Ghostbusters 1984 *****

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One should never neglect the obvious; Ivan Reitman’s 1984 comedy was the biggest of all-time on release, and feels like it’s never been away. Despite Bill Murray’s lack of enthusiasm for running the ghost-busting theme into the ground, there have been official sequels, reboots, animations, video-games and yet another revamp in the works circa 2020. The original film is a fluke, an accident of unrepeatable proportions; the right star, the right scale, the right politics, and just the right sense of humour. So much, in fact, that Ghostbusters is well worth a look for adults as well as kids.

Class seems to be the central issue here; the ghost-buster crew are introduced meddling about with psychic research at Columbia University, before Raymond Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) indicates that ‘the private sector’ would be a better home for them. Yes, there’s nothing children or family audiences enjoy more than a film that debates the merits of private vs public sector, but that’s just the tip of the agenda here. Almost everyone the ghost-busters meet are moneyed beyond belief; Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver play the residents in a well-upholstered Central Park West apartment building, and the wide-corridors and fresh decoration indicate that they’re above most earthly problems. Similarly, encounters with snooty librarians, officious doormen and dismissive politicians await Stantz, Venkman (Bill Murray) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) as they work their NYC beat; the film’s biggest laugh, at least in the unedited version, remains Murray’s ad-libbed and amusing dismissive comment about uptight jobs-worth William Atherton ‘… this man has no dick.’

Such take-downs are the real meat of Ghostbusters, which artfully positions the heroes as blue-collar workers who the crowds identify with as if they’re rock stars. Why? Because Ghostbusters is a celebration of the ordinary overcoming the extra-ordinary, with a humble, uniformed squad cutting a swathe through all manner of special-effects creatures. The explanation, that a group of Satanists previously used the Central Park West building for sacrificial rituals, is another crowd-pleaser for kids, as it the scene where Stantz is fellated by a ghost. In short, nothing in Ghostbusters suggests comedy or box-office gold; it’s success is the happiest of accidents, a triple rebound that somehow punches the ball through the hoop.

10 Comments

  1. I’d never really thought of the class angle. It’s a bit tricky. The Ghostbusters dress in dirty coveralls and drive a beat-up station wagon, but they are Ivy League (Columbia) scientists. And once their business takes off they must be doing OK with all that national media attention.

    The apartments are nicer that what would be realistic, but that’s a convention in most movies. I remember Siskel and Ebert years ago taking shots at the movie clichés they hated the most and I think it was Siskel who complained about the size of the apartments that average Joes are presented as living in. Weaver is a concert cellist so I can’t imagine she’s making any money at all. Moranis is an accountant, but doesn’t look like he belongs to any sort of financial elite. Maybe it’s a rent-controlled building?

    I agree that it was a happy accident that has stood the test of time. It’s weird that the follow-ups have been so bad though.

  2. As RedLetterMedia has said, a truly lightning in a bottle film. RIP to Harold Ramis.

    Ghostbusters does have that weird contrast of on one hand, it has the branding and world that would be perfect to make a franchise children would love (and they did!). But on the other hand, the first Ghostbusters movie was clearly made for an adult audience first. If you take away the Ghostbuster name and the cool ghost catching props that made the franchise iconic, the original Ghostbusters was not at all built to start a franchise, which is probably why its follow-ups have seen only moderate successes to outright failures (though we did get a quite good video game and some half decent cartoons).

  3. I watch this movie as often as I can when it comes on Prime. I still like the second movie, but it just doesn’t quite have the same “whatever” that the first has 😀

    Have you watched the reboot? I haven’t bothered but am open to trying it for free on prime sometime.

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