Who ya gonna call?
Lately, I’ve discovered that nothing makes me feel quite as old, or more accurately – quite as aware of the passage of time as it thunders by, as seeing the production dates on the credit crawl of movies. And yes – on DVDs I do wait until they’ve finished out of respect for all the people who contributed to the making of the film.
So, when the opportunity came to see Ghostbusters on the big screen again, I was elated. When I saw it was being screened to mark the 30th anniversary, I became a little deflated. Thirty years since Ghostbusters? How the hell could THAT have happened? Where did the time go?
Okay, in the meantime, I met a girl, got married, had two kids, bought a house, a few cars, a couple of thousand movies, and became published…..but really? Thirty years?
Another reason to see Ghostbusters is that when I first kicked off the idea of buying in movies to watch on Halloween, that very first one, back in 1987, was the proud purchase of Ghostbusters on VHS. So, in that sense it was the first glimmer of a notion that would eventually lead to Shocktober.
I’ve seen the film so many times, since my first viewing at the local flea pit in 1985 (we were late getting it out here in the Twilight Zone) both on VHS and DVD. It could be argued that seeing it again on the big screen was redundant. After all, I can practically quote dialogue along with the film. But I was curious to see how it played, and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see it with a live audience one more time.
The movie has certainly been cleaned up, and of course there’s barely a cinema anywhere these days that still has the facility of a traditional 35mm projector, so the digitization of movies is an ongoing project. (I find it had to credit those who becry and bemoan the downfall of traditional 35mm. Were it not for digital, Star Wars to name just one, would have been lost forever. The original master print was faded and damaged almost to the point of being unsalvageable. So if we’re to retain the history of cinema, we have to upgrade films to a practically indestructible format. It’s that simple.)
As we entered the screening room, handing our tickets for inspection by ushers dressed in Ghostbuster costumes, complete with proton packs, there was a sense of excitement as the lights dimmed and the Columbia Studios logo from the eighties made its triumphant return to the screen. They hadn’t messed with it, they hadn’t replaced it with the current version.
Everybody knows the story of three misfit psychologists who are called to the New York Public Library to investigate a ghost sighting and then decide to franchise their service, when they’re thrown out of the University.
What isn’t commonly known is that despite being written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, very little of their dialogue was used. Bill Murray, in particular, ad-libbed most of his lines on the spot, thus more or less forcing his co-stars to follow suit.
A prime example of this is when the hapless trio are investigating the basement in the library and the bookcase falls over just behind them. That was entirely unscripted, the bookcase must have been disturbed by the crew and the trundling of heavy equipment and fell forward accidentally. Murray improvised the line: “This ever happen to you before” and the dialogue that followed was made up on the spot as the cameras kept rolling.
The casting was a case of catching lightning in a bottle, though the original cast is itself intriguing. Venkman was to be played by John Belushi, Winston by Eddie Murphy , while Christopher Walken, John Lithgow and Christopher Lloyd were considered for Spengler before Harold Ramis decided HE was best qualified to play the role.
The one facet of the film that has dated are the special effects, in particular the Terror Dogs. When the first comes crashing out of Louis Tully’s apartment bedroom, I’ve always felt that its top half, from the head down to about half its body looked substantial and had actual volume and dimension to it, while the bottom half down to the tail, looked flatly one dimensional and cartoon like. It’s always looked bad to me and I was a little surprised, but not disappointed that this hadn’t been fixed for this release. Surprised because hell, it even looked bad thirty years ago. Not disappointed because I didn’t want the movie to have been tampered with.
Another shot that has always looked a bit “off” to me is the one where all four are on the roof on Dana’s apartment building, shooting their guns down at the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The camera is roughly at Stay Puft’s shoulder height, to his right. Given the distance, those beams are too damn wide and have no perspective. (That shot was also on the LP cover of the soundtrack I used to own back in the day.)
Those couple of personal gripes aside, the film plays marvellously well, is still relevant and is still one of the best, if not indeed THE best horror comedy ever made. It has stood the test of time and has rightly become a modern classic. The sequel was a pale shadow of the original, and oddly enough I discovered that I had no problem with a giant marshmallow man here, I found the notion of The Statue of Liberty walking through Times Square in Ghostbusters 2 a step too far.
So, in view of that, I’m in no rush for a half hearted and ill advised second sequel at this late stage of the game.
Happy Halloween everybody.
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