For the latest installation in this summer’s series, “Movies Older Than I Am,” I decided to take a crack at the classic supernatural film that scared the pants off everybody with its story of possessed people and powers beyond the norm. I am, of course, talking about Ghostbusters.
In the film, as you probably know, three down-on-their-luck scientists (and Ernie Hudson) stumble across a ghost infestation in New York, and they decide to take advantage of the opportunity by marketing themselves as paranormal exterminators. This leads to the fame and celebrity, as well as to the discovery of a looming otherworldly being who’s determined to bring about the end of the world. Armed only with jumpsuits and proton packs, it’s up to these guys to save everyone.
I’m not going to launch into a big dramatic breakdown, because apparently that’s not what this movie is. I’ve talked to a few people who were old enough to have grown up with this movie, and they all seem to share the same opinion: Ghostbusters is an enduring ’80s classic that will stand the test of time. When I pried further, though, I didn’t get much in the way of why. And that’s what this review is going to dig into.
For some reason, nobody was really able to articulate their thoughts about this movie aside from “it’s a classic” and “it’s awesome.” Eventually we got to a point where the other person just kept repeating “because it just is, okay?” I wondered if maybe they were frustrated that they couldn’t figure it out for themselves, if they were content not knowing why they liked it, or if they were just getting annoyed with my questions.
One characteristic of most ’80s movies, I’ve found, is that they’re considered cultural accomplishments because A) they address complicated life issues in a lighthearted but very real way, B) they did something new with a genre that has influenced today’s cinema, or C) they’re ridiculous to the point of awesome. Ghostbusters falls into that third category, but I think it might be a little lacking in the “awesome” department.
“But Grace!” all the fans cry out. “You didn’t understand the humour! You didn’t understand the depth of Bill Murray’s comic genius! You didn’t understand Harold Ramis’s role as the straight man! Did you even see the secretary? How about that fat green ghost? Were you even watching at all? Fie and shame!”
To which I say yes, dear reader, I was watching. I understood the humour. I understood Bill Murray (and I understand that he’s a national treasure). I enjoyed Harold Ramis. I saw the secretary and the green ghost. I saw the exact same movie you did, but here’s the problem: I saw it too late.
I was born in the ’90s. You might scoff and say, “That’s no excuse; Ghostbusters only came out in 1984. It was maybe fifteen years old the first time you saw it.” And it’s quite possible that that’s true, because I know I saw it prior to that night last week when I sat down and found it on Netflix. Unfortunately, though, I read a lot as a kid. I didn’t watch movies except for animated ones with catchy musical numbers and strong moral messages (some of these movies may have starred anthropomorphic vegetables).
I can’t take into account the decades of history that came before. I can’t look at all the movies that came after and examine how Ghostbusters influenced them, because that’s probably too many movies to watch. I can’t even get a straight answer out of all the people who loved this movie as a kid, because due to time’s effects on memory or childhood nostalgia or loyalty to the franchise, all they know is that they loved it. So all I can do is look at the movie I saw and ask myself, “What’s so great about it?”
First, I think the Ghostbusters had great on-screen chemistry. They played off each other, and it was obvious that they were all having a fantastic time. It’s hard to analyze the different actors separately, though, since their performances depended so much on each other.
Honestly, I don’t think this would have been the same movie without Dan Aykroyd’s naive, idealistic ghost-chaser, or Rick Moranis’s pitiable next-door neighbour shtick, or Bill Murray’s deadpan humour. Heck, even Sigourney Weaver, who normally has all the charisma of a slightly constipated basset hound, added a certain sophistication to the mix, even if she didn’t have any chemistry with Bill Murray.
The special effects might be laughable now when we have movies like Avatar, which makes old-school CGI look like a preschool child’s wall scribblings in comparison. Even so, the effects are kind of charming, in a way; they’re less polished and more gritty, more accessible and hands-on, because they weren’t made by a team of hundreds working in a spotless computer lab somewhere.
The script was pretty well-written, for the most part; it’s a simple enough storyline, and all the lines have that flavour that practically screams 1984, even if some of them came across a bit stilted. The dramatic pacing was a little off, since the guys became famous right off the bat and then spend the rest of the movie just dealing with the end of the world.
Shouldn’t there be some kind of crisis of confidence, some “dark moment before the dawn” when their skills are called into question and they’re forced to rise to the occasion in spite of changing public opinion, not because they’re popular, but because it’s the right thing to do?
But one of the biggest things that bothered me (although Boyfriend has informed me that apparently all this is just “part of the humour”) was that several questions weren’t addressed. Dana’s apartment building has been standing for, what, 60 years? And all of a sudden it just decides, “Ehhh, let’s open the gates and get some ghosts up in here”?
Then everyone is quick to accept the reality of ghosts and the broken barriers between the worlds, when in fact people are pretty darn skeptical and would probably ask a few questions — especially when there’s a lot of damage and a group of random guys show up with homemade outfits and a long bill for services rendered for getting rid of a threat they can’t actually see. I mean, Larry King briefly questions their validity on TV, but it’s a subject that goes away pretty quickly.
And then there’s the fact that there’s a Terror Hound in Dana’s fridge. It’s never addressed why the dog is there, or why she can see another world inside. And at the end, after the Stay-Puft marshmallow man is defeated, there’s a slew of ghosts running around New York, and the Ghostbusters are just like, “Ehh, let’s deal with it tomorrow.” Seriously, nobody sees a problem with that?
I dunno. Overall, I think I missed out on the movie magic beloved by all those who grew up on these kinds of movies. And that’s making me wonder if perhaps I’m unqualified to keep going with this series. But on the other hand, maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m qualified because I want to know why these supposedly amazing classic movies are so amazing. Maybe we need to start looking at why we love the things we do, instead of just deciding that we love them and that’s that.
I know some people will disagree and wonder, “Why can’t we just love things? Why do we have to analyze it?” The answer, my dead reader, is that you can absolutely love a thing for the sake of loving it. But if you aren’t able to give good, solid reasons why, it’ll be very difficult for you to convince a skeptical ’90s kid that it’s a cultural treasure.
With this movie, I honestly tried. I did. I know how many people love Ghostbusters, so I really and truly tried to discover that special something that made people engage with it. But I failed, and I can’t make up something that isn’t there for me. To me, in spite of its charming cast and dry (if occasionally spotty) humour, the movie I watched wasn’t what I’d call a treasure. It was, if anything, average.
Final Grade: B-
- There were actually quite a few great lines in here, like “Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes!” and “Don’t cross the streams!”
- Was there maybe something profound in Dan Aykroyd’s character looking to his childhood for comfort while the world was falling apart around his ears?
- Wasn’t this supposed to be a kids’ movie? Man, kids back then must’ve been hardcore, what with Bill Murray talking about d*ckless people and Sigourney Weaver getting filthy about wanting some Murray-dangle and all.
- If you think I’m wrong about this movie and can contribute your own reasons why it’s the greatest movie of the ’80s, by all means do so in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you. That is all.