In 1984, MTV was at the peak of its powers.
Nowadays, MTV is home to such fare as “Teen Mom”, “Jersey Shore” and “Real World/Road Rules Challenge”s. But in the mid 1980s, MTV was a cultural touchstone. Not only were they showing music videos, but music videos were as important (it seemed) as the song itself. There are still songs I can’t hear to this day without thinking of the video.
And one of the biggest videos of that year was Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters”. Here’s the list of celebrity cameos in that video, thanks to the song’s Wikipedia page: “Chevy Chase, Irene Cara, John Candy, Melissa Gilbert, Nickolas Ashford, Jeffrey Tambor, George Wendt, Al Franken, Danny DeVito, Carly Simon, Peter Falk, Terri Garr and Casey Kasem; all of whom exclaim the “Ghostbusters!” line of the song when shown.” The song itself hit number one on the charts and stayed there for three weeks straight.
That year, the Ghostbusters logo was everywhere. Posters and shirts and mugs with the little “Do not Ghost” symbol were all over the place. Of course, there were the requisite action figures, Ecto One mobiles, Slimer piggy banks, etc, etc. In the years since, this movie has spawned sequels (I’m including the long gestating Ghostbusters III), cartoons, video games, and countless merchandise.
What I’m trying to say, is this movie wasn’t just a big hit, it was a cultural event. It was the highest grossing comedy of all time at the time, and it entwined itself into our cultural DNA immediately.
Prior to its release, to say that anticipation was high would have been an understatement. Everyone knew the high concept, which was funny in itself. We also knew that Bill Murray’s part had initially been intended for John Belushi, prior to his death. Bill Murray doing a John Belushi part? Count us in. Plus, the cast they assembled was phenomenal!
Aykroyd and Murray were at the top of their fame. They began as SNL stars during the show’s original, golden era, which at the time was still fresh in our hearts and minds. In the time since leaving the show, Murray had been a part of “Meatballs”, “Caddyshack”, “Stripes”, and “Tootsie”. Aykroyd had only done ONE movie, but seeing as that movie was “The Blues Brothers”, people took notice. Harold Ramis was also along for the ride. Ramis had already served as Bill Murray’s sidekick once in “Stripes”. He had also been on SCTV – the not as famous as SNL but still wickedly funny sketch comedy show. But his main contribution had been as a writer, penning such now legendary comedies as “Animal House”, “Meatballs”, “Stripes”, and this one. Of course, that list would grow even more impressive in the years to follow. Also coming from SCTV was Rick Moranis. Half of the Mckenzie Brothers. And as Female Lead? Sigourney Weaver, star of “Alien”. She hadn’t really become the icon she is now yet, but everyone knew who she was. This movie was stacked.
Each of them contributes to the comedy in their own way. Murray mugs and mocks. Weaver holds up a cold hard reflection to his bullshit. Aykroyd bounds about with a goofy enthusiasm while Ramis plays the ultimate, stoic, scientific dork. Together they have fun with pseudo-science phrases like “Complete protonic reversal” and “free roaming repeater”. The movie totally lets Moranis off the chain, letting him play an over the top geek who hounds and annoys Weaver’s character, and then, when he gets possessed by a spirit midway through the picture, he plays as if he’s possessed by Neanderthal moron. He sniffs around and acts if everything he’s seeing he’s seeing for the first time. They’re all joined mid way through by Ernie Hudson as an everyman who joins the team for a paycheck and Annie Potts as their wise-ass secretary.
It adds up to a fantastic comedy, with multiple comedic actors doing their own things, but all blending together as a cohesive, funny, unit.
Of course, it’s not just all the actors and the comedy. For 1984, this movie had some pretty good special effects. Plus a lot of it was shot on location in New York, so it looks really authentic. Can you say “High Production Values”? The music and sound in this movie are fantastic, too. Aside from the previously discussed theme song, the background scoring works the crowd like a Ballpark Organist. During scenes where the Ghostbusters are prowling for ghost, a quiet, bouncy, tip-toeing tune will play – straight out a 1950s cartoon where some character is trying to sneak up on their opponent. When battles ensue it’s either a free-for-all bar brawl feel courtesy of “The Boys are Back in Town”, or a crazy cacophony of organ music as if a mad phantom took over at the keys. They’re never afraid to add comical “ooh-ooh-OOOOH” sound effects to add humor either. It’s fun. Really makes a solid contribution.
The plot itself is pretty basic. Three professors/scientists discover how to physically trap and contain ghosts. So they set up shop as “Ghostbusters” and go into business for themselves. Using high-tech equipment, they travel around the city blasting laser beams and dragging ghosts into their traps, then returning them back to their headquarters, where they empty the traps into a storage facility. They just happened to pick the wrong time to do it, because within months, New York is in the midst of supernatural upheaval portending the return of an ancient, evil spiritual entity.
Then these “Ghostbusters”, this washed out trio of college professors, are called on to save the day.
And when the day finally needs saving, it’s one of the greatest comedy finales of all time. The climax of this movie has to be in the discussion of the greatest comedy scene of all time, and it’s probably in the lead for the single funniest “sight gag” ever.
Yes. It’s the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Yes, Gozer the Gozerian himself, Gozer the Destructor, Volguus Zildrohar, Gozer the Traveler. The ancient, evil Sumerian spirit. He who has taken the shape of a large and moving Torb, and even a giant Sloar… now come to earth in the form of an outraged, overweight, 1,000 foot tall, marshmallow sailor.
I can’t tell you how funny that was in the theatre, I have to just say that it killed in a way I can’t remember any other joke ever killing. I was spastic. The entire crowd was spastic. My friends and I talked about it for weeks… how funny it was, what form WE would have thought of, how getting hot, molten marshmallow poured over you like the character of Richard Peck did would probably burn you alive, etc. It’s a scene that can still make me chuckle today just thinking about it. Just seeing that thing’s face contorted in rage is funny. Aykroyd and Ramis are the only two writers credited on Ghostbusters, and I don’t know which of them thought of it, but it was brilliant. Brilliant.
Now, I don’t know how comedy works… you know, the science of funny. But I know how this gag worked. It was so unexpected, and a complete reversal of what you associate with the image… I mean, imagine if the Dinosaur that showed up during the stalled Truck sequence of “Jurassic Park” was a giant rabbit. Everything else was the same. Same thumping intro, same shaking water-glass… and then… Bunny! That’s what this felt like! The thumping starts and the Ghostbusters start questioning each other, and the audience doesn’t suspect anything yet, but Ray’s looking a little queasy. The images we’d been conditioned to expect here were giant Godzilla-esque dinosaurs or Kong-like apes. Then the thumping gets closer and the buildings are shaking, and Venkman realizes Ray’s about to puke, and starts grilling him. We get our fist glimpses of it and we’re like, “wait, what? Is that?” and then Ray confesses just as the Monster appears.
“The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man”.
Watching this waddling, smiley faced, Michelin-Tire-Man-looking monstrosity rampage his way through a New York City block was just hysterical. To combine it with an action sequence… with lasers and thunderstorms and an evil, flipping, nimble minx? Good lord, it was brilliant. Brilliant. What a way to end a movie. Completely hysterical, action packed… Triumphant.
In the end, Ghostbusters became more than the sum of its parts. It took the cast, the comedy, the special effects, the action, the music, the logo, and it rolled them all together into a magical package that America immediately enshrined in the Pop Culture Hall of Fame. And it’s gonna stay there as long as movies are shown. It has a first-rate company of performers working with A+ material, all in an original, hysterical premise. It’s the type of comedy that will never go bad.
Who ya gonna call?
You know the answer. And that’s why this is a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.