This is one of the best comedy-horror spoofs ever made. Not only is it riotously funny; almost as important, the humor is never used as an excuse for feeble work. The special effects are as technically good as anything seen in a serious film; the plot is almost as tightly structured as genuine thriller; and director Ivan Reitman does a good job of conveying atmosphere — he even manages a few genuine scares along the way. In effect, this is a textbook example of how to handle a genre parody: do it as well as (or better than) the target, and then add the laughs.
There are lots of great scenes: the Ghostbusters’ initial encounter with a ghostly old woman in a library; their first successful trapping of a phantom (“a real nasty one!”) in a hotel; and of course, the climactic appearance of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, striding down Broadway like King Kong. (The scene is not just funny; it is also one of the most perfectly realized giant-monster-attacks ever filmed.)
In the leads, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis play off each other like a classic comedy team. Providing support as the serious scientists of the group, Aykroyd is the enthusiastic boy at heart, and Ramis is the stoic, logical one (a New Age Mr. Spock, in his own words). First among equals, Murray is the under-achieving mouthpiece of the group, the one who relies on charm and/or wit to compensate for his weak academic credentials. Sigourney Weaver is great as the damsel in distress, a role that starts out as almost a thankless “romantic interest” but which mutates into a hilariously seductive vixen, along with a parody of THE EXORCIST. Moranis gets lots of laughs as the nerdy accountant who constantly locks himself out of his apartment. And Atherton is fantastic as the man you love to hate, the officious EPA official who shuts off the Ghostbusters’ power grid, precipitating the release of their captured spooks.
To some extent, the straight-man role in this film is played by the ghosts: the special effects throw a variety of monstrous apparitions at the titular heroes, whose characteristic reactions then provoke the laughter (for example, when Gozer’s sky-high back-flip evasive maneuvers prompts Murray to quip, “Nimble little minx.”) But some of the effects are quite amusing in and of themselves, particularly the green “Slimer” ghost seen in the hotel (rumored, though never verified, to be based on John Belushi’s Bluto character in ANIMAL HOUSE).
Filled with spectacular apparitions and lots of laughs, GHOSTBUSTERS is a career highlight for most of the talent involved. Unlike many comedies from the period (STRIPES, CADDYSHACK), it does not work in fits and starts, stumbling from one comedy set piece to the next in search of the next big laugh. It really does work as a movie. If only most serious horror films were this good…
2003’s single-disc DVD of GHOSTBUSTERS has some interesting bonus features, but it is not quite a must-have. There is a “video” commentary (that allows you to see the commentator’s silhouettes [a la MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000] by using the multi-angle function on your DVD player); subtitled trivia, production photographs, featurettes, storyboards, and deleted scenes.
Presented in isolation, the storyboards are only mildly interesting. To the average viewer, this kind of thing is only notable when framed by an article discussing the development of the project from script to screen. You do see that the accountant Louis was drawn as a much heavier character, but nothing in this section explains why (John Candy was planned for the role before Moranis stepped in). Likewise, you see that Gozer was originally conceived as a man in a business suit (not the New Age punk woman seen in the film), but you will learn nothing about why the change was made. Fortunately, some of the storyboards are of some interest because they represent scenes that were not filmed. Also, a few of them are presented as before-and-after comparisons, with a split screen showing the boards above the finished sequences. Again some kind of audio commentary explanation of why changes were made would have made this more interesting.
The deleted scenes are disappointing. The film went through some fairly major pruning from script to screen with several sequences never completed (for example, the dream scene with Aykroyd and the beautiful blond floating ghost was originally supposed to be an actual haunting), but none of this is represented. What we get instead is mostly trivial little transitional bits that seem to have been edited out at the last minute. These clips look as if they were preserved on videotape, so the image quality is poor.
The featurettes include a promotional film made when GHOSTBUSTERS was released in 1984. There is also a cast-and-crew featurette with several of the stars looking back on the film and discussing its impact on their careers. And finally there is a special effects documentary that starts out rather stiff and stodgy before getting into some amusing behind-the-scenes anecdotes. There is also a before-and-after feature that allows you to use the multi-angle function to view a handful of scenes with and without the final optical effects.
The “Video” commentary for GHOSTBUSTERS (provided by director Ivan Reitman, writer-actor Harold Ramis, and co-producer Joe Medjuck) is amusing and often informative, but not completely satisfying. Even with three speakers, the conversation goes dead a couple times early on, before they hit their stride and begin relating a series of fun anecdoates. After this point, the only real drawback is that they sound a bit like insiders discussing material they all known so well that they do not necessarily explain it to us. For example, during the climactic confrontation with Gozer (Slavitza Jovan), they begin joking about “Jews and Berries.” No one bothers to explain clearly that this line was a Bill Murray ad-lib in response to Jovan’s Hungarian accent, which distorted Gozer’s line “Choose and Perish!” into what sounded like “Jews and Berries.” (Murray’s ad-lib didn’t make the final cut, and Gozer’s voice was dubbed by another actress to make it more intelligible to the audience.]
The GHOSTBUSTERS Double Feature Gift set released in 2005 is basically a repackaging of the old GHOSTBUSTERS DVD along with GHOSTBUSTERS II. The film is presented in widescreen only, and the menus have been slightly changed. Except for the subtitled trivia and the “video” commentary (which is now audio only), the new disc includes most of the old bonus features, plus a 26-page “Ghostbusters Movie Scrapbook.” This contains profiles of the cast, storyboards and stills, and a few tidbits about the making of the movie. It’s a nice souvenir, but it’s no replacement for Don Shay’s book “Making GHOSTBUSTERS.” Perhaps the best thing about the booklet is the back cover, which features a full-page mock-up add for Stay Puft Marshmallows (“Melt ’em! Roast ‘Em! Toast ’em!)
Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski