Sunday, June 8, 2014

Who You Gonna Call?

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Ghostbusters, counted by BuzzFeed (and the Brave Astronaut, and LBA, and SoBA, and maybe even Mrs. BA) as the greatest movie ever.  "From Bill Murray’s flawless strut to the cameo by Random ConEd Guy, it’s the best movie in the history of everything."

1.  It’s the ultimate buddy movie. Ghostbusters works, not because of its paranormal laser light show, but because of the personal interactions behind them. And most of those exchanges take the form of a giant Slor friendship.

It’s not as if Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) just invented some neon vacuum cleaners for the hell of it. They lost their jobs, so they went into business together. They didn’t have the capital to pull it off, so Ray generously agreed to a third mortgage. When business boomed, they called upon Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), who became an integral part of the team. When Pete’s client and crush, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) turned into a literal dog, they risked their lives to save her, the city and the world in one fell swoop.

The Ghostbusters actually like each other. I mean, check out Ray’s face after Peter rewards Egon with a candy bar. Even when they’re arguing, they sound like (Marx) brothers, rather than the Four Stooges.

2. Ecto-1 is the most gorgeous scrapheap imaginable. You can have your DeLorean. Give me the Ectomobile any day.

3. Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman is perfection. Saying that Bill Freakin’ Murray is good in a movie doesn’t really mean anything; that’s often a given, even if the movie itself isn’t a winner. But his Peter Venkman is everything we like about Murray: fearless, hilarious, impulsive, incorrigible, irreverent and charming as hell.

Murray’s Ghostbusters performance isn’t just amusing; it’s a comedy tutorial. That’s how you deliver a joke. That’s how you eye-roll. That’s how you deadpan. That’s how you support other characters in a scene. That’s how you commit to a moment, a premise and an entire movie.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association agreed to an extent, rewarding Murray with a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.

Sure, there are other ways to do comedy, but there’s a reason subsequent actors and comedians consider Murray a major inspiration. If you don’t enjoy him in Ghostbusters, I’m not convinced joy is an experience for you.

4. If normal movie quotability were the size of a Twinkie, this one would be a Twinkie 35 feet long, weighing approximately 600 pounds. Before Mean Girls, Anchorman  or Wayne’s World, Ghostbusters was the go-to for one-liner gold, and it might have the best staying power of the bunch.

One of the reasons the script is so tight: every line pushes the plot forward, makes the audience laugh, or achieves both agendas. There are no wasted words, and most of those words are hilarious.
Say them with me now:
  • “I collect spores, molds and fungus.”
  • “He slimed me.”
  • “Nice shootin’, Tex!”
  • “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”
  • “There is no Dana, only Zuul.”
  • “Yes, it’s true; this man has no dick.”
  • “Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”
  • “When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say, ‘Yes!’”
And that’s just the tip of the giant Twinkie. Rule of thumb: Is it a line from Ghostbusters? It’s probably quotable.

5. Ivan Reitman gets everything right, man. Ivan Reitman’s directorial crowning achievement is beautifully shot, New York Public Library scaffolding notwithstanding. Characters, relationships and conflict ring true. Every scene serves a purpose, and nothing feels like filler. Reitman culled career-making performances from a cast teeming with talent.

For a movie about some guys who conveniently invent ways to contain ghosts on the first try, Ghostbusters has a natural progression that feels earned. Referring to this on the DVD commentary track as the “domino theory of reality,” Reitman adds, “As long as you took the [audience] step by step through a series of credible choices, you could start to believe this sort of stuff could happen.”

He also found the perfect balance of funny and scary, especially for a film that wound up with a PG rating. Any movie can have a high jokes-per-minute ratio, but Ghostbusters delivers on quantity and quality; you won’t find a movie that’s funnier from start to finish, regardless of MPAA rating.

6. It set the modern comedy standard for box office success. With a budget of about $31 million, Ghostbusters scared up almost $239 million at the domestic box office, making it the highest-grossing movie comedy of all time. It held that title for seven years, until Home Alone surpassed it in 1991.

However, when adjusted for inflation, Ghostbusters made the modern equivalent of more than $563 million. That not only beats Home Alone, but also reclaims the title as the top domestic, live-action comedy — and, other than Shrek 2, the top domestic movie comedy, period.

7. This is why it was nominated for Best Musical Or Comedy at the Golden Globes. Or maybe it was for the comedy part. Either way, Romancing the Stone had no business winning that year.

8. It’s legit scary. Of course you’re not so scared in 2014, especially now that you’ve seen the movie about 3,000 times. And, even on a first viewing, while Venkman was terrified about his first encounter with Slimer, your screams might have been of the laughter variety.

But admit it: The first time you saw the shimmering librarian turn into a skeletal poltergeist, you jumped out of your seat.

When Dana opened her fridge to reveal a dog that was not cute, the noise you made upon seeing it wasn’t “aww,” unless it was followed by an expletive.

And, later, when claws tore through Dana’s chair to drag her into her haunted kitchen, you freaked the eff out, because you are a goddamned human being.

9. It’s romantic. Ghostbusters might not be Casablanca, but there’s real chemistry between Dana and Peter in one of the world’s most romantic cities.

As is the case with more traditional rom-coms, early encounters don’t go so well, as Pete’s attempts to swoop in for the quick kill prompt an unimpressed Dana to liken him to a “game show host.” When they reunite at Lincoln Center, he offers actual research with a more organic charm; her stance softens accordingly.

When Dana-as-Zuul attempts to seduce Peter, he’s tempted. And while he fires off joke after joke as “Ol’ Zuuly” straddles and kisses him, his concern eventually overrules his libido. When he implores a levitating Dana to “Please come down,” there’s a sadness to it, and for the first time, the audience might believe Pete sees Dana as more than a conquest.

Also, he still fights for her when she’s a demonic dog. Beat that, Bogey.

10. It’s also a love letter to New York City. Yes, part of the movie was filmed in Los Angeles, but the on-screen sensibility is quintessentially NYC.

In the decade before Ghostbusters, movies often depicted The Big Apple through hyperbole. If it wasn’t a pit of violence (Death Wish, Taxi Driver, The Warriors, Escape from New York, and sadly more), it was a millionaire’s playground (Arthur).

For a movie full of animated ghosts, Ghostbusters is closer to the real New York, home to colorful characters who walk the streets, cheer our heroes and perhaps ignore a terror-dog attack while eating a fancy dinner. (It’s not that we don’t care; it’s just that we’re in the middle of something, naw’fense.) New Yorkers also can relate to the mouth of Peter, the heart of Ray, the brain of Egon, the brutal honesty of Winston, and the spine of Dana. As Reitman says on the DVD commentary track, the movie “really captures the spirit and feel of the city.”

To put it another way, nobody steps on a church in our town.

11. Ray Stantz’s enthusiasm for the Ghostbusters is matched only by the man who plays him. Though many deserve credit for their contributions to the greatest movie of all time, perhaps none is worthier than Dan Aykroyd.

It goes beyond playing the goofy yet lovable optimist Ray Stantz. Although there’d been other movies and TV shows that explored the concept of ghost-hunters, Aykroyd invented the ones we know best and love the most. His 40-page treatment piqued the interest of Ramis and Reitman, who both joined him in Martha’s Vineyard in May 1983 to transform it into the movie it became.

Each added something crucial to the project, but it’s Aykroyd who remains the heart of the Ghostbusters, on and off the screen. Even moviegoers who don’t want to see another Ghostbusters sequel have to admire his limitless passion for the project. After all, it’s his baby.

12. Best. Villains. Ever. Long before superhero movies tried to shoehorn every villain into a storyline, Ghostbusters proved antagonism could come from anywhere, whether the source be a pretentious Columbia dean, a snooty hotel manager, a boozy green party animal, a nasal-spray aficionado, an interdimensional deity taking the form of a Serbian supermodel, or a church-stomping marshmallow man.

But perhaps the most ruthless, indefatigable villain is Dickless himself, EPA rep Walter Peck, inhabited with a nefarious glee by William Atherton. Forget for a moment that Peck is completely justified in his initial concern over the environmental effects of the city’s new nuclear enterprise. He’s slanderous, tactless and every bit as intimidating as Peter Venkman. As Ghostbusters associate producer Joe Medjuk notes on the DVD commentary track, Pete “could walk all over so many people if they weren’t tough.”

Haters gonna hate, but, as Pete would say, “the kids love us.”

13. Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters music video is full of neon, cameos and mirth. Remember when everyone’s homes were accented in neon? It was the ’80s, after all. Hell, even RPJ’s mic is all aglow, looking like a Pictionary ice cream cone.

The video also includes retroactively fascinating cameos by, among others, Chevy Chase (who had to have felt left out); John Candy (who turned down Rick Moranis’ part); Jeffrey Tambor (long before The Larry Sanders Show and Arrested Development); Sen. Al Franken (who may or may not be doing a Mick Jagger impression); Carly Simon (sure!); and, at the 34-second mark, three children who, in the movie’s climactic scene, convince Peter Venkman to follow his heart. Just kidding! We have no idea who they are.

14. Elmer Bernstein’s main title theme is even better than Ray Parker Jr.’s song. As great as the Ray Parker Jr. song is, it’s like the “Monster Mash” in that you’re kind of a weirdo if you’re playing it on a date that isn’t Oct. 31. If you want the sound of Ghostbusters on a day when no one is in costume, the best and most familiar song from Elmer Bernstein’s score should do the trick. It exudes the film’s whimsy and sophistication. Plus, y’know, the notes sound good and stuff. Do yourself a favor: Buy this track, slap it on your mp3 player of choice and play it while strolling around New York City. If this doesn’t make you feel like you’re in the movie, well, you’re more realistic than I am, but I’m not going to apologize.

15. The flowers are still standing!

16. Among comedy icons, Harold Ramis was a god. Harold Ramis never seemed to mind playing the straight man. As long as a bit was getting laughs, he was happy. But damn it if I didn’t laugh every time Egon Spengler opened his mouth in Ghostbusters.

Co-writing and co-starring in the film would have been career highlights unto themselves. While Ramis had more than a respectable career in front of the lens, his behind-the-scenes comedy credits might be the most impressive of his generation. As a writer and/or director, Ramis made major contributions to Animal House, Stripes, Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Groundhog Day and Analyze This, among others.

When he died in February, the mourning wasn’t limited to his work. Testimonials from friends, family, celebrities and fans recalled a man who was even more affable and gracious than he was talented.

The loss still stings. But celebrating Ramis’ phenomenal work is one way to keep his memory and legacy alive.

17. Slimer becomes so much cooler when you realize he’s a tribute to John Belushi. Before John Belushi died in 1982, Aykroyd envisioned his fellow Blues Brother in the role of Peter Venkman. As a tribute, Aykroyd developed a character inspired by his close friend.

“Danny Aykroyd used to always refer to Slimer as the ghost of John Belushi,” Reitman says on the DVD commentary track. “He’s just a party guy looking to have a good time.” Yes, this character was destructive and a nuisance at times, but audiences loved him.

The Class 5 Full-Roaming Vapor wouldn’t receive the moniker of “Slimer” until a cartoon spinoff — to be addressed later in this article — made him an ally, eventually awarding him top billing. For that stretch in the cultural zeitgeist, it was all Ecto Cooler everything.

18. Some of the special effects are actually pretty great. The intentional comedy in Ghostbusters transcends 30 years, but, if we’re being honest, some of the computer-generated visuals earn laughs for the wrong reasons. The proton packs’ streams might as well be crayon on celluloid. When fragments of Dana’s rooftop plummet more than 20 stories, they bounce like balloons, because gravity is an optional thing. Let’s just say Industrial Light & Magic greatly benefited from the digital revolution.

Thankfully, Ghostbusters has a more than a few saving graces in the special-effects department; most of them just happen to be analog. Puppetry, especially the examples showcased in the behind-the-scenes video above, is a vast improvement over early-’80s CGI. In addition, simple magic tricks are perfectly executed to levitate Dana, haphazardly redistribute the library’s card catalog, and make books float between shelves.

Also, when that rooftop explodes, even if that doesn’t look real, it looks incredible.

19. Dana Barrett is the Gatekeeper of badassery. Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett is an independent spirit, an accomplished cellist, and the perfect foil for Peter, as she’s the only one capable of keeping him in line — no small feat.

Despite asking for the Ghostbusters’ help, there’s nothing meek about Dana. She seems perfectly content with her life other than the whole haunted fridge thing. We might be hoping for Pete to win her over, but mostly we’re rooting for her to be OK, regardless of romantic outcome. Thanks to Weaver and the script, she’s believable, likable, smart and three-dimensional.

She also happens to rock the hell out of a red dress. Zuul’s summer collection was so fashion-forward in 1984.

On the DVD commentary track, Reitman’s myriad raves about Weaver’s performance include the way she helped elevate Murray’s acting in the process.

20. It's eminently rewatchable. Oh, you said you had afternoon errands or intentions to go to bed at a reasonable hour? You made a mistake flipping through the channels, because you just heard Dean Yeager inform Ray and Pete that the Board of Regents terminated their grant. It appears that you, like our heroes, must abandon whatever plans had been in play.

21. Nerds rule! Any movie can have the fittest alphas saving the world from certain destruction, but give me the Ghostbusters over the cast of The Expendables any day of the week, i.e. Ghostbusters before bros, buster.

There aren’t enough steroids in the world that would save Jersey Shore fist-pumpers without the help of the guys they probably beat up in middle school.

Back off, man — they’re scientists.

22. Ernie Hudson makes the most of his 2 minutes’ worth of lines. I never would have guessed that if you spliced together all of Winston Zeddemore’s lines in the first Ghostbusters movie, they’d amount to just under 2 minutes. (He obviously has more screen time than that, but in terms of the script, that’s it.)

Considering the star power of Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis at the time, I shouldn’t be too surprised. But why does it still shock me? Because Ernie Hudson delivers the hell out of every last one of his lines, giving them resonance.

As long as there’s a steady paycheck in it for Winston, he’ll believe anything you say (even if it’s not worth the $11,500 per year). He’s, of course, seen shit that’ll make you turn white.

But in a movie full of highlights, the Judgment Day conversation Winston has with Ray is one of the film’s finest moments. Almost none of the scene is played for laughs, and if Hudson were any less of an actor, it would fall flat. Instead, it’s mesmerizing, thanks to Hudson’s heavy lifting.

23. Rick Moranis’ comedy chops? Yes, have some. When it comes to Rick Moranis as Louis Tully and The Keymaster, the answer is, “Yes, have some.”

A natural scene-stealer who always fully commits to his roles, Moranis wrote most, if not all, of his complicated, tax-oriented monologue for the party at Louis’ apartment. Locking oneself out of an apartment shouldn’t be that funny, let alone twice, yet we laugh both times at the way Moranis pulls off the most basic physical comedy. And while we see an entirely new side of Louis through The Keymaster, both versions love to tell long, detailed stories.

24. A behind-the-scenes photo reveals a more approachable Mr. Stay Puft. Doesn’t look so tough now, does he?

In fairness to characters in the movie, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man probably looked like an adorable Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float until he proved to pose threats to both Midtown architecture and the continued existence of humanity.

25. Janine Melnitz is our spirit animal when it comes to work. When nothing’s going on, we’re given busywork, because they’re paying us for this stuff. But when things actually get busy, good luck asking for a break. In her breakout role, Annie Potts reminds us we’ve quit better jobs than this.

But, deep down, we still care about the success of the company and our coworkers — at least one of them.

26. Let’s face it: Random Con Ed Guy and Hero Cop Who Calls Peck a “Pencil Neck” make the whole movie. As a 5-year-old, I’d never had feelings one way or the other about a power company, but when Random ConEd Guy was wary about shutting down the Ghostbusters’ power grid, I felt like turning on all the lights and electrical appliances as a show of support. When he said, “Oh, shit,” he spoke for us all.

And then there’s Hero Cop, who won’t be bossed around by anyone. Yes, he’s got a job to do, and sure, his delivery is a bit stilted (Reitman suspected the actor might have been a cop in real life), but he’ll be damned if he takes orders from some “pencil neck.”

27. Hold up, is that … Ron Jeremy? Most people know Ghostbusters has its share of celebrity cameos (Larry King, Joe Franklin and Casey Kasem, among others). And everyone cheers when a pre-Family Matters Reginald VelJohnson frees the Ghostbusters from jail. But if you blink, you might miss it when adult-film star Ron Jeremy expresses his concern over paranormal activity and/or the availability of a fluffer.

Clearly, he’s wearing jeans, but the length and placement of that police barrier beg a few questions.

28. Deleted scenes were best left deleted. That’s a compliment. I know movie fans get excited over deleted scenes, but there’s usually a reason they wind up on the cutting room floor (or, these days, in a computer’s recycling bin). After all, if they’re that good, they’d be in the movie. Thankfully, with Ghostbusters, Reitman and his editors knew what they were doing.

29. It spawned a solid cartoon spinoff, “The Real Ghostbusters.” OK, let’s address the gorilla in the room: There was that other cartoon called Ghostbusters, and it was an abomination. That version’s ghost wranglers included a wacky gorilla named Tracy, and, well, we’re all better off pretending it never happened.

And while the guys in The Real Ghostbusters looked and sounded nothing like their movie counterparts, the characters were a close enough approximation to allow for fun storytelling among the Saturday-morning and after-school set.

30. The Venkman strut is the only strut that matters. Don’t pretend you don’t do this when you’re at Lincoln Center/walking anywhere.

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