Skip to main content

Human sacrifice, dogs and cats, living together... mass hysteria!

Ghostbusters
(1984)

(SPOILERS) I was never an uber-Ghostbusters fan. I liked it alright, Bill Murray was really funny in it, but Bill Murray was really funny in everything at that point (well, except The Razor’s Edge), so that didn’t explain its enormous success. I think part of it is that, even now, that theme, and the images of those guys, used to maximum montage effect in the movie itself, suggest a popular classic of folk memory even to me, knowing otherwise. Much as Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F, and the presence of Eddie Murphy, mask how thin Beverly Hills Cop essentially is.


Although, Beverly Hills Cop is at least well-directed, and Murphy is the whole picture, which counts for a lot. Notably though, both movies, both starring breakout Saturday Night Live comedians, outgrossed the other big hits of ’84, the much better crafted Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins. What both had going for them in abundance was the schoolyard cachet of repetition, particularly so with Murray’s lines (“Yes, that man has no dick”, “Okay, so, she’s a dog”, and, most iconically, “He slimed me”). Murray and Murphy were effortlessly cool, albeit with diametrically opposite modes of delivery, and audiences lapped them up.


So how much did the ghostbusting side have to do with the box office? That might be asked all the more pertinently now the reboot has failed to set the world on fire (barring the world of those objecting to the female ensemble, albeit in a differently flammable fashion). It was certainly front-and-centre of some quite brilliant marketing, with iconic logos everywhere, memorable spooks in Slimer and Mr Stay Puft, Shreddies transfers, computer games, and Ray Parker’s pop-powered tune making an unlikely US Number One (I still love it, cheesy as it is, and it instantly takes me right back into a movie that is suddenly a far superior movie whenever it blasts over the soundtrack; the same can’t be said for the reboot’s cacophonic cover version).


Dan Aykroyd is winning as the eternally enthusiastic Stantz, reflecting his own fascination with the supernatural, but unfortunately, even aided by Harold Ramis in honing the finished screenplay, this doesn’t translate into a sprightly storyline. While much of it works, on the basis of the performers, the actual ghostly element is often stodgy in terms of exposition and scant in scares, and if Ramis’ Egon can deliver laugh-free lines with likably dry banality, Ghostbusters ultimately suffers for there being no sense of stakes come the end of the movie.


We’ve rather drifted towards the climax, at which point crossing the streams becomes a magical curative that only garners a “get out of jail free” card because it has been announced as very dangerous at an earlier point (even Murray struggles to get the gags in; “He’s a sailor, he’s in New York. Let’s get the guy laid”). Of course, if there was any actually energy or life in the production, it might make the plot itself feel less hidebound.


It’s worth remembering too how sluggish Aykroyd’s idea for the sequel was, and how his murmurings for the third one didn’t exactly capture imaginations. His passion for the material is commendable, but he’s too geeky about the subject to be sufficiently irreverent with it. Which may kind of work for his and Ramis’ characters, but it doesn’t for keeping the comedy engine turning over. So that’s left to Murray, since Ivan Reitman has little idea of what he’s doing.


Reitman’s the biggest problem with the movie, in that everything about the way he makes it has that rather artless “Don’t worry. It doesn’t matter. We’re only shooting a comedy here, guys” vibe. His camerawork is wholly uninventive, while his sets are shot to look entirely like sets. He has no particular facility with the effects. The difference to the same year’s also very funny Gremlins couldn’t be more marked. A much better choice to helm, particularly given his superior blend of scares and laughs in An American Werewolf in London, would have been John Landis. But what you have instead is Reitman encouraging the vibe of an extended skit, an extension of SNL, because unlike even the ramshackle The Blues Brothers, there’s nothing cinematic about the filmmaking (to be fair, Reitman did a much better job nearly two decades later, with Evolution, a failed attempt at an aliens-busters).


If Reitman isn’t up to much (Pauline Kael was spot-on when she singled out the “sluggish, kids-movie pacing”), Elmer Bernstein’s score is stranded out of time, as if written for a decades-old revue rather than a supernatural comedy (how different it could have been, given his contribution to American Werewolf). And, aside from Ray Parker Jr, the supporting soundtrack is uniformly awful.


Generally though, the response from critics was as effusive as it was from audiences (Kael also noted it was one of those comedies, “acclaimed for all the things it wants to be but isn’t”, although she invokes Trading Places in this assessment, which almost is). Bart Mills, in The Film Yearbook Volume 4, called it “the best silly movie in years” and “two hours of heaven for 12-year-olds” (he’s out by about 15 minutes, and as one of approximately that age at the time, well, you know what I think, but mostly he’s probably correct in terms of the target audience).


Stantz: I guess we should split up.
Venkman: Yeah, we can do more damage that way.

However lukewarm I am on the picture as a whole, the cast deserve full credit. Well, with the exception of Ernie Hudson, who, sadly, sucks all the energy out of the room whenever Zeddmore’s on screen. Not funny, not dramatic, not much of anything really. When Murphy opted out, they should probably just have excised Winston altogether. As it is, the character’s inclusion ends up looking like half-hearted tokenism. There’s a scene with Stantz where they’re discussing the Book of Revelation, memorable only for how leaden it is. That, and for both characters smoking (there’s a LOT of smoking in the movie).


Aykroyd and Ramis are very much relegated to Murray’s straight men (well, not exactly, as they aren’t really reacting to him), but give off an agreeable vibe, while Annie Potts’ broad Brooklyner is utterly beguiling. William Atherton (he and Reginald ValJohnson would reunite for Die Hard four years later), is on the receiving end of the best insult in the movie (second paragraph) and also gets to paint the Environmental Health Department in an unequivocally bad light (you won’t be seeing much of that again, barring the Murdoch press). Rick Moranis (replacing John Candy) gives it the full nerd, and it’s understandable that, after a decade of the same role, he’d decided to call it mostly quits by the mid-90s. His couldn’t-be-greater contrast with Sigourney Weaver as Key Master and Gate Keeper respectively, is most amusing.


Ah, yes, Sigourney Weaver. The undoubted highpoint of Ghostbusters is any scene between Murray and Weaver. Whether it’s Venkman trying to woo Dana Barrett, and her being dismissive of his advances (“You’re more like a gameshow host”), or her inability not to be charmed by his very act of being Bill Murray, there’s an explosion of playful energy on screen when they’re together. His scene with her possessed has probably the best coverage of jokes per square minute in the movie, and Weaver is thoroughly, seductively game (telling him she wants him inside her, he replies “No, I can’t. It sounds like you’ve got at least two people in there with you already”).


Knowing most of Murray’s lines were ad-libs (even his wresting Stantz into debt feels entirely, unscrupulously Murray) rather underlines how inert the picture would be without him. Maybe some of the variously considered options (the Slimer-inspiring John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Michael Keaton) could have been equally as arresting, but I have a feeling Ghostbusters would have ended up as one of those less-remembered capers. Like most of Aykroyd’s other screenplays, in fact.


I certainly get the nostalgia with this kind of movie, or with say The Goonies, or The Lost Boys, or whatever it may be. A certain formative viewing period makes it invulnerable to critiquing. I just tend to find that many of those ‘80s classic weren’t my instant faves at the time either, though. Where I end up is that Ghostbusters is far better on paper than as a movie, and the cause is a mix of Aykroyd’s clunky screenplay and Reitman’s direction. While I don’t think it has anything to lose from the movie being remade on that score, it is a drawback that’s those making it revere the original, so can only really strive to make something “as good”. Give me The Ghost Breakers any day.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Well, who’s going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?

Enemy of the State (1998)
Enemy of the State is something of an anomaly; a quality conspiracy thriller borne not from any distinct political sensibility on the part of its makers but simple commercial instincts. Of course, the genre has proved highly successful over the years so it's easy to see why big name producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson would have chased that particular gravy boat. Yet they did so for some time without success; by the time the movie was made, Simpson had passed away and Bruckheimer was flying solo. It might be the only major film in the latter's career that, despite the prerequisite gloss and stylish packaging, has something to say. More significant still, 15 years too late, the film's warnings are finally receiving recognition in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, John Patterson levelled the charge that Enemy was one of a number of Hollywood movies that have “been softening us up f…

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.