2016/07/13

In Defense of Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters

I really shouldn't have to do this. At this point, the best course of action for everyone is to dismiss the artistic and moral failure that is Ghostbusters 2016, let the remake die a quick, unmourned, and forgotten death, and rest secure in the excellence of the one true Ghostbusters film.

But now inveterate contrarians and shills are vainly trying to make the reboot look better than the Cannon Films fire sale material it is by taking passive-aggressive shots at the original classic.

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: your claims that the original Ghostbusters is dumb, sexist, or overrated don't make you sound cool. They make you sound like a smug, revisionist poser. It's just as irritating as a hipster saying he liked a band before they were popular. And in this case, calling the first Ghostbusters a bad movie is empirically wrong.


The short version

Ghostbusters (1984--how detestable it is having to clarify that) is an SNL satire--from back when SNL was good--of a Lovecraftian horror story.

The reimagining, on the other hand, is a cynical parody of the original.

That is what fans are upset about; not the sex of the lead players or the perceived effrontery of making a new entry in a "sacred" franchise. By all reasonable accounts the new film is a shallow cash grab smothered in sanctimonious propaganda, and fans have been wise to the con since the trailer dropped.

The film makers should have heeded the fans' warning. But as I've said before, Hollywood hates its own audience.


Defense in depth

If you still doubt the original Ghostbusters' greatness, consider the following reasons why it is rightly hailed as a classic.

The talent


Ghostbusters talent

Comedy is the hardest genre to write well. Just ask any pro screenwriter to find out why good comedy writers are held in such high esteem. Nothing else requires such precise timing, tone, and dialogue.

Well-crafted, genuinely funny jokes aren't written by accident. If a writer is consistently turning in solid comedic scripts, you can be sure he knows what he's doing.

It's no coincidence that the creative team behind Ghostbusters includes Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, and Bill Murray--talents responsible for the golden age of Saturday Night Live, Animal House, Meatballs, and Stripes.

When a pro writer goes to work, he operates at a certain level of ability. Ghostbusters didn't just rise to its creators' high standard of excellence, it took their game to a whole new level.


The world building


Ghost Smashers

Okay, Ghostbusters might not be your thing. That's understandable. But with the shortage of movies based on original IPs these days, you've got to at least give the first movie credit for originality.

I already explained that comedy is the toughest genre to write. Ghostbusters ups the difficulty even more by genre bashing comedy with horror and sci-fi: two of only three genres that require the added element of world building.

Take it from someone who's built an expansive SFF/horror setting: world building ain't easy.



The unique lore of Ghostbusters wasn't thrown together in a weekend, either. Aykroyd first developed the film's core concepts based on a real-life fascination with the paranormal stemming from his childhood. He spent years refining these ideas into an expansive mythos that's only hinted at on screen.

Come to think of it, the fact that Aykroyd's original, somewhat rambling, vision was pared down to a manageable yet still satisfying feature length experience stands as further testimony to the film's brilliance.


The performances

Filmed in one shot.

Not only were the talents behind Ghostbusters ingenious writers, they were also gifted comedic performers. Stellar acting chops are also on full display among the rest of the cast--especially Bill Murray, whose celebrated deadpan delivery made Dr. Peter Venkman a font of legendary quotes.

Seriously, this film alone accounts for at least four percent of the 100 funniest movie quotes. All four belong to Murray, who improvised most of his lines. It's been argued, and I think rightly so, that Murray deserves a co-writer credit on this film.

Also worthy of high acclaim is Rick Moranis, who improvised the notorious party scene during a single, long shot.

Sigourney Weaver, better known for more serious roles, ad-libbed the famous "You're more like a game show host" line.


The visuals

Ghostbusters Wrightson

"Effects Movies" tend to get a bad rap, but let's face it: if your film deals extensively with SF and/or horror elements, you need sharp visuals to sell the story.

Few films can boast the art design pedigree of Ghostbusters. With an art team that included venerable Swamp Thing and Frankenstein artist Bernie Wrightson, this movie's startling yet endearing visuals and largely practical effects continue to endure as CG effects from movies made five years ago grow old before their time.

Ghostbusters Librarian

The original Ghostbusters was indisputably smart, funny, visionary, and visually gorgeous. What more proof do you need? I rest my case.

@BrianNiemeier

4 comments:

  1. It's a good thing you put the year at the end of the title. I almost thought you'd lost your mind. ;)

    Ghostbusters works because it has a rock solid base that everything was built on. The concept of four guys completely over their heads dealing with the unknown intruding on the normal world, is a great idea. You instantly have suspense and comedy at your disposal. Then you add in the direction and performances from some of the best in the field, and you have a real winner.

    Sore losers who try to cut down the past to prop up the mediocre present do themselves no favors.

    "Sure, Ghostbusters (2016) is bad . . . but the original wasn't just as bad!"

    Ghostbusters as a whole sucks now, and always has, and we were all deluded fools into hoping the new movie would be any good.

    What a winning attitude to have.

    Thankfully, the top critics appear to be more honest with the new movie than the hacks are. The less people seeing this movie, the better is for cinema itself.

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    1. *was just as bad

      No idea what happened there.

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    2. "It's a good thing you put the year at the end of the title. I almost thought you'd lost your mind. ;)"

      It's Paul Feig's fault that we have to specify which film we're talking about now. Part of what got James Rolfe in hot water with SJWs was his contention that the 2016 version should've had a subtitle to distinguish it from the original.

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    3. "Ghostbusters works because it has a rock solid base that everything was built on."

      I fully concur. The childlike wonder of Aykroyd's world building refined by Ramis' steady editorial hand was the rock this film was built on.

      Yet many other films blessed with world-class screenwriters, directors, and actors are still found wanting in comparison.

      Even as a kid, watching Ghostbusters gave me a certain feeling that no other movie then or now can replicate.

      There was always something else going on just below the surface. Only when I dug into the myriad commentaries, interviews, and production notes chronicling the film's origins did I find hints of that elusive "it" factor.

      -The bookcase falling over in the library wasn't scripted. Some say a crew member knocked it off-balance earlier, but the timing of the fall during shooting strains the credibility of a coincidence. The shock on Aykroyd and Murray's faces is real, and like true pros they stayed in character and riffed on the surprise.

      -The line from the theme song, "an invisible man sleeping in your bed" and the infamous Dream Ghost sequence are both based on an incident that Dan Aykroyd claims happened to him in the mid-70s.

      -The prison where the Ghostbusters' incarceration scenes were shot has long been said to be haunted. The crew disliked filming there, and when inexplicable scratches kept showing up on the dailies, Reitman balked at the thought of returning for pickup shots. Luckily, enough undamaged film was salvaged to complete the scenes.

      In short, the best fiction serves the truth, and there might be more truth to Ghostbusters than meets the eye.

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