late 90s. Sony Pictures unquestionably wants to do a third Ghostbusters movie but they have been pretty respectable to Dan Aykroyd and Ivan Reitman in allowing them to work on the movie at their own pace and never pushing them out to just crank it out. They want to get it right. Bill Murray is said to not be involved, having not ever wanted to do Ghostbusters II (and getting tricked when the script changed before production). There was originally a script ready to go made by the people who did Year One, an absolutely horrendous comedy that nobody liked. However, there is word they might go in a different direction, one in which the Ghostbusters would feature some of the best women in comedy today. Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids is said to have got the go ahead by Sony.
I am 100% for this direction.
“Ghostbusters, what do you want?”
The thought of say Kristen Wiig, Chelsea Peretti, Kristen Schall and Ellie Kemper gathered to fight ghosts would allow the movie to breathe a bit. My biggest fear in something like a Ghostbusters sequel is to either see fat, out of shape and old men try to don the gear and be a terrible version of the Expendables, or that they try to bring new people to be the Ghostbusters that just mirror the personalities of the original group. If they go with women, there’s a chance for the characters to stand on their own, though a bad writer could still just go, “Okay, Ellie Kemper is the new Egon, Peretti is the new Venkman, etc.” and that’d be the wrong way to go. The fact I named four white women is likely to make someone go, “REALLY? WE CAN CAST ANYONE AND THAT’S WHO YOU ARE GOING WITH!?” but it’s really just me tossing names out there. You want to add Jessica Williams from the Daily Show or Retta from Parks and Recreation? Go for it! Aubrey Plaza or Melissa Fumero? No complaints. I’m all for diversity as long as it works.
There’s word it would be a reboot, but that’s just an iconic word in Hollywood. If Aykroyd and Reitman are still involved, I expect the direction of a sequel. I also believe that Bill Murray would eventually come in as a big surprise, the kind of surprise we’d all expect to see. I have a lot more trust in Feig than I did the Year One guys (I guess they also wrote for The Office) and I take a similar stance to it that I did with the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films. I’ll always love the original stuff. Something new will never ruin my memories. I hope it leads to new people loving the series.
That said, unlike the Turtles film which I wrote off for a younger generation, I’d be there opening night for Ghostbusters 3. I’d want it to be great. I’d want it to be the kind of thing that re-invigorates the series like a possessed body. I also think the series lends great for a reoccurring TV show about a small town version of the Ghostbusters, something Netflix style. Any way it goes, I just hope the original artists approve it. Not on necessity but on quality.
“Nice working with you, Dr. Venkman.”
Ghostbusters is now 30 years old. It’ll all be a little older than me, which means it’s the one thing aside from family that I can say I’ve always had in my life. I loved it as a child and I love it today. Watching it in theatres, no jokes got old. Nothing felt boring. It was like hearing “Happy Birthday” on my birthday. I never feel like experiencing it is a waste of my time. Nostalgia might get to me on something like this, but hearing other people in the theatre enjoy it and seeing all of the people online be excited for this, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.
Some kids had Star Wars. Other kids had Harry Potter. I have Ghostbusters.