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MMYIF: Ghostbusters (1984)

My Misspent Youth In Films...

Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver
Released: June 8, 1984

Three former parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service.

What I Thought Then

I was a huge fan of the Saturday-morning cartoon The Real Ghostbusters, and this movie felt like a really cool, if slightly scary, live-action tie-in.

What I Think Now

I mean, it's a modern classic, right? And one that came together completely by accident. For those not familiar with the backstory, Dan Aykroyd conceived of this movie as a SNL-style comedy that he would star in alongside John Belushi, something of a spiritual successor to The Blues Brothers. The Winston role was written for Eddie Murphy. But then Belushi died and Murphy had a conflict with Beverly Hills Cop, so it was reworked into what we have now: a workplace screwball comedy supernatural thriller that is just damned near perfect while also not really being about anything at all. (That link is to a video essay by Patrick Willems; I don't actually agree with his conclusion, but he elucidates his points wonderfully.)

The movie is a mess of contradictions. The iconic theme song--commissioned as a sound-alike of Huey Lewis's I Want A New Drug, which Lewis successfully sued over--is arguably more famous than the song it's imitating. It's a quintessential New York movie despite being filmed largely in LA. To borrow a point from the above-linked Willems essay, there's a thematic conflict of science versus religion, but while the film is inarguably pro-science, it's also inarguably not anti-religion. ("Nobody steps on a church in my town!") It's genuinely hilarious while also being genuinely frightening. It resonates with both adults and children. Part of what makes it work so well is that these contradictions don't actually clash with each other. If you took away the jokes, you'd have a compelling supernatural thriller, but if you took away the scary bits, you'd still have a compelling workplace comedy.

The casting is also note-perfect. Ramis, Murray, and Aykroyd are comedy legends who easily slide into a goofy-but-earnest camaraderie. Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver help anchor the proceedings the real world. (Side note: Ernie Hudson is great and this and also The Crow. Why didn't he have a bigger career?) Annie Potts and Rick Moranis fill out the cast in character-actor roles, but they still deliver a lot of pathos--Potts with Jeanine's utter ambivalence to their work but also her low-key crush on Ramis's Egon Spengler, and Moranis seemingly miscast as the neurotic health-nut Lewis.

Like I said, it's near perfect. Almost all of it work, and the stuff that doesn't work isn't on screen for very long. Yes, people grouse about the weird ghost-sex scene, but it's non-explicit and it's just a tiny blip in a montage. Surprisingly, given its age, the effects mostly hold up. The optical matting doesn't look naturalistic, but it does pass for supernatural. The only effect that doesn't look at least passably good is the demon dog that attacks Lewis's apartment. It's pretty bad by modern standards but, again, it isn't on screen for very long. From a representation standpoint, it's pretty white and heteronormative, although it does have Ernie Hudson in a prominent supporting role, and there's nothing cringey in it, which is unusual for a comedy from the 80s.


Absolutely. Like I said, it's a modern classic. Insofar as something that's nearly forty years old can be considered "modern." I also harbor some affection for the 1989 sequel. It's not good, but it did hit the second-run movie theater during a particularly hot Houston summer and we ended up seeing that and Karate Kid III like a dozen times.

Tune in next week to see frogs and pigs and chickens and whatever on Broadway...

In My Misspent Youth In Films, Kurt is going through his the movies he grew up on. Read the explainer or see more posts.