Friday, August 29, 2014

Film Review: Ghostbusters

"Ghostbusters"  *** (out of ****)

In honor of the 30th anniversary of "Ghostbusters" (1984), which is being re-released this Labor Day weekend, I decided to take another look at "Ghostbusters" and "Ghostbusters II" (1989).

When I was six years old "Ghostbusters II" was released. At this point in time I was a fan of the Saturday morning cartoon series, which aired between 1986 - 1991. I was not aware there was a "Ghostbusters" movie. In 1984 I was only one year old. So, I thought the title "Ghostbusters II" was suppose to be a joke. They are calling it "two" when there wasn't even a first one, ha ha.

I went to see "Ghostbusters II" opening day with my father. I loved the movie. Clearly I never forgot the experience. It wasn't until after seeing part two, I rented the original "Ghostbusters". Believe it or not, I didn't like it. I found it boring and in the third act I found it kind of scary. Since that time I never watched either movie again.

As I decided to take this trip down memory lane and re-watch both movies I expected to have the same feelings; love the sequel, dislike the original. It is amazing how time changes a person's feelings.

For years I heard from people how great "Ghostbusters" is. Some call it one of the funniest comedies of all time. Others feel it is simply the funniest movie of all time. Again, all I had was my memories as a six year old to go on and I didn't think it was funny. All these years later I now think it is a funny movie, much better than the sequel but, I believe all of you are over selling this movie. Funny? Yes. Greatest comedy of all time? Not even close.

So what changed? Why do I now prefer the original "Ghostbusters" over "Ghostbusters II"? What's the difference? "Ghostbusters" began as a concept by Dan Aykroyd, who wanted to make a time traveling, science-fiction-ish comedy of a group of ghost busters. The idea was pitched to director Ivan Reitman, who saw the comedic possibilities but felt it was not possible to make. So the idea was scaled back and we have the final screenplay by Aykroyd and Harold Ramis.

The original "Ghostbusters" was not meant to be a children's movie. This was a movie for adults. There is foul language, sexuality and some suspense. What will happen? Will the ghost busters live? Audiences didn't know there would be a sequel. The movie gave us something to root for. We are involved. By the time the sequel was released it had been transformed into a cartoon, toys were created, play sets, backpacks, costumes...ect. The second movie has a more kid friendly vibe to it. It is more cartoon-ish. The second one is more about the ghost whereas the first one was more about the characters. As we watch the second one we know nothing bad will happen. The ghostbusters will save the world. What are they going to do? Kill the characters off? Its a cartoon show for kids now! They can't do that. What will the kids say? There goes all the merchandise. The end of a franchise.

Dr. Ray Stantz (Aykroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) are parapsychology professors who find themselves kicked out of a college campus, as the school will no longer fund their research. So, as a result they decide to go into the ghost busting business. Right from the beginning of the movie each character's personality is established. Venkman is the wise-cracking smart-alec. He got into science for the girls. He takes none of this serious. He sees amazing things through-out the course of the movie yet he always seems to be a skeptic. Stantz is a naive child. It is his dream to start a business dedicated to studying the supernatural and catch ghost. Spengler is the brain. He lacks Venkman's humor and Stantz's child-like emotion. Spengler doesn't allow emotion to interfere with the facts.

These ghost busters catch a break when a cellist, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) notices a demi-God has taken over her refrigerator, "you generally don't see that kind of behavior from an appliance" is Venkman's response upon hearing her story. Venkman finds Dana attractive and only cares about going out on a date with her while Stantz and Spengler want to solve this mystery.

"Ghostbusters" works for the most part. I didn't find it as funny as so many claim it is but the story-line works enough where I was interested in watching the entire movie. If I had found the movie funnier I would be giving it a higher rating. I also thought the movie goes on too long. The third act is somewhat weak. You could have taken 10 minutes out of the movie. The final confrontation goes on too long.

Most of the jokes come from the Venkman character, anyone who watched the cartoon series usually said Venkman was their favorite character. But, I guess the reason I personally didn't find the movie as funny as others is because I find Bill Murray to be funnier without a script, when giving interviews. His comedy is very subtle. A little too subtle for me. I can take it in small doses. This is why I always figured he liked playing supporting characters. He provides comic relief when necessary and disappears until another joke is needed. In "Ghostbusters" he has a lot of screen time. Murray never struck me as a leading man.

What "Ghostbusters" reminds me most of is the 1930s & 40s horror/comedies like "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948). Although "Ghostbusters" is not a horror film, the principle is the same. In those movies the story involved a basic horror film plot and the comedians would be used to comment on the cliche formula of the genre. In this movie's case you take the elements of a ghost story and then clash it with comedy. You have one character (here it would be the Venkman character) who comments on the ridiculous nature of standard ghost story cliches. Some have compared the Venkman character to Groucho Marx. This is not a correct comparison. I would rather compare the Venkman character to the characters Bob Hope played in movies like "The Ghost Breakers" (1940) and "The Cat & The Canary" (1939). Characters who are thrown into the plot, doubt what they see, try to explain it but are still scared in the process.

Someone who I found consistently funny was Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), a neighbor of Dana. He is an accountant who hasn't quite figured out he is a nerd and unattractive. He likes to pretend he is in great shape and is always trying to make the moves on Dana. There is limited screen time for this character, but, when he is on screen I laughed. I liked his speech pattern and choice of words and awkward behavior, he keeps locking himself out of his apartment.

Looking at the special effects 30 years later, they still hold up. I didn't find it laughable or cheesy. Exactly how is a "ghost" suppose to look? None of it distracted me. A lot of people feel the movie really has two parts; part big Hollywood special effects movie and part comedy. For me the comedy half worked more, I just wish there was more of it.

Director Ivan Reitman never really had anything quite as successful as the ghostbusters movies. He went on to direct "No Strings Attached" (2011), directed Billy Crystal and Robin Williams in "Father Day" (1997) and "Stripes" (1981) which had a similar sense of humor to "Ghostbusters" since some of the same people were involved.

While I don't think "Ghostbusters" is a classic comedy, one of the best of all-time, it is still an enjoyable movie with some nice comedic scenes, interesting story-line and decent special effects. As an adult I prefer this movie over the sequel. It has more of an adult appeal than you may realize if you haven't seen it in a while.