Despite the vastly inferior special effects by today’s standards, Ghostbusters really hasn’t aged at all. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, you’ll still want to watch it over and over again and laugh in admiration at the leading characters. This was a milestone in the genre of sci-fi comedy at the time of its release, and one of the most definitive movies of the 1980s.
Ghostbusters is actually a lot more intelligent than the title first suggests. It involves three parapsychology scholars (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) who’re kicked out of University for their unorthodox approach to research and then decide to go into business for themselves. They buy a run-down fire station, refurbish an old ambulance and walk around with unlicensed nuclear accelerators strapped to their backs. After a slow start to business, the calls soon come flooding in from people reporting numerous sightings of paranormal activity within New York City; one of them is from Dana Barrett (the gorgeous Sigourney Weaver) who asks the guys to investigate a strange occurrence in her kitchen.
Venkman (Bill Murray), the confident guy of the bunch, immediately takes a shine to Dana and decides to investigate her apartment for himself. Soon enough, he and the team discover the demonic figure inside her fridge is a demigod named “Zuul”, which then possesses Venkman’s love interest to the point that she starts to search for the “Keymaster” in order to open up the gateway to a new revelation of spirits.
Rather than attempting to convince the viewer that there really is paranormal presence within our everyday world, though, what’s so great about Ghostbusters is that its unbelievable premise is handled specifically for laughs by director Reitman. You can’t possibly take the sight of a hundred-foot marshmallow man seriously, but it’s damn well enjoyable seeing the guys fear for their lives and then blast it to smithereens so that it covers what seems like the whole of New York City in sugary goodness.
This is very much a character-driven movie, with the main actors coming across as intelligent as well as extremely funny and likeable. It’s great to Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’s characters really commit to studying the science behind the paranormal activities with their various hardware, and then coming up with some form of logical conclusion. There are also great supporting roles from Weaver, Ernie Hudson (as the token black Ghostbuster), Rick Moranis (as the geeky neighbour to Dana), Annie Potts as receptionist Janine, and, of course, that green blob Slimer.
Bill Murray, for me, has to be the star of the show, though: He’s sarcastic, witty and generally hilarious whenever he’s given the screen time. He particularly likes to spout off memorable one-liners in response to every serious remark made by Aykroyd or Ramis (Stantz: “Symmetrical book stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.” Venkman: “You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.”) Throughout the film, he seems completely at ease in his role, and manages to be funny without particularly trying; he just comes across as a naturally funny guy.
Ghostbusters is such a great film, an important film, and I’m not even ashamed to say that I still have great admiration for it today in my mid-twenties — its appeal just never seems to wear thin. This was such a successful product of its time that a long-running cartoon show The Real Ghostbusters was developed for television soon after, and a movie sequel, Ghostbusters II, was released five years later in cinemas. Only the Ninja Turtles ever came close to topping my love for the franchise back in the 1980s (and considering how much I loved the Ninja Turtles, interpret that as a very good thing).
Ghostbusters II (1989):
I’ll never understand what people’s problems were with Ghostbusters II — I love it just as much now as I did when I watched it as a kid in the ’80s. Considering it has all the original cast, improved special effects, memorable humour and an even more ridiculous story line, this sequel has all the elements that made the first movie such a success (and then some), and is just as enjoyable.
Sequels have such a bad reputation for being unimaginative, with a majority of critics complaining that they tend just to repeat the same material as the original film. Really, though, this has never been a great concern of mine: I’d much rather have the “feel” of the original movie — like Ghostbusters 2 has — than it aspiring too much to be different and choosing to depart so far from a successful formula. Rambo: First Blood Part II did this and I thought it was mediocre at best; however, Rocky II kept the essence of the original and I loved every minute of it.
The story opens five years after the Ghostbusters first saved New York City, with the guys now being out of business and sued for property damages by the local council (talk about ungrateful). Zedmore (Ernie Hudson) and Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) are attempting to entertain little kiddies at parties for their main source of income; while Spengler (Harold Ramis) conducts scientific experiments in various laboratories and Venkman (Bill Murray) is hosting a show called ‘World of the Psychic’ on television.
Dana (Weaver) is back, too, and now a single Mother, who is being menaced by a mysterious pink slime on the streets and in her own home. During a test, the boys realise that this slime reacts, kinetically, to human emotion — whether this be positive or negative — and soon enough discover a river of it under the city that is leading to a painting of ‘Vigo the Carpathian’ at the art museum. This possesses an evil spirit within and is seeking the body of a young child — more specifically, Dana’s baby — so that it can become mortal again.
Yes, it all sounds pretty ridiculous, and the freshness of a supernatural plot line may be lacking when compared to the first movie, but there’s a still a lot of enjoyment to be had here. Ghostbusters II moves at an energetic pace with the key feature still being the characters. The Ghostbusters’ unwillingness to be beaten by all the bad vibes generated by the ungrateful, two-faced people of New York in the opening scenes makes us even more glad that the guys are back. The screenplay took a risk depicting the depressive slump of the team in the beginning, but this makes for a very satisfying pay off when they do eventually start catching ghosts and cracking witty jokes just like old times. Louis (Rick Moranis) and Janine (Annie Potts) are also given more screen time to develop their characters, and the introduction of baby Oscar also adds further energy to the film.
I also remember being scared a lot more by Ghostbusters II when I watched it as a kid than I was by the original. The scene where Vigo’s eyes “come alive” and shock Janosh at mid-point never failed at making me flinch,even when I knew it was coming. Sure, it doesn’t quite have the same effect upon me now; nevertheless, the film offers plenty of light horror and comedic moments that are good for escapism. Check, also, the scene prior to the final battle which sees the guys soaking the statue of liberty in “positively-charged slime” and controlling it with the NES joystick — this looks pretty damn awesome.
My small gripe with the film is its ending, which sees the Ghostbusters defeat the threat of Vigo a little too easily. The bottom line, however, is this: Ghostbusters II is a visual improvement upon its predecessor, and its actors manage to fit significantly into their character roles and showcase their comic talents and ghost-busting-heroism just as much as they did before. It really is an entertaining movie, and right up there with the original as one of the best comedy/sci-fi films of the ’80s. So ignore a majority of the negative comments surrounding and just enjoy another significant fun fest with all the family.