Ghostbusters (1984)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #37

They’re here to save the world.

Also Known As: Ghost Busters, technically.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 105 minutes
BBFC: PG (1984) | 12A (2011)
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 8th June 1984
UK Release: 7th December 1984
First Seen: VHS, c.1990

Stars
Bill Murray (Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation)
Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Trading Places)
Harold Ramis (Stripes, The Last Kiss)
Ernie Hudson (The Crow, Congo)
Sigourney Weaver (The Year of Living Dangerously, Gorillas in the Mist)
Rick Moranis (Little Shop of Horrors, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids)

Director
Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Kindergarten Cop)

Screenwriters
Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Dragnet)
Harold Ramis (Animal House, Groundhog Day)

The Story
After losing their university jobs, a trio of paranormal researchers set up a ghost extermination business. They’re soon hired by Dana Barrett, who believes her apartment is haunted. Turns out it is, by an evil demigod who posses Dana and sets about bringing the world to an end…

Our Heroes
They ain’t afraid of no ghosts! Discredited parapsychologists Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler set up the Ghostbusters to combat the increasing problem of paranormal activity in New York City, and later recruit Winston Zeddemore to cope with demand.

Our Villain
Gozer the Gozerian, a Sumerian god of destruction. Likes to turn his servants into supernatural hounds and allow the good guys to choose the form of their ‘destructor’ — which is how you end up having to fight a 112½-foot marshmallow man.

Best Supporting Character
Among a strong cast of memorable characters, one has to feel for William Atherton as antagonistic EPA agent Walter Peck. Peck is so unlikeable that, according to director Ivan Reitman, it “ruined” Atherton’s life: people confronted him as if he were the character, including starting fights in bars. He’s just too good at being a slimy little so-and-so, I guess.

Memorable Quote
“Don’t cross the streams.” — Dr. Egon Spengler

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Dogs and cats, living together!” — Dr. Peter Venkman (well, we used it a lot…)

Memorable Scene
The Ghostbusters fail to stop the coming of Gozer, who shortly declares that the destructor will follow, in a physical form chosen by the team. Although three of them manage to clear their minds, something pops into Ray’s head — “the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood. Something that could never, ever possibly destroy us.” Unless it was eleven storeys tall and motivated by evil, of course.

Sing the Theme Tune…
“If there’s something strange in you neighbourhood, who you gonna call?” Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song is as iconic as the movie itself. It lost the Oscar to Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You. Won the BAFTA, though.

Truly Special Effect
The film is full of excellent effects work — all done practically, of course, in those pre-CGI days. That also means an abundance of techniques were used, from simple stuff like hanging things on wires or using wind blowers to make library cards fly around, to miniatures with a Godzilla-style man in a suit, to full animation for things like the proton packs’ streams. And it was all produced on such a tight schedule that, according to the film’s effects mastermind, 70-80% of the work was achieved in the first take.

Making of
Dan Aykroyd wrote the part of Winston with Eddie Murphy in mind, having just worked with him on Trading Places. When Murphy was unavailable due to working on Beverly Hills Cop, Ernie Hudson was cast. He was so excited by the part that he agreed to do it for half his usual salary, only to then receive a revised script in which Winston had a greatly reduced role. In 2015, Hudson commented, “I love the character and he’s got some great lines, but I felt the guy was just kind of there. I love the movie, I love the guys. I’m very thankful to Ivan for casting me. I’m very thankful that fans appreciate the Winston character. But it’s always been very frustrating — kind of a love/hate thing, I guess.”

Next time…
First came The Real Ghostbusters, an animated series that ran from 1986 to 1991 and produced 140 episodes (the addition of The Real to the title being due to another series from the ’70s). Due to its success, the cast and crew were cajoled into making a film sequel, Ghostbusters II, which scared the life out of me when I was about 4. In 2009, Ghostbusters: The Video Game used the likenesses and voices of many of the original cast, and Dan Aykroyd described it as “essentially the third movie.” Rumours and/or plans for a genuine second sequel persisted for a very, very long time (there’s a mass of details here, if you’re interested), though finally seem to have been abandoned in favour of this summer’s all-female reboot.

Awards
2 Oscar nominations (Visual Effects, Original Song)
1 BAFTA (Original Song)
1 BAFTA nomination (Visual Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Fantasy Film)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
“The cast could not be better. Although his role is too small, Aykroyd is endearingly serious as a diehard, but easily scared, ghost-hunter. Harold Ramis, the co-writer of the script, is extremely funny as a hopeless egghead […] But Ghostbusters is primarily a showcase for Murray, who slinks through the movie muttering his lines in his usual cheeky fashion and getting off an occasionally hilarious crack that proves he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.” — Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News

Score: 97%

What the Public Say
“the use of special effects, specifically practical effect, shines as well. The ghosts may not be perfectly rendered, but they are so interesting in design and they have so much energy onscreen that you don’t mind it. The practical effects, like having the ground open up or drawers being opened by unseen ghosts are done very well. In a time where many effects-heavy films rely solely on CGI, it’s nice to look back to a time when practical effects were still commonplace in movies and done well in movies.” — Joey Sack, Reel Reactions

Verdict

Along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and ThunderCats, I loved Ghostbusters when I was a kid — I had a dressing up set, with a jumpsuit and a proton pack with a yellow foam whatsit for the stream, and one of the traps, and an Ecto-1, and the firehouse playset, and one time I got my fingers caught in the grill on the roof (which was there to pour goo through, because toys) and I’m sure I panicked until liberal application of butter freed me… Good times. I guess back then my love for it was more to do with the animated series than the movie, but the film itself is a work of blockbuster comedy art. The characters are a joy to be around, the dialogue is hilarious and quotable, multiple sequences lodge themselves indelibly in the memory, the special effects are exemplary, and the dramatic stakes can be surprisingly effective for what’s primarily a comedy.

All together now: “bustin’ makes me feel good!

#38 will have its revenge… in this post or the next.

Galaxy Quest (1999)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #33

The show was cancelled…
but the adventure has only begun.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 102 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 25th December 1999 (USA)
UK Release: 28th April 2000
First Seen: DVD, c.2001

Stars
Tim Allen (The Santa Clause, Christmas with the Kranks)
Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Avatar)
Alan Rickman (Dogma, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
Tony Shaloub (Men in Black, Pain & Gain)
Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Moon)

Director
Dean Parisot (Fun with Dick and Jane, RED 2)

Screenwriters
David Howard
Robert Gordon (Addicted to Love, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Story by
David Howard

The Story
The cast of ’70s sci-fi series Galaxy Quest have been reduced to convention appearances and mall openings since their show was cancelled; but when a group of aliens, who believe the series was an historical document and have built the show’s spaceship for real, ask for the crew’s help to defeat a genocidal general, the actors must endeavour to become their characters for real.

Our Heroes
A ragtag gang of washed-up actors who used to star on a space opera TV series, now co-opted into being real heroes. They’re all based on the cast and characters of Star Trek, of course: Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith, the ship’s captain, is obviously William Shatner/James T. Kirk; Sigourney Weaver’s Gwen Demarco, the token female, is Nichelle Nichols/Uhuru; Alan Rickman’s Alexander Dane, the classically-trained actor playing an alien science officer, is a combination of Leonard Nimoy/Spock and Patrick Stewart; Tony Shaloub’s Fred Kwan, a fake-foreign engineer, is a mixture of James Doohan/Scotty and Walter Koenig/Chekov; and Daryl Mitchell’s Tommy Webber, a young helmsman from an ethnic minority, is a mixture of George Takei/Sulu and Wil Wheaton/Wesley Crusher.

Our Villain
General Sarris, a reptilian warlord waging war against the kindly Thermians. No discredit to Robin “Ethan Rayne off Buffy” Sachs, but he’s kind of beside the point, really.

Best Supporting Character
Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars, Person of Interest) plays the leader of the friendly aliens, Mathesar, a naïve soul who speaks in a sing-song monotone.

Memorable Quote
“By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged.” — Sir Alexander Dane

Memorable Scene
Our heroes arrive in the bowels of their screen-faithful ship to find “a bunch of chompy, crushy things” impeding their path — for absolutely no reason. “We shouldn’t have to do this, it makes no logical sense, why is it here?… This episode was badly written!”

Making of
In cinemas, the film began with a 4:3 aspect ratio for clips from the old TV series, then widened to 1.85:1 for the Earth-based scenes, before widening again to a highly cinematic 2.35:1 once Tim Allen’s character realises he’s on a real spaceship. It was decided to ditch the middle stage for the home video releases, which I suppose makes sense, but is a lot less fun.

Previously on…
Galaxy Quest is an original creation, but it’s heavily inspired by the Star Trek franchise and its fans.

Next time…
A reboot TV series was supposedly in the works at Amazon, though comments made by co-star Sam Rockwell just last month suggest the project had developed into a direct sequel, which was then sadly scuppered by the untimely death of Alan Rickman.

Awards
1 Saturn Award (Actor (Tim Allen))
9 Saturn nominations (Science Fiction Film, Actress (Sigourney Weaver), Supporting Actor (Alan Rickman), Performance by a Younger Actor/Actress (Justin Long), Director, Music, Costumes, Make-Up, Special Effects)
Won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation

What the Critics Said
“Whether you love Star Trek or laugh at it, your starship is about to come in, docking in the form of Galaxy Quest, an amiable comedy that simultaneously manages to spoof these popular futuristic space adventures and replicate the very elements that have made them so durable. […] If Galaxy Quest never attains consistently giddy heights as it plays out its combination of knowing satire and heroic adventure, it nevertheless keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek, offers a few genuine laughs, moves swiftly, if not at warp speed, and is led by a talented cast.” — Lawrence Van Gelder, The New York Times

Score: 90%

What the Public Say
“As a fan of the various science fiction classic series, like Star Trek and Star Wars, I’ve met most of the people parodied in Galaxy Quest – from the overzealous fans to the has-been and bitter celebrities making a living off a series’ memories. A movie like Galaxy Quest manages to poke fun at a wide range of people but still be loveable and sympathetic at the same time.” — Kevin Carr, 7M Pictures

What the Trekkies Say
In 2013, just after Star Trek Into Darkness came out, a massive convention of Trekkies decided to vote on the best Trek movies. Galaxy Quest muscled its way in to 7th place, besting six real Trek flicks. (Infamously, Into Darkness came dead last.)

Verdict

Managing to satirise both classic sci-fi TV shows and their (shall we say) enthusiastic fanbase, while remaining relatively respectful to both, is quite a feat, and is surely one reason Galaxy Quest has proven so popular. Another is its accessibility: you don’t need to be a Trekkie to get all the gags. Combine those two and you have a film for fans and non-fans alike. To really cement the issue, it’s a solid adventure movie as well as a funny comedy.

#34 will be… what you get for the man who has everything.

Alien (1979)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #2

In space, no one can hear you scream.

Country: USA & UK
Language: English
Runtime: 117 minutes | 116 minutes (director’s cut)
BBFC: X (1979) | 18 (1987) | 15 (director’s cut, 2003)
MPAA: R

Original Release: 25th May 1979 (USA)
UK Release: September 1979
First Seen: TV, c.2002

Stars
Tom Skerritt (Top Gun, Poison Ivy)
Sigourney Weaver (Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest)
John Hurt (The Elephant Man, Nineteen Eighty-Four)
Ian Holm (Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Director
Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Prometheus)

Screenwriter
Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star, Total Recall)

Story by
Dan O’Bannon (see above)
Ronald Shusett (King Kong Lives, Total Recall)

The Story
The crew of the deep-space towing vessel Nostromo receive a distress call from an unexplored planet. Contractually obliged to respond, they find a derelict alien spaceship and a field of strange eggs. With one of the crew taken ill they return to their ship, but it soon becomes apparent something else has come with them…

Our Hero
Sigourney Weaver is second-billed as second-in-command Ellen Ripley, but it’s she who’s the voice of reason and, when ignored, the most capable to stand up to the alien threat.

Our Villain
The Alien, aka the Xenomorph, an ugly, dripping, phallic nightmare, that lurks in the shadows, strikes without warning, has the perfect defence system, and is nigh-on unbeatable.

Best Supporting Character
Ian Holm’s Ash is not all he appears to be… Holm made sacrifices for his art: he hates milk, but had to sit dribbling it from his mouth for take after take.

Memorable Quote
“I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” — Ash

Memorable Scene
Dinner table. John Hurt not feeling well. You know the rest. And if you don’t, you don’t want me spoiling it for you.

Technical Wizardry
The Nostromo’s industrial-style production design is a world away from the slick, shiny spaceships of contemporary sci-fi like Star Trek. A lived-in sci-fi world wasn’t something new (Star Wars and the Millennium Falcon were two years earlier, for instance), but the notion of a spaceship that looks like a factory or an oil-rig or somesuch, and that is populated by the kind of people who would work in such an environment, continues to influence the genre today.

Truly Special Effect
The Alien, designed by H.R. Giger, built by Giger and Carlo Rambaldi, performed by Bolaji Badejo, is one of the most genuinely alien creatures the movies have ever generated. It’s terrifying, too, even after the initial disgust has been neutered by decades of over-exposure in increasingly-poor sequels and tie-ins.

Making of
The name of Weyland-Yutani, “the company” the crew work for, is actually “Weylan-Yutani”, as seen on monitors and Dallas’ beer can. It was changed to “Weyland-Yutani” for Aliens (and all subsequent films and media) because James Cameron thought it looked better with the D. It’s the little things, eh.

Next time…
Three direct sequels, two “vs Predator” spin-offs, a prequel (and a prequel-sequel), and a massive array of novels, comics, video games, and the rest. A new sequel is also in development.

Awards
1 Oscar (Visual Effects)
1 Oscar nomination (Art Direction-Set Decoration)
2 BAFTAs (Production Design, Sound Track)
5 BAFTA nominations (Supporting Actor (John Hurt), Film Music, Costume Design, Editing, Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Sigourney Weaver))
3 Saturn Awards (Science Fiction Film, Director, Supporting Actress (Veronica Cartwright))
4 Saturn nominations (Actress (Sigourney Weaver), Writing, Make-Up, Special Effects)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
“It’s tempting to describe the brilliantly staged scenes of horror and surprise but it would be a shame not to allow the film to reveal its own secrets. Enough to say that the tension is savage and you are held in suspense right up to the end frames.” — Ted Whitehead, The Spectator

Score: 97%

What the Public Say
“in some ways it doesn’t betray its age, and it does indeed largely still hold up, but in other ways its utterly unlike contemporary films. Its middle-aged cast, its slow, deliberate pace, the ‘real’ sets grounded in reality, how it leaves so many things unexplained — in these respects it’s obviously an older movie, and better for it.” — the ghost of 82

Elsewhere on 100 Films
I reviewed Ridley Scott’s 2003 Director’s Cut back in 2009, summarising that “to fans intimately familiar with the film, the number of trims (there are rather a lot apparently) and new scenes (just four) make a huge difference, but for a more casual viewer they don’t significantly change how it feels. That said… I’d call the original as the superior cut.”

Verdict

Ridley Scott’s “haunted house movie in space” is one of those works that an awful lot of what follows in the genre owes a debt to, from the production design to one of cinema’s most iconic heroines. “Iconic” is a good word for the film as a whole, be it the realisation of the creature or scenes like the chestburster. Quite beyond that, however, it’s a terrifying horror movie in its own right, where slowly-built tension gives way to proper scares. Being a great of one genre is an achievement, but to be great in two at the same time (horror and sci-fi, of course) is something else.

#3 is not about Vietnam… it is Vietnam.

Alien³: Special Edition (1992/2003)

aka Alien³: Assembly Cut

2011 #14
David Fincher | 145 mins | Blu-ray | 15 / R

Alien3 Special EditionIt’s getting on for two years since I last (and first) watched most of the Alien Quadrilogy series, provoking some relatively lengthy (for this blog, anyway) debate on my reviews of the three sequels. I refer you to those at the outset for a couple of reasons. One, because a lot of my review of Alien³’s theatrical cut still holds true for this half-hour-longer version; two, because other points in that review may make an interesting counterpoint to the more positive thoughts I now have (“may”); and three, because some of the comments on the reviews also discuss this extended cut, which may also interest you.

They’re also relevant to highlight this point: it’s been two years since I watched Alien³ and I’ve only seen it once. Despite this extended version being 26% longer, that means I still found it hard to spot much of the additional material. I’m sure fans who’d seen the original multiple times in the decade between its theatrical release and this cut appearing in 2003 were able to spot changes much more readily. Nonetheless, a few obvious additions and modifications stand out: an extended opening when Clemens discovers Ripley on the beach; the Alien birthing from an ox (rather than a dog); the lack of a Queen chestburster at the very end. I could’ve turned on the Blu-ray’s “deleted scenes” marker of course, and I did consider that, but I thought it might just get distracting on a first viewing. And speaking technically, I don’t know what the new scenes looked like on the Quadrilogy DVDThe Alien (as I haven’t watched that copy, obviously), but on Blu-ray the added footage, 2003-era new effects and 2010 re-recorded audio are indistinguishable from the rest of the film.

Readers interested in the history and reasoning of this new, significantly longer cut may appreciate the introduction it had in the Quadrilogy set’s booklet (sadly nowhere to be found on the Anthology Blu-ray). I’ve reproduced the majority of it below:

Following its troubled production and controversial release, Alien 3 slowly became something of a curiosity among serious enthusiasts of the Alien series. Not only would its first-time director, David Fincher, go on to become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after filmmakers but the film itself would generate quite a mystique thanks to heated rumours of creative interference, lost scenes and even a completely different cut of the film that supposedly restored Fincher’s original vision of what many believed to be a seriously compromised work.

Rumour control, here are the facts. There is no wondrous lost “director’s cut” of Alien 3. It doesn’t exist. Indeed, for such a dream to be realised, Fincher would have to be allowed to remake the film from scratch with complete creative control. What does exist is something perhaps equally fascinating.

For the first time, fans can now experience a restored and re-mastered presentation of the 1991 assembly cut of Alien 3. With a running time increased by more than 30 minutes, this Special Edition contains several never-before-seen sequences that offer a fascinating insight into the film’s difficult editing process. This cut also reveals a combination of vintage, previously unreleased optical effects shot and several newly-composited digital effects necessary to seamlessly integrate new footage into the body of the film…

The Alien 3 Special Edition offers fans a unique chance to witness the lost work of a remarkable director.

So there you go. As I mentioned, this version updates the 2003 one with some re-recorded dialogue.

On my original review, Matthew McKinnon commented that as he watched this new cut he realised “it wasn’t shaping up into a more coherent or purposeful movie… just a longer version with more of the same.” I agree that, to an extent, it’s “a longer version with more of the same”, but I found it more coherent too. While the major plot beats still occur at the same time and in fundamentally the same way, perhaps the myriad tweaks have made it clearer just what’s going on? Or perhaps I was just more familiar, having seen it once already? Either way, sequences and events that left me a bit lost last time seem to make perfect sense on this outing.

Paul McGann as GolicOne of the biggest things I remember being told about Alien³, before the Special Edition, was that most of Paul McGann’s performance had been cut; that originally he had a sizeable role that justified his fourth billing, rather than his cameo-sized part in the theatrical cut. It doesn’t feel like there’s an awful lot more of him in this version, though scanning through Movie-Censorship.com’s thorough list of changes one can see a lot of brief shots as well as one or two significant scenes featuring him. Again, despite the sense that little has changed, his character does feel more comprehensible, so maybe these barely-noticeable additions do make all the difference?

As a little aside, I sometimes feel a little sorry for McGann — since his acclaim in The Monocled Mutineer, numerous shots at bigger success seem to have passed him by. He gets a key role in a Hollywood blockbuster, but is then largely cut out; he’s cast as Richard Sharpe in a major ITV series, but is injured and has to pull out (and we can see where that led career-wise for Sean Bean); he’s cast as the Doctor in a big-budget American backdoor pilot for Doctor Who, which flops Stateside and goes nowhere… He’s undoubtedly talented, but these days seemingly forced into lacklustre supporting roles in the likes of Luther. Maybe he doesn’t mind, I don’t know (at least he got “the largest insurance settlement in British television history” for missing out on Sharpe), but it seems like he deserved greater success. Poor guy.

Still, McGann’s performance here is exceptional, even if it’s still brief. He’s just one member of an outstanding British cast though, many of whom are recognisable for the excellent work they’ve done since. Actors with a PUnsurprisingly, therefore, they’re almost all totally underused. Charles Dance gets the biggest slice of the cake and is as good as ever, but doing little more than show their face we have Pete Postlethwaite, Phil Davis, Peter Guinness, Danny Webb (they don’t all begin with P…) Alien³ is 19 years old now, no one could’ve predicted the future; but viewed with hindsight, the volume of under-utilised talent is almost astounding.

Hindsight also affords other interesting perspectives. Dance’s death is still very effective, for instance. It’s not surprising once you’ve seen the film more than once — obviously — but killing off really the only character our hero (and, by extension, the audience) has become sympathetic to at around the halfway mark? Not unheard of, true (see: Psycho), but still rare enough to be a shock, to disconcert and wrong-foot the viewer.

Plus, we can now look at it in the context of Fincher’s following work. Even though he had limited — often, no — control over much of the project, there are still signs that link it with his later films. It’s stylishly shot for one thing, most of the locations either soaked in shadow or cold light, with an often fluid camera. Darkness litters the film thematically too: setting it on a prison colony for murderers and rapists, the violent attempted gang rape of Ripley, the death and autopsy of a 10-year-old girl… Even if we see no real detail on screen (thank goodness this wasn’t made in recent torture porn-obsessed years), the implication and the emotional connection is harrowing enough. Then there’s the Alien itself, from its ugly birth to its violent murders. Fincher may have not turned so explicitly to horror since, but that brand of darkness does flow on into most of his best films: Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac.

Ripley rapeIt’s also, perhaps, interesting to remember this being Fincher’s first film. He might seem like an odd choice, a first-timer paling beside the experienced hands of Scott and Cameron. But that would be to forget that, for both, their Alien films were only their second time helming a feature*; and while Cameron’s previous had been sci-fi (The Terminator), Scott’s was period drama The Duellists. A first-timer — especially one versed in commercials and music videos — isn’t all that different, really, and Fincher has certainly gone on to show his worth. Indeed, his very next film was the incredible Se7en.

Alien³’s Special Edition didn’t strike me as massively different from the theatrical cut, despite some obvious changes, with the exception that I now found it to be more intelligible. Whereas before I thought it started well and became less coherent — and, consequently, less good — as it went on, with this version I felt I was following the story and characters throughout. As a result, I enjoyed it more. Perhaps it also benefitted from my viewing situation: the first time I watched it within days of both Alien and Aliens; this time, I chose to watch it in isolation. Whatever the reasons, this Special Edition earns Alien³ an extra star from me.

4 out of 5

* Cameron’s name is on Piranha II, and it is a fun joke to think such dross was his directorial debut, but his version (at least) of the behind-the-scenes story suggests it should in honesty be ignored. If you prefer, imagine I said Aliens was only his second major feature.

I watched the Alien³: Special Edition as part of a David Fincher Week. Read my thoughts on all his films to date here.