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‘Ghostbusters’: Who you gonna call?

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REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For 21st Century Media 

To mark the 30th anniversary of its 1984 release, “Ghostbusters” is receiving a theatrical reprise. The film represents an uncanny amalgam of clever humor with traditional practical and special effects. It is a rare example of a film in which these elements successfully co-exist.

Without benefit of opening credits other than a title card, the film jumps into the plot proper. A trio of university investigators are conducting research into the paranormal. Raymond Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are full-fledged science dorks. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) lacks any legitimate expertise. The horndog is simply a poseur, using the job to meet women. When the trio’s research methodology is exposed as bogus, they are booted off campus.

After hiring Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) to round out their team, they reinvent themselves as Manhattan-based freelance investigators into paranormal phenomenon. They drive around in an ecto-mobile and don distinctive outfits. These are replete with nuclear-powered backpacks. It makes them look like a cross between Buck Rogers space explorers and Orkin bug exterminators.

Their business is struggling. Then, New York becomes engulfed by all sorts of supernatural creatures. They have been summoned by the long-dormant Mesopotamian demon, Gozer (voiced by Slavitza Jovan). The quartet spring into action, trapping these newly-arrived spirits in a storage facility

Walter Peck (William Atherton) is an officious E.P.A. bureaucrat, who regards the Ghostbusters crew as a bunch of charlatans. He accuses them of criminal fraud. Eventually, Peck orders the release of all the spirits, which the Ghostbusters have captured.

One day, beautiful cellist, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) returns to her high-rise apartment with groceries. When Dana opens the refrigerator door, she discovers that it has become part of the domain of Gozer and occupied by his evil demi-god, Zuul the Gatekeeper. Her apartment has apparently become the epicenter of a newly opened passageway from the spirit underworld to our mundane universe. Terrified by this invasion of her apartment, Dana seeks help from the Ghostbusters.

Spurred by Ackroyd’s interest in a paranormal parody, he and Ramis had scripted a screenplay with John Belushi in mind for the central character. When Belushi died from a drug overdose, they hurriedly did a radical re-write with Murray inserted into the vacated role.

Bill Murray is seen in a screen capture from the 30th Anniversary website of "Ghostbusters" at http://www.ghostbusters.com/

Bill Murray is seen in a screen capture from the 30th Anniversary website of “Ghostbusters” at http://www.ghostbusters.com/

It is hard to imagine “Ghostbusters” without Murray in it. This is clearly his film and it revolves around his madcap genius. Witness the scene in which Signourney Weaver’s seemingly demure cellist is possessed by the Zuul and she is transformed into a wanton hussy. As her body shakes with erotic convulsions, she entices Peter, “Do you want this body?” He shoots back, “Is this a trick question?” It was a classic movie line, distinguished by Murray’s deadpan delivery. Throughout “Ghostbusters,” Murray interjects improvisational dialogue, much to the film’s benefit.

The film’s exuberant energy is epitomized by its title song, composed and performed by Ray Parker, Jr. There are few title songs that have a more evocative call and response hook than the catchy rendition of, “Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!” It is absolutely infectious.

The grand finale of the film went into heavy rotation on the early days of MTV. It quickly reached the vaunted number one spot. It consisted of a performance by a cameo-driven aggregate of performers, who weren’t in the film, dancing and singing in New York’s Times Square. It included Chevy Chase, John Candy, Carly Simon, Irene Cara, Teri Garr, Peter Falk, Al Franken, Danny DeVito, Irene Cara, and many others. The video ends with the four principal cast members, titivated in their “Ghostbusters” outfits, behind Parker. The video was promotional gold.

Another stroke of promotional saavy was concocted by director, Ivan Reitman. He extracted the television commercial that the Ghostbusters use in the film to drum up business. Reitman substituted the inoperative 555 number, used in the film, with a working 800 number. He then televised commercials of the amended version. Callers were greeted by the voices of Murray and Ackroyd, advising that they were out catching ghosts. The number was deluged with 1,000 calls per hour, 24 hours a day, for six weeks.

With a budget of $28 million, “Ghostbusters” was then the most expensive comedy in history. Audiences flocked to the film and it grossed $13.6 million on its opening weekend and $23million in its first week. At the time, this set box office records. “Ghostbusters” was number one grossing film for five consecutive weeks, grossing $99.8 million. Eventually, it grossed $238 million domestically and more than $291 million in total worldwide receipts.

A screen capture of the movie trailer to the 30th anniversary of the film "Ghostbusters" at http://www.ghostbusters.com/

A screen capture of the movie trailer to the 30th anniversary of the film “Ghostbusters” at http://www.ghostbusters.com/

With pitch-perfect casting, a hilarious script enhanced by the comedic improvisation of Murray and his comedic cohorts, effective direction by Ivan Reitman, adroit use of effects, and a great musical score, “Ghostbusters” is a fun-filled comedic experience.

The re-release of “Ghostbusters” presents an opportunity for those who saw it in 1984 to indulge in a nostalgic repeat viewing. Those who missed it the first time around, should avail themselves of an opportunity to see this classic on the big screen.

***1/2 PG 107 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

 

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