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.

The Sugarland Express (1974)

2015 #10
Steven Spielberg | 105 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | PG / PG

The Sugarland ExpressSteven Spielberg’s second feature (or “first” if you’re American) is based, loosely, on a true story. The fictionalised version sees Lou Jean (Goldie Hawn) breaking her husband (William Atherton) out of prison so they can travel cross state to liberate their baby from foster care. Everything goes smoothly until they accidentally kidnap a police officer (Michael Sacks), hundreds of police cars begin to follow them, and a multi-day slow-paced chase ensues.

It’s probably not obvious from the whole prison break/kidnap/true story thing, but The Sugarland Express is more of a comedy than a thriller. The ludicrousness of the situation is ramped up, though Spielberg keeps it grounded enough that you can believe it was real, and with an undercurrent of potential violence from the police that suggests a tragic ending may be unavoidable. Credit also to the cast for maintaining this balance, in particular Hawn, for who this was a breakout role. She’s naïve and optimistic without being too annoying, her comedic airheadedness weighed against an earnest belief that she’s doing the right thing for her child and that it’s all going to work out in the end.

Spielberg makes full use of the 2.35:1 frame’s width, which means that, viewed on broadcast TV at 16:9, it’s often noticeably cropped (this having been made before the time Three's a crowdwhen filmmakers became contractually obliged to keep their compositions “TV safe”). The camerawork is frequently extraordinary, including at least one unbroken shot where the camera moves around inside and outside the car, like something out of Children of Men — only done for real in a moving vehicle, unlike Alfonso Cuarón’s soundstage-based hidden-cuts version.

Largely overlooked these days, I guess because it doesn’t obviously fit with Spielberg’s renowned sci-fi, adventure, and worthy-historical pictures, The Sugarland Express merits more attention. Tonally, and in terms of the level of directorial skill it exhibits, it fits right amongst the pack of his better-remembered works. Not his best picture, but able to stand confidently alongside his numerous very-good ones.

4 out of 5

The Sugarland Express is released on standalone Blu-ray (as are the three other films previously available exclusively in the Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection box set) next Monday, May 4th.

The Day of the Locust (1975)

2011 #38
John Schlesinger | 137 mins | TV | 18 / R

The Day of the LocustAdapted from the novel by Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust is a slightly scrappy film about the seedy underside of Hollywood’s golden age. The plot is neither here nor there in many respects — the film is about the grotesques who are attracted to Hollywood, and that being exactly what it feeds on. The bizarre, surreal ending definitely makes more sense if you’re already thinking about the film in this way.

The magnificent riot at the end is a tour de force of cinema that single-handedly almost justifies that whole theme — it’s what happens when their frustrations at dreams not being realised overflows. It could be argued it makes an easy juxtaposition — of fans baying for stars at a premiere with a revenge-fuelled mob baying for blood — but it’s still a just one. It’s capped off by the way one turns into the other, and how that turns into a kind of apocalypse. I don’t know how it’s meant to be read, but I choose to take it that way

(Spoilers in this paragraph.) If the riot is a literal apocalypse, then the next scene becomes an afterlife-set coda. It’s very brightly lit and white, like a Heaven, and Faye is still there — still in Hollywood, exactly where she’d dream of being — while Tod is gone. She’s looking for him, back at the Bernadoo where she was kinda happy, and she wants him after all — but he’s not there; he doesn’t want her. It’s a tenuous reading for a film that seems to be a real-world drama, maybe… but not a wholly unsupported one — it’s a flat-out unusual scene.

Homer Simpson. Not that one.Also brilliantly staged is the collapse of a Waterloo battle set. Appropriate as it’s one of the novel’s most memorable moments.

Despite having top billing, Donald Sutherland’s part is a beefed-up supporting role. Except he’s so good in it that he fairly steals the film. And despite fourth billing, William Atherton is ostensibly the main character. I don’t know if the film takes lengthy asides from him because they cast a fourth-billed-level actor, or if they cast a fourth-billed-level actor because the film takes lengthy asides from him, but either way these long-feeling stretches away from the only character we’re really encouraged to identify with dilute the film’s drive. Primarily for this reason, it could do with being shorter. Interestingly, the novel is a mere 163 pages (in my edition), meaning the film is close to translating it at a rate of a page per minute, which is rather extraordinary — very few adaptations do so little condensing.

(You probably recognise William Atherton from slimy supporting roles in Ghostbusters and the first two Die Hards. Believe it or not, his Ghostbusters character is available as an action figure. That is madness.)

Who ya gonna call?The Day of the Locust may be a mess, or it may be a flawed masterpiece. It may very well be both. For much of it’s running time it pootled along at 3 stars, pushing down toward 2 the more diluted it began to feel. But seeing the completion of Donald Sutherland’s performance in the final scenes, plus the way those scenes seem to draw together the whole film, revealing and fulfilling themes I hadn’t even noticed developing until that point, in a spectacular orgy of apocalyptic violence… well, the stars suddenly ratchet back up.

4 out of 5

The Day of the Locust is on Sky Movies Indie tonight at 9:30pm, and at various other times throughout the week.