Monday, February 24, 2014

Ghostbusters

I was already putting off doing this review, feeling like I couldn't properly state the affect this movie had on my generation or explain what it was that made it so magical, and then today I hear the news that Harold Ramis has passed away, and I am even more overwhelmed.  But perhaps that means it's the perfect time to try.

The original idea for the film was Dan Aykroyd's, but it was too large in scope to be filmed.  Having recently watched the extended edition of The Blues Brothers, I can tell you that an unfocused Aykroyd not being reigned in is not a good thing.  Fortunately Ivan Reitman knew this too, and called in Harold Ramis to help Aykroyd with the script and bring it more down to earth.  While the two previous Reitman/Ramis collaborations were lacking in focus (Meatballs, Stripes) Ramis seemed to have learned quite a bit from his time in the director's chair since then (Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation).  As such this film stands miles ahead of all those that came before it.  It's a merging of all those talents plus Bill Murray at just the right moment to create something truly special, something that couldn't ever entirely be reproduced again (depending on how you feel about the sequel anyway).

This was also the first family friendly film for all of them, and you almost have to wonder if that was also a large part of the reason why it stands above - while there is plenty of sexual innuendo and jokes designed to fly over the heads of children and make the adults watching with them laugh, the fact that they're not trying to throw in a pair of breasts just because seems to help.  Or maybe it's that this is going into the realm of science fiction and the paranormal, a fascinating subject, and something children in particular are ready to believe.

That last part definitely has a lot to do with why the film became such a phenomenon at least.  The cartoon and toys that followed helped too, providing us with the continuing adventures and allowing us to don our own proton packs and throw out traps to catch ghosts.  It also made something we were once so afraid of seem controllable and fun.  There was less of a reason to worry about the monster under your bed or hiding in your closet if you could blast them and trap them in a containment unit.

The Ghostbusters themselves were the height of cool.  I've never taken a poll, but from most people I know, it seems like Egon and Peter are the stand out favorites.  Egon was the awkward nerd that reminded us of ourselves, and Peter was the wise-ass you wished you could be.  Which is not to put down Ray or Winston - Ray's enthusiasm and childlike innocence is a large part of the appeal of the film, and Winston's every-man attitude gives you someone to relate to.  They are all perfect in their own way, and it's this strong cast that really makes the film work, and continued to make it work in the sequel even when the plot wasn't as strong.

Somewhere in an alternate universe stands a film where Venkmen is played by John Belushi, Louis Tully by John Candy, and Winston by Eddie Murphy.  While I'd love to see that film, I feel pretty confident in saying that the one we got is better.  Because while John Belushi was a talent in his own right, this film needs Bill Murray, and is better because he's here.  Murray always brings at least some degree of improvisation to his roles, and it may just be personal opinion but his wise ass beats Belushi's any day of the week.  It's hard to pull off asshole who is also likeable, but that's exactly what Venkman is, and you can understand why Dana Barrett does ultimately fall for him.

Of course, I didn't.  I fell for Egon.  Hard.  As I said earlier, a large part of the appeal was that Egon was like me - glasses, quiet and reserved, a bit awkward and shy and oblivious.  But he was also accomplished and capable and had what seemed to be one of the coolest jobs in the world.  When I watched the cartoon and saw Janine so completely smitten with Egon, I totally understood.  I was too.  Even watching it today, I still find myself smitten with him.  He's written intentionally creepy in parts, but he's still adorably awkward, Ramis' quiet charm coming through all the way.

I technically wrote about this film once before on here, and everything I said there still applies.  It's a great film for both kids and adults, and it deserves its cultural status.  I would go so far as to say it will hold up as a classic for years to come as well.

As far as my thoughts on losing Ramis, I'm at a loss.  As a writer and director in particular, he did a lot to change comedy for the better, and his influence is immeasurable. I'm looking forward to checking out some of his work that I missed even more now.  It's a shame that it will now have a bit of a bittersweet edge to it, knowing he's now gone.


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