Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Essentials- Ghostbusters (1984)

The Essentials- #33

Throughout my entire life, there has been one film that has always been in the top two of my ongoing list of favorite movies. A movie that has been very personal to me my entire life. A movie that has shaped every aspect of my being. Its an experience that I have to have at least once a year, otherwise I would go crazy. But "Ghostbusters" is more than sentimental value to me, its the perfect blend of outrageous comedy, big action and special effects. There have been a fair share of high-concept comedies with lots of CGI, but those films are seldom special. "Ghostbusters" set a golden standard for the high-concept comedy that I feel hasn't been scratched since. It has made that powerful of an impact on our culture. Because of all it has achieved, "Ghostbusters" is indeed essential to cinematic vocabulary.

I was about four or five when I first sat down to watch "Ghostbusters." I think it was either my brother or my cousin who told me it was a comedy about ghosts. My young mind thought that would be the coolest idea ever and I suppose I was in the mood for a good laugh. As the movie begins though, it doesn't give air of laughter. As the Columbia Pictures logo appears, that eerie opening music starts playing and we zoom in on a Manhattan library. We see a librarian going downstairs, eerie music in tow, and we see many strange happenings. I started to get the chills, thinking this was an elaborate prank from my brother and perhaps we were watching a horror movie. When the library cards began shooting out of their drawers, I had close to the same reaction as the librarian, I wanted to scream. Then as the bright light shines on her face and she really begins to scream, I almost wanted to look away. But then the title appears and the memorable theme song begins to play and I immediately knew that I wouldn't know what to expect as the film went on.

What surprised me the most about "Ghostbusters" was how it didn't shy away from the fundamentals of the ghost story. "Ghostbusters" is strange, bizarre, and creepy sometimes. For a certain age group, its pretty freaking scary at times. But when I was five, I was having so much fun that the creepy stuff didn't bother me. I am pretty sure "Ghostbusters" was one of the first cinematic experiences I had were I experienced multiple emotions at once. That has probably helped the film stay with me for so long, too.

The film revolves around doctors of parapsychology. Their names are Pete Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis). After getting thrown out of their university for their unorthodox research, they plan to go into business stopping paranormal activity in New York City. Business is pretty slow at first, as they have one client within a long stretch of time. That client is Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), whose apartment was haunted by a demonic spirit. Soon afterward, the Ghostbusters start getting calls like nobody's business. Which is good, because they'll need the experience as the end of the world draws closer in the film.

Pete Venkman is the one who visits Barrett's apartment when she calls the Ghostbusters, and its pretty clear that there is some flirting going on. What I noticed, even as a small boy, is how well the romance pays off. If Venkman was written as a lubby-dubby character, I'm not sure the film would have been so strong. But the flirting between Venkman and Barrett is fun and sarcastic, a nice change from the usual sappy dialogue in most adventure movies. To me, their romance always felt so real compared to other films of this time, which is why it has always stuck out to me. And when the couple kiss for the last time on camera, I was cheering with all the happy New Yorkers who witnessed it.

All of the performances are great in this movie. Murray rules the movie and easily steals the show, but Aykroyd and Ramis are just as good. The three have incredible chemistry, we feel that they have been colleagues for countless years, we feel that they have strong friendships, and we feel that they are friends. Weaver does very good work as Barrett, I particularly liked that she wasn't just a damsel in distress. Ernie Hudson plays Winston Zeddemore, a man who eventually joins the Ghostbusters. There are a couple of moments near the end of the film where Hudson's comedic timing is perfect. Just perfect. Likewise with Rick Moranis as Louis Tully, Barrett's annoying yet trusty neighbor. I absolutely loved Moranis' transitions throughout the entire movie and I felt he was truly the heart and soul of the whole film.

Usually, I find it to be an empty promise when a critic says that a movie "has it all." But what I tried to say in this piece tonight is that "Ghostbusters" really does have it all. There are moments of sheer terror. The devil dogs? Scary. Gozor? Scary. (Especially since her hair style reminded me of my first babysitter's hair style, and my first babysitter was mean.) There are moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, and high adventure. There is romance that feels real not soapy or forced. There is also a maniacal craziness that makes the film much more fun. Only a movie like "Ghostbusters" could feature a giant marshmallow monster and somehow make him not tacky. "Ghostbusters" is a movie that truly has it all, and its been a great example that high-concepts do work with comedy. The film is also an instant classic, this is why the film matters. This is why the film is one of my favorites of all time.

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