Ghostbusters (review)

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Blinded by Pseudoscience

Once upon a time, boys and girls, longer ago than most people remember, there was a time when the release of a movie starring Saturday Night Live alum was cause for celebration, and not a sign of the apocalypse. We ancient Xers remember this, my sweet little Millennial children, because a single film of this nature is, perhaps, the sardonic base upon which the entirety of Xer culture is built.

“Back off, man, I’m a scientist.”

Would The X-Files exist without 1984’s Ghostbusters? Would Buffy? Would world-weary sarcasm and snarky self-reference ever have reached the level of art form if not for Peter Venkman? The answers, okay, more than likely, are Yes, Yes, and Yes. But they’ll all more fun because Ghostbusters seared its way through our impressionable adolescent brains at just the right time to inflict the most grievous psychological injury.

“Let’s split up.”

“Right, we can cause more damage that way.”

Science is a scam to Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray: Cradle Will Rock, Rushmore), a way to pick up chicks. Science is an all-consuming passion for Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis: As Good as It Gets). Science is a way to avoid real work for Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd: Grosse Pointe Blank, Driving Miss Daisy) — “they expect results” in the private sector, he frets when the university funding for their studies into the paranormal is yanked. So they start up Ghostbusters, a firm that provides “professional paranormal investigations and eliminations.” They go to town, zapping “pretty pesky poltergeists” all over the Big Apple, using some of the coolest gadgets ever invented for a movie — including pocket-size ghost traps and backpack nuclear accelerators — and technobabble — like “free-floating, full-torso, vaporous apparition” — that would stand unchallenged for years in the annals of science fiction as the finest ever uttered.*

“He slimed me.”

The boys are a hit, and their rise to fame and glory is chronicled in one of the most effective montage sequences ever spliced together: Intercut with the bejumpsuited Ghostbusters dragging their steaming spirit traps through famous New York City landmarks and neighborhoods are spot-on parody covers of publications from USA Today to the New York Post, Omni to Atlantic Monthly — you’re not famous until you hit the cover of Time, and our heroes do. But evil things are brewing: the refrigerator in Dana Barrett’s (Sigourney Weaver: Galaxy Quest, The Ice Storm) Central Park West penthouse has been taken over by a demon named Zuul, and he won’t be happy till he sponsors carnage on a massive scale. The Ghostbusters have their work cut out for them.

“24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no job is too big, no fee is too big.”

Ghostbusters wasn’t the irreverent spawn of only Saturday Night Live veterans — that other bastion of brilliant late-night satire, SCTV, was a partner in crime. Written by SNL‘s Aykroyd and SCTV‘s Ramis, this flick — did I mention how totally, completely, and in all other ways awesome it is? — combines the best of both brands of comedy: the over-the-top goofiness of SNL and the subtler, more introspective humor of SCTV. SNL‘s Murray and SCTV‘s Rick Moranis (as Dana’s nerdy accountant neighbor Louis Tully) are both self-deprecating, but Murray’s manifests itself in his character’s bigness and his outrageousness, in the silly faces he makes at his own bumbling, while Moranis’s is small: his Louis shrinks into himself, shy and nervous; his whispered conference with a horse in Central Park after he’s been possessed by a minion of Zuul is a masterpiece of comic underacting. SNL‘s Aykroyd is big, full of childish enthusiasm; SCTV‘s Ramis is small, barely moving but imbuing throwaway lines like “Print is dead” (in response to a question about what he reads) with subdued comedic energy.

“Take me now, subcreature.”

Ancient Mesopotamian gods that look like Sheena Easton, ectoplasmic goo, unfakeable New York ‘tude, psychokinetic Twinkies, and quotable quotes for every occasion… Ghostbusters is the perfect Xer movie. I have a little Stay Puft marshmallow man on my toy shelf (every fangirl Xer worth her salt has a toy shelf), and it makes me very happy to look at him and think, “Nobody steps on a church in my town!”

*until Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s invention of “the Heisenberg compensator,” a component of the transporter — it brings a tear of joy to my eye to think that the guys writing ST:TNG episodes were just as geeky as the fans

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