16 January 2008

Thoughts on Ghostbusters.

This is going to be short, as I'm in Chattanooga on Shana's Apple Laptop, and this keyboard drives me crazy for longish typing. (How does anyone ever get used to a tiny little laptop keyboard? I guess it helps if you don't have big fingers like mine...)

Anyway, this isn't really a movielog entry, but last night Shana and I went to see Ghostbusters on the big screen at the Carmike Bijou here in Chattanooga. It was part of their classic film series (last week we saw The Neverending Story), and someone had actually dredged up an actual print from 1984, and for a piece of celluloid that's 23 years old, it was amazingly well-preserved, with only the occasional scratch.

So, thoughts on the movie? For a flick that's still the 30th highest grosser of all time adjusted for inflation, and one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time (second or third, depending on whether you count Shrek 2 in the "comedy" or "animated" category -- the other is Forrest Gump), it's amazingly quirky. It's one of the only movies I can think of that derives its humor not from stupidity but from intelligence -- even Ray's childlike glee at the pole in what becomes the Ghostbuster headquarters is rooted in the reality of this emotionally-stunted postdoc finding joy in simple pleasures.

Also, the flick is interesting structurally. Some scenes are drawn almost directly from early-eighties horror, like the sequence in which Gozer takes over Sigourney Weaver's apartment. Other scenes, which taking from a similar horror background, intersperse jokes major and minor to give the whole sequence a kind of slapsticky feel. Like, say, the sequence in which Rick Moranis is taken over by Gozer.

The writers (Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis) have an really wonderful way of dealing with the huge amounts of exposition required, in that one of the "geeky" ghostbusters will deliver some longwinded bit of technobabble, followed by Bill Murray either quipping in a way that makes it clear to the audience, or in some cases simply flat out demanding a simpler explanation. Interspersing the exposition with gags in this way isn't quite as direct as Bogie's old admonition for the director to put some camels fucking in the background to give the audience something to watch, but it keeps the jokes coming and allows the audience to follow without making the whole plot simplistic, or the explanations simply "dumb". For that matter, the whole character of Winston Zedamore (Ernie Hudson) seems to exist primarily to provide just this sort of structural function during sequences later in the movie in which Murray is off performing other plot actions.

And Murray. Holy fuck. I wasn't there during filming, but either he ad-libbed a huge proportion of his part (as with the original Meatballs) or he's simply such an amazing actor that he gives the feeling that the part was written expressly for him, or possibly he had an uncredited hand in the writing of the script. Either way, the man's a treasure in the film, the anchor for the multiple storylines, and ultimately the major reason in the movie's success.

Ultinately, Ghostbusters is an example of the magic of cinema, a time in which every department of the film was working in concert, and very nearly a perfect motion picture. The cast works seamlessly together, the writing is top-notch, and the audience swallows the preposterous premise and huge amounts of exposition without even realizing they're doing it. It's lightning in a bottle, a classic, great film, and possibly the greatest thing any person involved with the movie has ever done before or since. It remains just as fresh two decades and change later as it was upon original release, or when I first saw it on home video in the mid-eighties.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

fuckin' A.

It's a great friggin movie. I haven't seen it in a very long time, but yes, Murray is... "Where do these stairs go?" "They go up!"

You don't often get great movies with great lines. Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Princess Bride. This one is right on up there.