We’ve all seen monster movies. We’ve all seen comedies. Monster movies rely on suspense to move the story forward, leaving little room for comic relief. Comedies have the flow disrupted if there is much tension. It’s rare to see a movie that combines these two elements; I can’t think of another example of a fusion of monster mayhem and humor as accomplished as the iconic movie Ghostbusters (1984).
Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are parapsychologists at Columbia University who research paranormal activities and ghost appearances. After gathering their first useful hard data from a specter at a library, they return to Columbia University to find their funding and tenure cut off. Now jobless with useful scientific data on ghosts, they create their own paranormal exterminator service called “The Ghostbusters” using ghost catching technology invented by Egon. They catch their first ghost at the Sedgewick Hotel, and become hugely successful. Business booms and they have to hire Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) to help meet the demand. The Ghostbusters are summoned by Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) to investigate a demonic spirit that she finds in her refrigerator. Peter takes interest in Dana and begins competing with her neighbor Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) for her affection. Ray discovers that the Dana and Louis’s apartment was built by a cult leader and that the design of the building acts as a conductor to summon Gozer, a demon god of destruction, from another dimension. The Ghostbusters are summoned by the city to handle the massive ghost outbreak, and save them from impending annihilation.
Where to start on this classic?
One of the more endearing features of Ghostbusters is the combination of genres. It’s sort of a suspense/action/comedy movie. Usually high production special effects and comedy don’t blend well. Comedy requires spontaneity while special effects require meaningful planning ahead of time. High end special effects detract from spontaneity, and thus from good comedy. Ghostbusters somehow managed to pull it off, though. Most of the scenes featuring improvisation comedy sketch masters Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis were in fact, improvised. This is amazing because every line of dialogue, even the improvised ones, develops the plot and characters. Yet the spontaneity doesn’t detract from the special effects; there was a natural progression of the plot and characters to cause Gozor to take the form of the cute food mascot, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The ordinarily contrasting film elements merged beautifully to make a great movie.
The art design in the movie was fantastic as well. Remember that this movie was made long before computer special effects were available. The models and puppets for the ghost creatures were made transparent and well designed. They looked monstrous and creepy, yet weightless and ghostlike.
The wardrobe was fantastic, too. The characters all looked really believable within their context. The Ghostbusters team looked perfect in their field gear. The jumpsuits and proton packs (used for catching the ghosts) were so well designed that they are now iconic symbols of the Ghostbusters film. The Ghostbuster’s car, Ecto-1, is a 1959 Cadillac ambulance/hearse combination which is, itself, so iconic that it is almost its own character. It was beautifully designed with lots of detail. A good indication of great movie design is seeing ordinary people try to replicate it. You’ll see Ecto-1 and Ghostbusters uniforms replicas at sci-fi conventions and even some car shows decades after the movie was released. Everything about this movie exudes personality and classic cinematic artwork.
With great special effects, some suspenseful scenes, hysterical humor, and one of the catchiest movie theme songs in cinema history, Ghostbusters has withstood the tests of time. It is required viewing even if you have only the vaguest of recollection of the film. If you have seen this movie before, go see it again! If you’re a bit too young to have seen it back in the day you must watch it at your earliest convenience so that you will know who you’re gonna call.