[written by writer, editor and publisher, Aaron Polson]
Let’s be frank: Ghostbusters is not a ghost movie. Sure, a portion of the movie’s 107 minutes is spent discussing and chasing disembodied spirits—the most famous of which is a gluttonous green blob—but Ghostbusters is a comedy first and a science-fiction/Lovecraftian horror flick second. It’s a weird tale at its bizarre and entertaining best, and, thanks to tremendous performances by Bill Murray and Rick Moranis at the height of their comedic powers along with Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd’s one-liner laden scrip, a first-rate comedy which only improves with repeat viewings.
At the outset, a team of university parapsychologists (Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman, Aykroyd as Dr. Raymond Stantz, and Ramis as Dr. Egon Spengler), are ousted from their grant-funded position on campus after making a breakthrough Dr. Spengler suggests could lead to “catching and holding a ghost indefinitely”. The ever-persuasive Dr. Venkman convinces his colleagues to go commercial, turn their research into a business—thus the Ghostbusters are born. Their first, and for a time, only, paying customer is Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), a professional cellist who has a strange vision of monsters in her refrigerator. Venkman investigates, and finds nothing. The Ghostbusters find themselves nearly bankrupt, but after their first ghost call—the aforementioned green blob—business picks up at an alarming rate. So alarming, at one point Egon suggests the normal Twinkie-sized amount of psychokinetic energy (PKE) in New York City has grown to a Twinkie 36 feet long weighing 600 pounds. As newly recruited Ghostbuster Winston Zedmore (Ernie Hudson) quips, “that’s a big Twinkie.” The scientists worry the increase in PKE might be a sign of something bad to come, and they’re right. Along with the Environmental Protection Agency shutting down their protection grid (basically a jail for ghosts) and causing a massive explosion, Dana and her neighbor Lewis Tully (Moranis) become possessed, taking on the roles of Gatekeeper and Keymaster. What do they unlock together (in a bit of less-than-subtle sexual innuendo)? A gateway allowing Gozer, a god from another dimension, into the city to wreck havoc.
And all this in just under two hours.
Ghostbusters is a blockbuster in true big-budget style, a hodgepodge which works because it’s done right. The special effects are pre-digital, but still hold up rather well taking into account the film’s age. Murray steals every scene in which he’s featured, from an initial experiment in his university office where he administers electric shocks to a subject to impress a blonde co-ed, to breaking into song while jailed with the other Ghostbusters. Moranis plays both the awkward, bumbling Tully (constantly locking himself out of his own apartment) and the creepy Keymaster with over-the-top flair. The script is another bright point for this big budget science-fiction mash-up. Aykroyd is a well-known paranormal enthusiast, and his love for the field comes through in the constant spouting of jargon (psychokinetic energy, classifications for ghosts, etc.). The Ghostbusters know their stuff.
Elmer Bernstein composed the quirky score, a real work of art and perfect fit with its use of barroom piano and strange Theremin effects for the ghostly happenings and full, shapely strings for Dana’s theme. In many scenes, the music not only enhances the action, but becomes another character, at one point echoing Dr. Venkman’s random tapping on piano keys like call and response. The rest of the soundtrack, aside from Bernstein’s work, doesn’t hold up as well with time. The theme song, “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr., falls victim to a very dated (um, hello 1980s) sound.
All in all, Ghostbusters manages to pay homage to the field of parapsychology and “ghost hunting” while not taking its often maligned subject matter too seriously. Aykroyd and Ramis found a way to poke fun at the critics (or skeptics) in their portrayal of the EPA’s Walter Peck (great character actor William Atherton) while pointing to the charlatans who often mar the paranormal field from the inside through Murray’s Dr. Venkman. This is a film to watch and watch again.