Thursday, October 27, 2016

Movie Review: "Ghostbusters" by David Pretty

Nostalgia can be a pretty powerful thing. Movies that were originally nothing more than nominal, high-concept diversions can eventually morph into full-blown cultural phenomenons over time.

When Ghostbusters first came out in 1984 I was fourteen years old. And, just like everyone else, I enjoyed the movie. But did I think that it would become fodder for today's rabid fandom? NOPE. In fact, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the whole thing was a failed franchise after the obligatory and scattershot sequel manifested itself in five years later and promptly evaporated from sight.

But unbeknownst to me, a tsunami of toys and cartoons featuring The Real Ghostbusters was turning an impressionable generation of kids into life-long devotees. In fact, many people in their mid-thirties look at Ghostbusters the same way I look at Star Wars. That's why the 2009 video game sequel was so successful and, conversely, why this year's patently-mercenary and wholly needless reboot got the collective cold shoulder.

Granted, there are infinitely more baffling things to me, such as the adult beatification of Transformers, Sailor Moon, My Little Pony, Power Rangers, Pokemon, and Masters of the Universe. Mainly because all of these things were initially created primarily for the express purpose of selling toys and other ancillaries. Which makes you wonder: what exactly is the statute of limitations on nostalgia? Do we need to brace ourselves for the inevitable but-no-less-passionate Teletubbies resurgence in a few years?

Now, I'm not saying that you can't feel wistful about whatever pop culture detritus that you were weaned on, but the adult human who lords a two-hour Nintendo commercial like The Wizard over the collective works of Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese is doing themselves a tremendous disservice. We all collectively need to face the cold, hard fact that many things from our childhood are just not worth dwelling on.

As for Ghostbusters, even though I don't think we should be treated like some sort of pop-culture Golden Calf, it still deserves some adoration. The four leads are a major reason for this, forever preserved here in celluloid amber. What amazes me is how distinctly different these four characters are and how clearly delineated their motivations are.

Take Bill Murray's Peter Venkman for example, who seems to be only nominally interested in parapsychology. In fact, you get the distinct impression that he just meandered into it in a likely-misguided effort to meet women. Murray's dry wit is on fleek and he's personally responsible for the lion's share of the film's funniest moments, many of which are delivered so casually that you suspect they were improvised. When he mutters "I feel so funky!" after his close encounter with Slimer, it cracks me up every time.

Then there's Dan Aykroyd's Ray Stantz, a goofy, exuberant man-child who literally gets a ghost-induced boner at one point in the film. Ray is Aykroyd's perfect avatar since he's completely obsessed with paranormal stuff in real life. He does a great job in the film, selling Ray's fetish-like interest in all things spectral. The scene where he brings The Destructor into being is perfectly played and has become the stuff of cinema legend.  

Next up is Harold Ramis, who's Egon Spengler has to be considered one of the best cinematic "eggheads". Ramis is note-perfect: oblivious to social niceties, consistently odd in behavior and every one of his line readings is exactly the same. Whether he's telling Janine about his collecting of "spores, mold and fungus" or confessing that he's "terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought", everything he says is flawlessly deadpan. 

Finally Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore is the perfect every man, mirroring the incredulity of the audience. Affable, easy-going and possessed of a winning smile, Ernie Hudson just oozes on-screen charisma. The thing is, he's isn't just a sounding board for all things spooky, he's also exhibits the chops required to deliver the chills. Hudson exhibits such sincere conviction regarding his theories about the afterlife during his scene with Dan Ackroyd in the Ecto-1, he ends up giving us all serious case of the wiggins.

And, hey, what about that amazing supporting cast? First off, we've got an alternately winsome and feisty pre-Aliens Sigourney Weaver who later on becomes impossibly sultry while playing host to Zuul, the Gatekeeper. Also, seeing Rick Moranis in action makes me wish that hadn't turned his back on Hollywood, since I still think he's one of the funniest carbon-based life forms on the planet. Finally, Annie Potts is a real hoot as the prototypically-bitchy Brooklyn secretary Janine Melnitz.

Even though the olde-skool practical puppetry, miniatures and optical effects can be slightly creaky at times, this just adds to the film's goofy charm. I challenge anyone to maintain a straight face when Venkman starts berating Ray for inadvertently incarnating the "Stay Puft Marshmallow Man". On the other hand, I'm also open-minded enough to admit that the movie isn't wall-to-wall comedy gold. In fact, many of the "humorous" exchanges are kinda forced and some of one liners are pretty weak.

In spite of this, it's still a ton of fun watching all of these kooky ideas gel reasonably-well together. Only in the wonderful world of movies is such a strange high concept even possible. By the time the boys are bombing around the streets of New Yawk in the Ecto-1, trashing hotel ballrooms and getting "slimed", all to the tune of Ray Parker Jr's eponymous hit, you can't help but be on-board.

As I said before, some things aren't worthy of nostalgia, especially when you revisit them as an adult. But  Ghostbusters is certainly one of those rare and wonderful exceptions.

        Tilt: up.

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