Monday, October 8, 2012

Halloween Holocaust: Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)

More by accident than by design, today's entry completes a three day consecutive hat-trick of horror movies made in the 80's and set in the Big Apple. It's admittedly stating the obvious to say that everyone has a movie they've seen more than any other. Nonetheless, I should probably preface this post by telling you that for me, Ghostbusters is that very movie, due to it being one of the first VHS tapes that appeared in my house as a kid, its general cultural ubiquity in these formative years, via the excellent Real Ghostbusters cartoon series and assorted merchandise, and the fact that Ghostbusters II was, if I'm not mistaken, the first film I ever saw at the cinema. Therefore, it also goes without saying that I'm more than slightly preconditioned to love this movie; so much so, that I'm almost inclined to not trust someone if they don't like it.

I'll skip the obligatory synopsis as I'm sure you're all familiar with the movie; if not, get the hell out of here and please rectify that heinous situation. I think one of the key things that makes this film so fun is that it's essentially a supernatural take on the buddy comedy/caper movie; in other words, another hangout movie, where you revisit it as much for the characters as the actual events that transpire. Plus, when you're a kid, the idea of being able to hang out with your mates pretty much everyday, battling ghouls and ghosts and then sleeping over together every night in your very own fire station, seems just about the coolest thing ever. Groovy gadgets and portable nuclear laser beams are always a bonus as well.

It's certainly tantalising to imagine how the movie could alternatively have turned out, that is if the studio had enough money to realise Dan Aykroyd's original script. It was originally set it the future, where Ghostbusters are as everyday as firemen and paramedics; the Stay Puft marshmallow man was just one of many Godzilla-esque monsters the team had to fight. Reitman says it would have cost something like $300 million dollars in 1984 money. I'm sure most of us would love to have seen that version, self included, but I'd also vouch that just as many wouldn't change a thing about the film as it stands.

Whilst it's definitely an ensemble affair, with (as cast and crew themselves have said) Ramis as the Brain, Aykroyd as the Heart and Murray as the mouth, plus support from a compelling, and surprisingly hot Sigourney Weaver, it is, at the end of the day, ultimately the Bill Murray show. He provides the function of an astute/cynical, yet not completely self-serving audience surrogate, who manages to make the supernatural goings on somehow more accessible to a mass audience than most genre fare, perhaps due having his tongue in cheek throughout the proceedings, and therefore never really taking any of it too seriously.

There are many things that I love about this movie and, to an almost equal extent, its sequel. But at present, I feel I'd be especially remiss if I didn't mention the music. Sure, we all probably, and justifiably, love the Ray Parker Jr. theme song. But, the more I hear it, I feel the pop contributions to the soundtrack may have unfortunately left Elmer Bernstein's excellent score, somewhat in the shadows. Heavily featuring an ondes Martenot (cousin to that other horror/sci-fi soundtrack staple, the theremin), the music is both delightfully varied and consistently appropriate to the images. For instance, there's one or two nice, slightly subtle touches, such as the use of a cello during Dana's theme, providing an obvious riff on her character's occupation, for anyone paying attention. Some of Bernstein's unused cues, later replaced by the (still highly fitting) pop tunes, are also worth a listen if you get chance, especially one recurring piece that sounds like what the theme tune would probably have been if Ghostbusters was a 70's buddy cop TV show instead of mid 80's movie blockbuster.

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