Monday, August 25, 2014

Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good

On June 1, 1984 a movie was released that remains so iconic 30 years later. that it is one of the most often quoted movies with scenes and jokes that still seem fresh. Even the special FX, archaic by today's standards, are still memorable (perhaps because the movie hinges on the scripts and performances rather than the FX which are there to flavor the story, not overwhelm it).

The theme song by Ray Parker Jr. was the subject of a plagiarism lawsuit by Huey Lewis who claimed that Parker lifted the song's melody from his song "I Want a New Drug." Thirty years later, when that melody is heard, most people think of one thing: "Who you gonna call?"

That's right, "Ghostbusters"!

As I remember it, with myself two years out of high school, "Ghostbusters" sort of came out of nowhere. By that time summer blockbusters had become the norm: "Jaws," "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones." But those were action adventure or science fiction movies. "Ghostbusters" seemed a whole new breed. A full blown supernatural comedy with major special effects. As big and beautiful as it looked in the trailers, I can't say that I ever imagined the popularity this movie would have through the decades since its first release (It was number one at the box office for 5 weeks). That is, until I saw it.

All the comedy elements were there. "SNL" alums Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis from "SCTV." Ivan Reitman directing, Ramis and Aykroyd handling the script. Even the love interest of Dana was expertly played by Sigourney Weaver who could hold her own in the generally male comedic funhouse. Those elements mixed together perfectly creating a masterpiece.

Okay, one could argue that I'm laying it on a bit thick. And yet to me it is a masterpiece because it delivers what it intends to: Laughs. Jokes and scenes that can still make me smile thinking of them thirty years later.

And it's not only laughs. The truly amazing thing about this paranormal comedy is that it delivers shocks as well as laughs. If done well, comedy and horror can mix surprisingly well. Both rely on the element of surprise and depending on the laugh or the fright, both can elicit similar adrenalin spikes.

There is something really eerie about the library ghost in the beginning. You snicker at the geekiness of Ray and Egon as they study their readouts and the frustration of Peter as he collects their ectoplasmic sample ("Egon, your mucus"), but it's an uneasy snicker cause you're not really sure what they're going to come across. The music and direction draws you into that uncertainty. And the stunned reaction on the faces of the three as they see an actual apparition floating there is the very same we would wear if we rounded a corner and discovered that (especially if we had no clue on how to deal with it, as they apparently don't).

And as hilarious as their very first hunt in the hotel is, the later attack and possession of Dana by Zuul is pretty chilling.

The seeming authenticity of the paranormal aspects (yes, I know how that sounds but either you believe or you don't) is partly due to Dan Aykroyd who is seriously interested in the subject. There is no trace of irony when Ray (Aykroyd) and Egon (Ramis) toss around paranormal ideas because theirs are the voices of the believers. I mean after all they invented all sorts of equipment to measure this stuff, like the little hand held doohicky with the blinking wings that raise up in the presence of a ghost. Why the hell else would they invent something like that if they didn't believe something would raise those blinking wings.

The voice of the skeptic is that of Peter Venkman (Murray) who can't help but see the ridiculousness in the situation and even when the ridiculousness turns out to be anything but, his first instinct is to crack a joke as if it will protect him from the reality of what's happening. He cares more about putting the moves on Dana than he does about getting to the bottom of the strange occurrences going on around her. And wouldn't you know it, just as she finally starts succumbing to his charms, all hell breaks loose and she turns into a dog...literally.

Then there's fourth Ghostbuster Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) on the job only a few weeks before the "Big Twinkie" theory comes into play. 

It doesn't take long for him to become a believer because, as he tells the mayor of New York, on the job he's "seen shit that would turn you white!" Winston, like Dana's socially inept neighbor Louis Tully (Moranis) and Ghostbusters' snarly secretary Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), are the ones the audience can best relate to. They find themselves swept up in events the way the audience is swept up into the story line. And it is quite a ride.

This is one of those movies that I could see over and over (and in fact the summer it first opened, my friends and I did indeed go to see it over and over). It's in a long line of great summer comedies like "National Lampoon's Animal House," "Caddyshack," "Stripes" and "The Blues Brothers" that continually make me smile every time I see them. Which is why I'm going to see when it when it's rereleased to theaters Labor Day weekend.

Besides, how could you not love a movie in which the destroyer of worlds turns out to be...a marshmallow man.