Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghostbusters I & II

The following isn't going to be as much of a review as an account of my own personal experiences with these films. But let's be real - you don't need me to tell you to watch Ghostbusters.

For me, Ghostbusters isn't just a great funny film, but really the start of my existence as a geek. I was only three when the movie was released in theaters, so my first viewing of it was when my parents recorded the movie onto VHS from HBO. I'm fairly certain I was six years old. In no time this movie became an obsession for both me and my brother. The library ghost scared us, but after that it was just pure silliness and fun. I cannot possibly count the number of times we watched this movie. We also watched the cartoon faithfully, and owned the action figures, not to mention a real working ghost trap and proton pack that we would take turns catching ghosts with all the time.

This was also where I met my first love. His name was Egon Spangler, and I thought he was adorable and I wanted to marry him and have lots of babies. I even went so far as to insist that my two best friends also pick a ghostbuster to be married to. I imagined us having ten children, including two sets of twins. I had names and personalities for all of them, but sadly I can't remember them anymore. The seeds of me being a writer were planted right then and there.

I eventually left this obsession behind for The Little Mermaid and then Bill & Ted, so there was a large gap for me where I didn't watch either film for quite awhile. It was only on the release of the DVD set that I finally sat down to watch these films again. Imagine my surprise when I realized just how many dirty jokes they contained. I really think that's one of the great things about these movies though, that it can appeal to both kids and adults in equal measure. The only side effect being that I feel a little creeped out for being attracted to Egon now.

I got the chance to go see Ghostbusters during its limited theater re-release this October.  I was a little disappointed that so few people had turned up, there were probably only twenty of us in there at most.  I was also surprised to see how grainy the film looked, considering that it was described as a "digital presentation" on the ticket.  Silly me thought that might mean they cleaned it up.  Though I guess the graininess just sort of adds to the feelings of nostalgia.

Watching it again I realized that a large part of the appeal of the film is that each Ghostbuster is truly likeable in his own way.  My dear Egon is the smart one who figures out how to contain the ghosts and how to defeat them, along with having an obvious weakness for junk food.  Ray is called "the heart of the Ghostbusters" by Peter at one point, and he's not kidding.  Dan Aykroyd's real life enthusiasm for the paranormal really shows through in the sometimes dimwitted but always loveable character.  Winston's no nonsense approach represents the everyman dealing with these crazy situations.  And of course there's Peter, who steals the show and is ultimately the most quotable character in the whole film.  He can be a total jerk, but you also know why Dana Barrett falls for him anyway, because it's really hard not to smile at a guy like that.

Speaking of Dana, I love that once again Sigourney Weaver is playing a strong female character.  She could easily be portrayed as a damsel in distress in this kind of situation, but she's sure of herself and confident, just naturally freaked about the strange things going on in her apartment.  And then there's Rick Moranis playing the absolutely hilarious Louis, though he perhaps is even funnier once he becomes Vinz Clortho.  Annie Potts is also great as the ultra sarcastic Janine, and let's not forget the man we all love to hate, Walter Peck.  Has anyone ever asked William Atherton what it's like to play characters that are so loathed?  I would imagine it has to be a mix of really fun and really annoying at times.

One of the details I noticed while watching it on the larger screen is the moment where the Ghostbusters are in jail and going over the blueprints.  There are some extras in the background who are really going above and beyond, acting as if they are having a conversation that equates to "Can you believe these guys?"  It's hilarious.

I was old enough to see Ghostbusters II when it hit theaters, and I remember being very excited. I can still remember seeing that final painting before the end credits up on the large screen. Whenever it premiered on television we taped it and added that to our movie viewing rotation. It boggles me that this movie is largely judged as not very good, because to me it's just more of the same silly fun.

Watching it again this weekend I still giggled hysterically when the guys powered on their proton packs for  the first time and say "Doe... Ray... Egon!"   The look on Harold Ramis' face, like he's so proud of himself, just completely makes it.  Peter MacNicol is also a great addition to the cast, playing neurotic and creepy all at the same time.

What is it about the film people don't like?  I don't see Vigo and the slime under NYC to be any stranger or sillier than Gozer with his gatekeeper and keymaster.  Is it the overly positive message at the end?  Given that it's set during Christmas and New Year's Eve, I figure that goes along with the territory.  You can't say that this one is more for kids either because there's tons of adult jokes that flew over my head at the time.  I remember how shocked I was when I watched it as an adult and realized what they really meant during the "Are you sleeping with it?" joke.  I swear I just thought he took it and slept next to it back then.  I will say I do think Bill Murray plays Peter a little more goofy than the previous ultra-sarcastic version in the first film, but I don't see it as bad, just different.

The special features on the Ghostbusters II  disc features two episodes of The Real Ghostbusters.  One is an early episode that explains how Slimer came to live with the Ghostbusters full time in the firehouse, and the other is much later, when the show became Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters and was updated to reflect the changes that happened in Ghostbusters II.  I found the first episode just okay, and the second a bit too stupid to finish.  It successfully killed off any urge I was feeling to possibly buy the DVD set of the show.  As much as I loved it back then it doesn't seem to hold up for me.  I would hear Lorenzo Music's voice and just think of Garfield, for one.  It also reminded me how much the cartoon used to focus on the ghosts, and for whatever reason that just doesn't interest me like it used to.

The good news is the toys are still awesome.  I've got the Stay Puft figure, a scared Peter and Ray (weren't those the best?), as well as a normal Peter and Egon and a Ray who used to have some kind of toy attachments that we've since lost - he looks like he's wearing some kind of gadget armor.

So what are your memories of the Ghostbusters?  Any awesome collector's items you want to show off?


  1. I watched both movies and the animated series quite a bit when I was a kid, and had many of the action figures, but kinda drifted from them a teen. Catching it in theaters this month was the first time I'd seen the film in almost a decade. Like you, I was surprised by the adult nature of the jokes that used to sail right over my head (female gatekeeper, male keymaster), as well as the slim attendance at the theater. Only about 20-30 people, less than a quarter of the seats, and over half of them were children brought by their parents.

    Still, though, it was a great time with a great film, and I don't get the criticisms against part 2, either.

  2. There were only two kids in mine, unless you count the teens as well. I was happy to see it though, as it seems like a good opportunity to expose the younger generation to the film. I'm hoping it was the fact that there were multiple showings of the film that made it so lightly attended. Apparently it's even showing in some places tonight.

  3. Ah, the Ghostbusters. They and I go way back.

    First I discovered the cartoon when I was but a wee tyke. It wasn't until years later I saw a commercial for the movie being aired on tv one night and at first thought it was a movie based on the cartoon. My young mind and body didn't make it through the whole movie that night and fell asleep on the couch, but I still readily remember it as one of the fondest bonding memories I have of my father.

    Years later after constantly playing with our collective Proton Packs and my very own Trap with my friends, I petitioned my parents to let me have my name legally changed to Egon, my favoritism of the "smart guy" on almost any hero team fueling the fire but modesty stopping me at going with Donatello; because as I said, "that would be stupid."

    First year of college, my girlfriend at the time sewed the logo patch on the arm of a jacket I bought specifically for it, and with it I became slightly more of a trendsetter, classmates later finding stickers and printouts and changing their ringtones to play the theme song; and always requesting the weekly bar-party DJ to play the song as well, because why the hell not? It's amazing. It was an excellent three years. To date my ringtone is a custom-made loop of the first few seconds of the song's beat and in the odd occasion it should ring, I almost never want to answer because the music is just too damn good.

    To answer your question, I've often reflected on why Ghostbusters II is so poorly received and I think it just falls under too-high expectations. It kind of follows the same over-arching story but something seems to be missing. The courtroom scene is awesome, not unlike the Slimer scene in the first movie; then a possessed human tries to bring about the wishes of an ancient evil until the Ghostbusters save the day. Though this time it's not ending with risking their lives in a last-ditch effort to stop the world-consuming evil (which was kinda their fault to begin with) but dousing a couple dudes with slime while a mass of people outside start singing New Year's Greatest Hits.

    My problem with it is in two parts. First, Sigourney Weaver feels like she was forced in to maintain a familiar character. The only reason she's around is to be the woman who has a baby that is - for some reason - being targeted by Vigo due to her Main Character Status. Her strong personality is reduced to a frightened mother who could literally have been anybody else.

    Aside from that the final battle has a seriously smaller-scale feeling. Of course, it's hard to go bigger: last time they sought the wrath of a god and defeated a servant designed specifically to destroy the world - and had accomplished this feat a dozen times over. Now it's some dude in a painting who wants to be reborn. Couple that with the fridge-logic of "how did the statue develop working legs to walk?" it leaves the audience wanting.

    Believe me, it took years for me to realize that it's not necessarily "bad" as it is "underwhelming." Still, they're both fun to watch for their own reasons.

  4. In all fairness, had you changed your name to Donatello, you could have just had people call you "Don." :) Seriously, dude, that's awesome, as is the jacket you had. When I was in the theater I was thinking about making my own Ghostbusters uniform, and it would most definitely have the Spengler patch on it. They sell the patches on eBay so I know I could do it.

    You make excellent points about Ghostbusters II. Beyond the fact that she just so happens to run over the slime with the baby carriage, it's all a little too convenient that Vigo wants Oscar, and she's stuck without much else to do but fight off Peter's moves and yell for her baby. And the ending is definitely much smaller in scale.


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