Weekend movie recommendation: Ghostbusters

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.Screen shot 2013-07-04 at 02.32.43

While the first Ghostbusters film is far superior to its sequel (Ghostbusters II [1989]), 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.

18 thoughts on “Weekend movie recommendation: Ghostbusters”

  1. A line to remember comes when the Weaver character comes on strongly to the Murray character who says, “I make it a rule never to get involved with possessed people.” When she throws him onto the bed he says, “Actually, that is more of a guideline than a rule.”

    Pirates of the Caribbean may later have appropriated the line, but Ghostbusters was there first.

    1. The possessed Weaver: “Do you want my body?”
      Murray: “Is that a trick question?”

    2. A physician I know uses this example to explain how much providers should be constrained by “clinical practice guidelines”

  2. “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.”

    Wow! “Likely to net big returns” may be your best understatement yet in any of your film posts. What a cast of moneymakers!

    The original Not Ready for Primetime Players (including, though not an original, Bill Murray) may have been the biggest collection of talent ever assembled for a TV show, even a one-night special. It’s truly amazing that we got to see them together every Saturday night.

    1. Point taken, but big-budget comedies were still thought of as something of a gamble. The disappointment of Spielberg’s “1941” (to name but one example) still left a salty taste in studio executives’ mouths.

      Everyone knew that people like Aykroyd had talent; but that didn’t necessarily translate into big returns at the box office. That’s what I was trying to get at.

    2. One could make a pretty strong argument for the 1990-91 season, which included (among others) Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller, Mike Myers, Chris Rock, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, and David Spade. Lots of talent and/or box office gold in that crowd.

      1. Um, really? Can you name even two living members of your list whose work today – or even whose work outside of SNL in the 90s – doesn’t cause instinctive revulsion? I have some fondness and respect for Chris Rock. The rest of the survivors are a blight upon the entertainment industry, to the extent they actually get paying work these days. Everything they touch is not merely disappointing but actively dreadful. And that’s the survivors; I suspect our memory of Phil Hartman is made kinder by his untimely demise, and similarly Chris Farley, to the extent his work is remembered fondly.

        1. Shrek and Austin Powers are wonderfully funny films by Mike Myers.
          Dana Carvey is a terrific stand-up artist — the reason he vanished isn’t because anything he did failed artistically but because he had heart surgery and the surgeon botched the procedure. It took him a long time to recover.

          1. Right. Mike Myers was also responsible for the rarest of comedic successes: A sketch turned into a funny movie in Wayne’s World.

          2. I’ll give you Shrek (2001) and Austin Powers (1997) – but each is the first movie of a series, and in each case there is a progression from a good first film through a disappointing second film to the inevitable gut-wrenchingly awful third film or more.

            I adored Dana Carvey when he was redefining George HW Bush on SNL (and I suspect a lot of people remember Bush more based on his portrayal more than on the real person, much as many people remember Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford more than the real person). I still remember a fascinating interview he did on Fresh Air, more than a decade ago. His health troubles are sad. Still, it’s not accurate to say he failed artistically because of something that happened in 1997; his failed TV show was before that, and his auteur project Master Of Disguise came out in 2002.

        2. I think you are perhaps overselling the consistency of the original cast. I’ll take Austin Powers 2 over even the most heartfelt episode of Kate & Allie, for instance. Or Funny Farm. It also seems strange to complain about the decline of a multi-film franchise in a thread celebrating Ghostbusters. Although Ghostbusters 2 was better than Vegas Vacation.

          Your statement about Hartman, however, shows me that you are of the generation that simply will not accept that anything good ever happened after the original SNL cast moved on. Hartman was gold, and was considered a great well before his untimely passing. If nothing else, his Ronald Reagan is the most underrated presidential impression in SNL history. And while Farley may not have endured, considering he had only one joke, he was extremely good at it. I’m not sure John Belushi would have fared any better.

          1. Would Belushi have fared any better?

            Possibly–his performance in “Continental Divide” showed some real promise. I haven’t seen the movie in years–not since it came out, in fact–but I remember coming out of the theater thinking, “the guy can act.”

          2. I never found Hartman all that interesting; he seemed to pretty much just play his stuff straight as an arrow. On the other hand, I didn’t see all that much of his stuff. Mostly I’m reacting to all the hagiography; for the best part of a decade it seemed every American comedian was required to lament his loss in every interview they did.

    1. Forgot all about that line!

      Your 8 year old will wet his pants at that one!

  3. Not quite family-friendly … Murray groans while ghost unzips his pants and pleasures him?!

  4. My favorite line from the movie is Bill Murray’s response to the possessed Sigourney Weaver. She says, “I want you inside me,” and he says, “No, there are already too many people in there.”

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