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Ghostbusters (1984)::rating::5::rating::5

More than anything, Ghostbusters taught me that joy can live within the finest details.  In the forty years since its release, I have savored every nuance of this movie–every quotable bit of dialogue, every sarcastic Bill Murray smirk, every note of its maddeningly catchy theme song.  Put all of it together, and you have one of the defining films of my childhood.  I simply can’t filter my nostalgia for this experience, and I’m not going to try.  Ghostbusters is one of those movies that made me fall in love with movies.

As with the Indiana Jones flicks, the elevator pitch for this film should be too obnoxiously high concept to ever work, and yet work it does:  Three quack-job paranormal investigators launch a private enterprise for catching and containing ghosts.  At the same time, a malevolent cosmic entity descends on New York City, threatening global destruction.  The genius for Ghostbusters lies in how it approaches that storyline from two completely different directions.

On one hand, you have a freewheeling comedy romp.  Murray makes this movie funny from the top down.  He plays Dr. Peter Venkman (Murray).  From an intellectual standpoint, Venkman is pure huckster.  He uses his job title to coast through academia and conduct phony experiments to pick up sorority girls.  Put another way:  Venkman is all hat and no cattle.  At the same time, he also brings a bold, blustery swagger and a withering barrage of sarcasm.  On a team of goobs, Venkman is the instant celebrity.  His cocky one-liners supply the film with its most enduring comedy.

Meanwhile, the film also functions as an ambitious sci-fi blockbuster.  The same special effects sorcerers who brought you the Death Star and the Temple of Doom also build the magic here, and the results are stunning.  We see green blob goblins, snarling hellbeasts, and a 50-foot marshmallow man who rampages through Uptown Manhattan like a sticky, delicious riff on King Kong.  Thanks to its eye-catching visuals and steady pace, Ghostbusters is a relentlessly hilarious chunk of junk food entertainment.

The film also benefits from its top-notch supporting cast.  Sigourney Weaver, no stranger to busting monsters herself, makes the perfect Everywoman who learns her apartment is the nexus for a multidimensional apocalypse.  Rick Moranis steals most of his scenes as Weaver’s squirrely neighbor, an accountant who sets a new gold standard for dorkiness.  As always, William Atherton plays a jerkward bureaucrat whose main function is to doubt the Ghostbusters and be an all-around killjoy.  (And he does so with alarming perfection.)  Finally, Ernie Hudson fills a crucial role as Winston, a latecomer to the team.  He supplies the team with a grounded, blue-collar presence, and he ensures that co-writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis have to translate their technobabble into English.

Ask five people to pick their favorite scene from Ghostbusters, and you’re likely to get five different answers.  And all of them are correct.  For my part, I’ll go ahead and pick moment the moment after the boys have just collared their first ghost.  They strut out of the battered remnants of what was once a swanky hotel ballroom.  Venkman uses his rockstar bravado to manhandle the manager into an exorbitant fee of $5000. (“No job is too big.  No fee is too big!”)  In that moment, the Ghostbusters go from being fringe nutballs to superstars.  You can also see exactly what “Dr.” Venkman brings to the team:  Marketability.

In hindsight, it’s kinda funny that Ramis, Akroyd, and director Ivan Reitman once envisioned this as a very different movie.  Before his tragic overdose, John Belushi was picked for the Venkman role.  John Candy was slotted for the nerdy neighbor.  Winston was crafted for Eddie Murphy, and it was a much bigger part.  All those people are icons, and maybe they would’ve been great.  But it’s become impossible to imagine anyone else playing any of these characters.  (Bill Murray was born to play Pete Venkman.)  Change anything about this film, and you could upset the delicate, unknowable chemistry that made this it an instant classic.  I have a list of perfect movies, and Ghostbusters is one of them.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the Ultimate 80s Movie.

105 min.  PG.  Hulu.


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