Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Perfect 1980s Film

Film: Ghost Busters
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

A couple of notes before we head into this one full-force. First, as should be evident from the information listed above, we’ve finally broken down and gotten a NetFlix account. I’ll continue to use the library at home and near work as well as interlibrary loan and sometimes the Northern Illinois University library, but a couple of NetFlix films every week will make a lot of films easier to locate, and should save me a good bit of time.

Second, I realize that so far, when I’ve watched two movies on the same day, I review them in the same post, so this is kind of a break from the established. Regarding that, I have several things to say. First, there are no rules regarding this thing I’ve set for myself. I’m not so much breaking a rule as I am altering a tradition. Second, I actually watched Crumb a couple of days ago but didn’t have time to write it up until this morning. Third, shut up. This is my blog and I can do what I want.


I’m certain that there are people in the world who don’t like Ghost Busters, although I’ve never met one. Our heroes are a trio of scientists who are kicked out of their cushy university research jobs because of a complete lack of results. They are the uptight serious nerd, Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis); the goofy, energetic dork, Ray Stanz (Dan Akroyd); and obnoxious, jerkish Bill Murray character, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray). All three are investigators in the paranormal, and Egon and Ray believe that they have the ability to capture and contain an actual spirit.

These three are quickly contrasted with Dana (Sigourney Weaver), a professional musician with the New York Philharmonic, who begins to experience strange happenings in her kitchen. Strange like her eggs spontaneously cracking open and cooking on her countertop. Strange like a demonic dragon creature living in her refrigerator.

Ghost Busters, despite the fact that it deals with the paranormal, is a comedy, and it is very much a comedy. This movie is funny as all hell, one of the funniest pieces of film ever created. It is an icon not only of the 1980s, but of comedy in general.

Chances are that you have already seen Ghost Busters, so there’s really not much of a need to go into the rest of the plot, the various sight gags, the collection of characters that show up, or the incredibly funny rampaging monster that attacks the city of New York at the end of the film. You’re familiar enough with the material already. If you aren’t familiar with this movie, you should go rent it right now and watch it half a dozen times.

The question with this movie isn’t whether or not it is funny. The question for me is why it’s funny. For the life of me, I don’t know why the movie is funny, but it is, and almost constantly. I mean, the Bill Murray character is an ass. Essentially, he’s the classic Bill Murray character from 1980s films. It’s the same guy he played in Stripes and Meatballs. He’s a dick, but he’s a really funny one. There’s a joy to this film that is rare. It’s evident that these guys had a great time making it. There’s a great cast in addition to the three main players and Sigourney Weaver. Annie Potts as their receptionist is tremendous, as is Ernie Hudson as Winston, the guy they hire when they get busy. Rick Moranis as Dana’s neighbor is suitably nebbish-y and entertaining. William Atherton, who made a name for himself playing cinematic douchebags, particularly as the smarmy reporter in the Die Hard series, makes the film as the guy from the EPA.

While Ghost Busters isn’t perfect, the cast is. This film wasn’t really a star-making performance for anyone, but more a star-confirming piece for everyone. Few films have this good of a cast all at the tops of their games. It isn’t evident in this film that Bill Murray had learned how to do anything other than be funny—there’s no proof here that he could act. There’s a sense in almost every scene he’s in that he’s winking and nodding to the audience, but it’s also done well enough that no one really cares.

This doesn’t take into account the various theological implications of this film. For instance, in a country where the vast majority of those with religious beliefs hold in one Supreme Being (of various names, depending on the flavor of monotheism), this film essentially posits that a Sumerian deity actually exists. I’m a little surprised that no one seems to glom onto that with this film—it’s exactly the kind of thing that should really irritate anyone with a religious axe to grind, and those people are legion. Admittedly, that’s probably heavier and deeper than even the creators of this film want anyone to delve, but it does create implications that other ancient deities might exist as well—which should have opened up a whole cool realm for a franchise of sequels. Instead, we got a terrible sequel, one that can’t carry this one’s ectoplasm.

What it ultimately boils down to is this: Ghost Busters is fun. It’s ridiculous and silly and brilliant. As I sit here, looking over the films that are still to come, seeing endless lists of serious Bergman movies, depressing dramas from the Eastern Bloc, and films that touch on every depressing, scary, painful topic known to humankind, it’s a relief to see films like this one pop up.

These days, when we’ve become so used to fantastic special effects that often take the place of story, it’s possible to see the strings on many of the effects here. But so what? If you watch this film and don’t laugh, it’s because either you’re dead or you had your sense of humor surgically removed.

Bergman and death and depression can wait. Life’s too short not to bust a few ghosts and revel in brilliant one-liners.

Why to watch Ghost Busters: One of the funniest films ever made, from the 1980s or any other decade.
Why not to watch: It spawned one of the worst sequels in movie history.

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