Improvisational comedy and big-budget production values rarely mix well. This week’s movie recommendation is one of the rare instances in which the two complement one another beautifully: Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters (1984).
The plot centres on a trio of parapsychologists, comprising Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Dan Aykroyd, who go into private business catching ghosts after an ignominious removal from their research gigs at Columbia. Sigourney Weaver plays Murray’s prepossessing romantic interest. After an encounter with an apocalyptic kitchen appliance, she becomes possessed by something altogether more insidious than her affection for Murray’s character, and the team is on the case. Supporting cast members include Ernie Hudson as an unassuming latecomer to the Ghostbusters team, Rick Moranis is cast firmly in type as the hapless neighbour competing for Weaver’s attention, and William Atherton plays an officious EPA bureaucrat vying to expose the Ghostbusters’ con.
While the first Ghostbusters film is far superior to its sequel (Ghostbusters II ), the ironic conceit underlying the comedy in both movies is the same. Ramis’ and Aykroyd’s screenplays both attribute New Yorkers’ impatience, anxieties, and refusal to communicate with one another to external, supernatural forces, rather than anything to do with New York life itself (as in, for example, Woody Allen films). Make no mistake, however; the Ghostbusters franchise showcases a deep love of New Yorkers’ ability to come together and overcome obstacles when in a bind. Even the final scene is a tongue-in-cheek parody of the misanthropic message of King Kong, with a sweet ending that highlights the American love of barbecue.*
After films like Caddyshack and Blues Brothers, studios were more receptive to the idea that household-name alumni of Saturday Night Live such as Aykroyd and Murray were likely to net big returns at the box office. True to form, the performances in Ghostbusters are, across the board, at the same calibre as the production values. The dialogue is slick and witty, the plot doesn’t drag, and the chuckles keep coming.
With so much emphasis on thirty-year-old special effects, Ghostbusters inevitably looks a bit dated nowadays. But the cheesy lightshows blend with the soundtrack – one of the best in cinema history, in my opinion – for a great 1980s throwback experience. The result is an hour and a half of good-hearted fun. Moreover, with the rare exception of one or two scenes, it’s a thoroughly family-friendly movie.
* Forgive the pun and cheap joke. After all, it was Independence Day this week, and roasted marshmallows were on the menu.