“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” exclaims Dr. Peter Venkman to the hotel manager.
One of my all-time favorite comedies happens to have been released in the year of my birth. I’m not sure if that’s what makes it extra special to me or that it was shot in New York City (the city itself almost seems like another character). The film I’m referring to (if you haven’t already guessed) is Ghostbusters. I grew up with this film, having enjoyed it many times on TV. I didn’t get to see it on the big screen until 11 years ago when I saw it at the 2003 Central Park Film Festival on a cool Saturday night during the summer. Director Ivan Reitman himself was there to introduce the film, and he praised all of the key people involved with the film (especially Dan Aykroyd). He even mentioned how the special effects had to be achieved optically back then and specified what it took to pull off extending the architecture of the Central Park West apartment building that was used as Dana Barrett’s apartment building. I would get to see it on the big screen again seven years later at a midnight screening at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City (some people actually dressed up as Ghostbusters).
1984’s Ghostbusters centers on a trio of parapsychologists (Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, and Ray Stantz) who get kicked out of Columbia University when their grant money gets revoked. They decide to go into business for themselves, catching ghosts using special equipment they’ve developed. Business picks up to the point where they add a fourth member, Winston Zeddemore. One of their cases involves Dana Barrett, who’s come to believe that a creature named Zuul is coming for her. The Ghostbusters’ investigation into her apartment building yield some surprising discoveries that lead them to believe that something really big and disastrous (involving the inter-dimensional entity known as Gozer) is headed for New York City. They also have to deal with EPA lawyer Walter Peck, who believes that their ghost containment center is an environmental threat to the city.
Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd’s script is a clever mix of drama, comedy, and science fiction. They establish a tone early on that is maintained throughout the film (credit also goes to director Ivan Reitman, who helped them ground the story when the early drafts were too financially unfeasible). The film’s tone is finely complemented by Laszlo Kovacs’s almost eerie cinematography. The terrific script does get elevated by the performances of the entire cast, especially Bill Murray (as Venkman), Aykroyd (as Stantz), Ramis (as Spengler), Sigourney Weaver (as Dana), Rick Moranis (as Louis Tully), Ernie Hudson (as Zeddemore), Annie Potts (as Janine), William Atherton (as Peck), and David Margulies (as Mayor Lenny). It is just hard to imagine anyone else in these roles, especially Bill Murray (who, let’s face it, owns this movie because he’s Bill freakin’ Murray and he’s that damn good in it).
The production design by John DeCuir was top-notch. My favorite set piece would have to be the altar of Gozer, located at the top of Dana Barrett’s apartment building (as seen in the third act). The Oscar-nominated special effects were well-done (Slimer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the sequence where Peck inadvertently releases all of the ghosts, the creature effects, the great miniature work, and so many other cool visual effects). Theoni V. Aldredge’s costume designs remain memorable to this day (the simplicity of the Ghostbusters’ uniforms still amazes me, and Sigourney Weaver just oozes sexuality with her Zuul costume. Music was a key ingredient in this film, as evidenced by Ray Parker Jr.’s catchy, Oscar-nominated title song and Elmer Bernstein’s classic score. Ghostbusters is an enduring comedy classic, forever etching images of proton packs and the Ecto-1 vehicle into the minds of millions, and is not to be missed on the big screen (should a screening occur near you).