Need that ultimate 80s hit? Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters, obviously

January 9, 2012 by Simon Kinnear in Retro with 1 Comment

Because it was on telly at the weekend, and I hadn’t seen it for years. Thanks to the particularly grubby print broadcast by G.O.L.D. it looks exactly how my childhood brain remembers it when, as an eight-year-old, my dad took me to see the kind of family entertainment where everybody chain-smokes and nobody blinks at talking of a man with no dick… not that G.O.L.D. had the courage to show that priceless gag in a post-watershed timeslot.  Ah, the 80s.

Ghostbusters 1984 Ivan Reitman Bill Murray


(Ivan Reitman, US, 1984)

The triumph of private enterprise over snobby academics, environmentalists and Sumerian deities. How 80s.

From a commercial point of view, it must have been a no-brainer. Combine the crude, chain-smoking, counter-cultural comedy of the Saturday Night Live / National Lampoon axis, with the eye-popping FX and fantasy razzle-dazzle of the post-Star Wars Hollywood. And, indeed, Ghostbusters was one of the biggest hits of its decade. But the film lives on today: why? Well, chiefly because it’s an enduring piece of 1980s iconography and a reminder of times when blockbusters had the wherewithal to mash genres with patience and panache.

The film is a remarkable mix of the everyday and the extraordinary, about a trio of social misfits who become entangled in a supernatural disaster of Biblical proportions. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ premise has the immediacy and brevity of their revue roots, but they’ve taken pains to mine as much out of the scenario as possible. Yes, there’s plenty of slime-based slapstick, but this is also a tongue-in-cheek love letter to New York (the film is a skewed allegory of pest control) and a cosy satire of 1980s Reaganite go-getting, where the little guy can make a mint with a nuclear accelerator strapped to his back and a blue collar African-American to do the heavy lifting.

An elastic structure extends to accommodate increasingly surreal episodes – climaxing with the bonkers, out-of-leftfield arrival of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man – but always snaps back into place as a film set in the here-and-now of shabby 1980s Manhattan. The wisecracking dialogue is snappy and sarcastic, especially alongside the glorious jazz riffs of Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman, a stand-up comedian masquerading as a scientist. And the film fashions its set-pieces out of impeccable logic. The hotel job unfurls with the precision of the best comedy sketches, mapping out in minutes everything that the Ghostbusters can (and, more importantly, can’t) do.

And yet everything dovetails to make Ghostbusters a kid-scaring, thumpingly exciting horror-adventure, with growling beast-dogs and (for once, genuinely) industrial light and magic. Ivan Reitman’s greatest achievement here is in stepping up from laughs to thrills, achieved by delicate adjustments in the film’s reality, with wide shots and slow camera movements gradually revealing the menace rather than opt for crude shock-cuts. He’s helped by a beautifully calibrated performance from Sigourney Weaver, who starts as a Howard Hawks-style romantic foil for Murray and then gets possessed with a geeky kind of sex appeal. But the film’s biggest asset is its comic-book influenced sense of style, from the design of the proton packs to the cartoon logo, the fire station and the customised ambulance, and of course the sight of an 100ft tall marshmallow sailor stomping the streets.

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One Comment

  1. Mr CushtieJan 9, 2012 at 10:06 amReply

    Great review. I saw this last summer (in Manhattan, for extra verismilitude, or mise en scene, or whatever one should call it), and wondered at the time if there wasn't an alternate reality where Ghostbusters was a serious horror film – where it could retain Mr Staypuft and still be the thing of nightmares.

    A satire of Reaganite values? I see it as a strangely prescient plan for the mid-2000s housing bubble in the US; Venkman gets an extra mortgage on his parents' place, and then spunks it on a clapped out ambulance and three pinball machines. Or were they just foreshadowing the internet boom? (In which case it should have been set in San Francisco, not New York, but that's a whole other story. Mash The Social Network with Ghostbusters and then I'd sound plausible…)

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