Why I will always love Ghostbusters
This may sound utterly ridiculous, but seeing Ghostbusters on the big screen last weekend has really prompted me to realize how terrific a movie that really is.
It’s a comedy, and a silly one, at that, which is an immediate disqualifier for some people. Not for me, of course, because smart-silly is my absolute favorite brand of comedy.
But let’s look at the facts:
The script is perfect. The narrative progresses perfectly, with a relatively slow build to the establishment of the ghost-busting business, the period of success with just small hints of obstacles to come (in the form of the EPA guy, the big supernatural event on the horizon) and then the grab bag of problems that hit them in the third act which they have to work through to reach the film’s resolution. And just when the audience is begging for a climactic moment, we get a giant marshmallow man stomping through the streets of New York City.
Speaking of which, this movie loves New York City. The film’s got sort of a gritty look to it, like they didn’t clean up the garbage in the streets before filming, and all the extras look like real people. Compare this to the New York of some glossy chick flick like The Devil Wears Prada—that’s a young, sleek, rich, clean New York and it’s not real. But when these guys battle with the mayor for the chance to be allowed to save the city, it’s truly affecting. This same theme cropped up—much more literally (supernaturally animated Statue of Liberty, anyone?)—in the sequel.
Also, the movie is sort of legitimately scary. I mean, I can remember watching this movie without any fear at the age of like, six. But in the theater I was really struck by how effectively ominous some moments are—like Ray and Winston talking about Judgment Day, and Egon describing the rituals that rendered the building possessed by spirits.
I also love that that backstory is so plausible—I mean, for what it is. The movie sets up only one “just go with it” conceit: ghosts are real. And everything else is completely logical within that conceit. OK, a worshipper of this ancient god built the building as a conductor of supernatural energy. A door between dimensions has been opened. They’ll reverse the streams, and send the energy flowing back where it came from. It sounds preposterous, but in this world that they’ve established, it all works!
And the way the characters talk to each other—they really sound like scholars, bouncing ideas off one another. They sound like people who know how to do research. They talk like scientists, weighing evidence and making logical conclusions.
“Ray—pretend for a minute that I don’t know anything about metallurgy, engineering, or physics.” “You never studied.”
Do you think any character in the average (for example) Adam Sandler movie even knows that there are such things as metallurgy, engineering, or physics?
Jeremy asked me at the end where on my “best movies of all time” list this movie falls. I said it had to be top five, at least. It’s just so, so good, and so, so funny—and the good serves the funny, and vice versa. Here's a 3.5 star review from Roger Ebert (circa 1984) which says some more about what separates this movie from the rest.
And I promise the next post will not be about Ghostbusters.