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Taken For Granted – Ghostbusters

April 25, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
Ghostbusters

After two weeks in the dark and often depressing world of The Godfather, this column could use a palette cleanser. So this week I’m picking a film that a lot of people love, but for which I was late to the party. Fortunately, the party was so fun that I still had a ton of fun.

Welcome to Taken For Granted; a column where I analyze films that are almost universally considered classics. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.


Ghostbusters

Wide Release Date: June 8, 1984
Directed By: Ivan Reitman
Written By: Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis
Produced By: Ivan Reitman
Cinematography By: László Kovács
Edited By: David E. Blewitt and Sheldon Kahn
Music By: Elmer Bernstein
Production Company: Black Rhino and Delphi Productions
Distributed By: Columbia Pictures
Starring:
Bill Murray as Peter Venkman
Dan Aykroyd as Raymond “Ray” Stantz
Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler
Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore
Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barrett

What Do We All Know?

The second highest grossing film of 1984, Ghostbusters dominated the summer for five weeks in a row, and managed to climb back to #1 again on two separate occasions. In the process, it spawned one of the most successful commercial empires of any 1980’s movie; cartoon series, toys, lunchboxes, one delicious sugar drink, a sequel, and a reboot that won’t be mentioned again in this column. It’s been absorbed into the pop culture, and is a favorite for more than one generation of kids who grew up with it.

Me? I didn’t see the movie in its entirety until last year, as I asked Michael Ornelas to pick it for our column From Under A Rock. I was obviously aware of it, but I don’t have the nostalgia that many fans of the film have. Fortunately, I don’t really need to; not only is Ghostbusters an exceptionally good movie, but it also hits a lot of my personal sweet spots. It’ll be a movie I watch frequently going forward, and I wanted to talk about it again now that almost a year has passed since that column.

What Went Right?

There is no mystery why Ghostbusters is a good movie. It’s a comedy and it’s funny. It has a cool, easily understood concept that was perfect for its time and had endured. Recasting exorcists as scientists and exterminators is a stroke of brilliance (though, admittedly, done before in a pretty good Disney short). Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd wrote a great script and got great talent to work with it. It isn’t Bill Murray’s best role, but it’s close. Ernie Hudson may not be Eddie Murphy like they originally planned, but he might be even better. And beyond the Ghostbusters themselves, we also get see the comedic stylings of Rick Moranis, William Atherton and Annie Potts. Not to mention Sigourney Weaver in a role that’s pretty far from Ellen Ripley. When you have a good idea and good talent to bring it to life, you get a good product. Pretty simple.

The cast of characters is really quite impressive. Egon, Ray, Winston and Peter Venkman each have different kinds of humor; Egon makes deadpan scientific observations, Ray has a childlike innocence, Winston is a normal guy who doesn’t always get everything, and Venkman is the snarkiest, most unlikable yet also the funniest. It’s four comedians playing to their strengths, yes, but it also gives each character a distinct personality which allows them to bounce off of each other. What’s even more impressive is that the film doesn’t have a lot of exposition; it gets right into the action, tells us background when we need it, and lets the actors and their chemistry tell the story of their friendship.

Ghostbusters is also very good at branding. The team has a unique uniform, not to mention a custom symbol and a cool theme song. The ghosts are decidedly unlike any others; Slimer and Mr. Staypuft are instantly recognizable, but so is Gozer. The movie has such a strong personal identity, and such a specific tone that any attempts to replicate it would just feel like a pale imitation of Ghostbusters. It’s one of the first big summer blockbusters to also be primarily a comedy, and if you don’t care for story, the film is likely to entertain you with its humor. And vice-versa.

And let’s talk about that main concept a bit; cool name aside, the Ghostbusters’ job is essentially that of an exorcist. And Ghostbusters owes a lot of its immediate success to the environment in which it was created. In a world where Hollywood fed audiences Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist and newspapers were claiming that everything from rock ‘n’ roll to Dungeons and Dragons was devil worship, this movie took the idea of an evil Sumerian god invading earth and bringing about the end of the world… and had a bunch of snarky comedians making fun of it. What could have easily been a serious threat under other circumstances is made to be a joke. But Ghostbusters isn’t a parody (usually), and this subversion of how to treat satanism and the supernatural has a profound effect on kids, and some adults.

What Went Wrong?

Unlike some of the movies I’ve covered, Ghostbusters is not an unassailable masterpiece of cinema. It’s smarter than people give it credit for, but it does fall short in some areas. Rick Moranis is talented, but his character is pretty one note and shows up more than he really needs to. Conversely, Winston and Dana both feel like they could have used more screen time to really breathe. And it may be an odd thing to nitpick, but the “ghost blowjob” joke really feels like it’s from a different movie, even if it is funny. I could also nitpick the effects, few of which have aged well, but that’s not really what this section has been about.

What Went Really Right?

I don’t think I have to work too hard to argue that Ghostbusters is a good movie, but what makes it more than just good? What made this film that’s mostly aimed at adults so popular with kids that it could endure as a pop culture phenomenon for over thirty years? Well, it’s actually pretty simple; young children don’t have to imagine that there are ghosts haunting their house and monsters in their closet. For them, it’s reality. But the Ghostbusters can defeat the supernatural, and they don’t need magic talismans or ancient books. They don’t need to call their priest. Through science and their own ingenuity, they can trap the monsters. And even if you aren’t scientifically inclined, that tech is simple enough that anybody can pick it up and use it effectively. It’s a power fantasy that kids latch onto.

And frankly, the power fantasy works for adults too. The film alludes to the idea that the Ghostbusters could be stopping the Biblical Armageddon, and Gozer is at one point nothing more than a booming voice in the clouds. In the battle of ancient supernatural forces against modern technology and science, the supernatural gets its ass kicked. Now, I’m not saying Ghostbusters is an inherently atheist film. Winston refutes that by sharing his fondness for Jesus. But what Ghostbusters is saying is that, whether you believe in the supernatural or not, it does not have control over you or your destiny. You have the tools, you have the talent, you have the power. And that is pretty cool no matter what age you are.

Like This Column?
Check out previous editions!
Jurassic Park
Back to the Future
Chinatown
Taxi Driver
The Matrix
Batman (1989)
Casablanca
Goldfinger
X2
King Kong (1933)
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The Dark Crystal
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Godfather
The Godfather, Part II

Or check out my column with Michael Ornelas; “From Under A Rock”. Last week, we turned our brains off to enjoy Bio-Dome. This week, we turn them back on so we can follow Christopher Nolan’s Memento.

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I log reviews for every film I see, when I see them. You can see my main page here. Recent reviews include Creed, the better than it has any right to be Power Rangers, and Iron Man 3.