Nearly every Friday night, Mertmas and I settle down for ‘Movie Night’, one of the highlights of the week. Usually we’ll watch something I loved when I was his age or work our way through a recent franchise to get him up to speed for an upcoming new release. Recently, we managed to do both simultaneously…
“Ghostbusters” is one of those ‘lightning in a bottle’ films where virtually every single ingredient works perfectly. The finished product is such a well-crafted comedy horror – without short-changing either genre – that I’d be tempted to say it’s the kind of film that just wouldn’t get made today if it weren’t for the fact that they have made one and it’s coming out in a couple of weeks. Whatever its merits, though, I doubt the remake/ reboot/ whatever will be able to tread the fine line between adult and family friendly as the original.
The cold open of the film, in the New York Public Library, is pure horror movie tropes, without a hint of the comedy to come. It’s only when Ray Parker Jr’s peerless theme song kicks in that we’re reassured we’re not watching a really scary movie. Brilliantly, the film then immediately brings us a scene of pure comedy as Peter Venkman (Murray) conducts a dubiously lecherous psychic experiment. Set up as a classic ‘origin’ tale, we’re introduced to our three heroes as they undertake their first proper adventure and it’s in the dialogue and performances that we quickly get to understand and know the sardonic Venkman, the bookish and intellectual Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and the excitable Ray Stanz (Dan Aykroyd). The story unfolds pretty much as a straight action horror movie would, although anyone who protests it’s not a comedy film is just crazy. It’s through the performances of the cast (most of the film was not performed as scripted and much of the dialogue especially Murray’s was ad-libbed) and the skilful direction of Ivan Reitman that the tone stays light and the action is fun rather than frightening.
It’s not just the three leads who are perfectly cast, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver are spot on too and while Ernie Hudson might be short changed by the script (heavily rewritten after Eddie Murphy passed on the role), Winston Zedmore is still a lynchpin character, keeping the Ghostbusters team grounded and relatable in amongst all the scientific gobbledegook and technobabble. Even William Atherton adds to the fun as the odious and officious Walter Peck, five years before he’d reprise the characteristics as Richard Thornburg in “Die Hard” (alongside Reginald VelJohnson who also pops up briefly in “Ghostbusters”).
Watching it as a ten year old, the film was literally amazing – spooky, funny, silly and thrilling. Packed with amazing special effects (which still hold up pretty well today although the increasing resolution standards can be cruel to the spectacular matte work done in the 70s and 80s). Watching it now as an adult, it’s a different but equally great film (this time the most terrifying moment is the throwaway gag about one of the mortgages Ray takes out is at 19%). There are so many memories packed in the film, and not just the big set-pieces but in the small details too, like the way the rug crumples up against the base of the chair as Dana is dragged through her apartment towards the fridge (a moment which genuinely shocked Mertmas). Ad-libbed or not, the dialogue is consistently pithy and memorable and every single scene adds to the story; not a frame is wasted.
It’s actually a tough film to review because it’s so good in virtually every aspect, it’s tricky to find any purchase to hang a critique off of. For once, nostalgia is absolutely spot on – it’s as good now as it was then. It’s given us one of the best movie nights since we did the original “Star Wars” saga. “Ghostbusters” has instantly become one of Mertmas’ favourite movies and he’s excited for the new one coming out this year. Next up: “Ghostbusters II”…