To celebrate the 34th anniversary of the Ghostbusters premiere I’ve been asked to present the argument: Ghostbusters is a great movie. To clarify, it isn’t.
It’s a perfect movie. Why? Well, I think the reasons are inherently clear to anyone who’s bothered to watch it.
However, I’m aware we live in a world of Walter Pecks who hate the Ghostbusters, who are no doubt screaming at their monitors right now, ‘shut this off, shut this all off’.
So allow me to delve deep into the ectoplasmic underbelly of what makes Ghostbusters (Editor’s note: in this writer’s opinion) a perfect movie and the best comedy ever made.
In case you’ve been trapped in the ghost dimension and therefore were unable to watch the film in the last 34 years, allow me the pleasure of quickly recapping the movie.
Three parapsychologists, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler and Peter Venkman lose their jobs at Columbia University after accidentally bringing the university into disrepute.
In need of an income, they take their research into ghosts and the paranormal, and start a New York-based ghost extermination business called the Ghostbusters.
And that’s sort of it.
Oh, sure, there are other things going on, like an ancient Sumerian God manifesting, Venkman getting a love-interest (sort of) and Winston Zeddemore joining the group as the fourth Ghostbuster.
But at its core Ghostbusters is a super simple story, easy for people to understand, because almost everyone knows what exterminators are and they know what ghosts are. Therefore, they know what ghost exterminators (Ghostbusters) do.
It may sound like I’m doing the film down or being reductionist by saying the film’s set up is basic’ but trust me’ I’m not, I think it’s genius because it makes the film relatable and easy to understand.
By making the core concept so simple, it saves the film from having to bore the audience with the fake science of how the Ghostbuster’s equipment works, what the ghosts are, or if any of the nonsense metaphysics make sense.
Instead, the film can focus on telling the story of how four schlubs from New York saved the world from Zuul, Vinz Clortho and everyone’s favourite evil Sumerian deity, Gozer.
Best of all though, by choosing to ground the characters in reality, you can make them actually relatable – and they’re funnier because of it. Which leads me to the next reason why Ghostbusters is perfect. The cast and those characters.
We could hark on forever about the comedy background of Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis and how Ernie Hudson is the perfect straight man for them to bounce off.
The real strength of Ghostbusters, however, is how each of the characters is perfectly crafted to get the best performance out of each actor.
For example, Dan Aykroyd’s Ray is the one most excited by the prospect of hunting ghosts and the most earnest of the three original Ghostbusters.
In reality, Dan’s Aykroyd’s an avowed and sincere believer in the paranormal, who’s spoken in earnest about his belief in the paranormal multiple times.
Meanwhile, Bill Murray’s known for his dry, sardonic wit and irreverent attitude. That’s turned up to eleven for Venkman who’s cool detachment underlies a surprising tenderness.
The same’s true for Egon and Ramis, who are both hilariously deadpan and even the oft-forgotten Ernie Hudson.
Hudson, unlike the other three Ghostbusters, didn’t have a background in comedy, which made Winston a fantastic straight man to his more outlandish colleagues.
As a brief aside, and putting aside the hyperbolic headline, it’s a shame Winston isn’t given more to do in the film, as it was initially planned for the character to be an original Ghostbuster.
That changed when Eddie Murphy couldn’t play the character and they cast Ernie Hudson in the role, Ramis and Aykroyd altered the character to be sort of an audience surrogate, which meant he had less to do.
Of course, the most iconic characters (with the bizarre exception of Boba Fett) don’t earn their status because of the actors who play them, it’s the writers who give these character’s a world to play in and lines to deliver.
Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd scripted the film and it was based on Dan’s original idea of ‘Ghostmashers’ which would have seen him and John Belushi jumping through different dimensions to fight ghosts.
Director Ivan Reitman saw the script had potential but was concerned about the budget, so convinced Aykroyd to work with Ramis to scale things back.
The pair’s work paid off in a major way and they turned around one of the tightest comedy scripts I think’s ever been written. But more than that, they crafted an amazing world for the Ghostbusters to run through.
Of course on the surface, the film’s just set in grimy Eighties New York, but when you look deeper, it’s astounding what they built using the unique architecture of the Big Apple.
The spires and towers of the skyline became antennas for summoning Lovecraftian beasts, the firehouses on street corners became fantastical laboratories and even the gothic gargoyles that loom over the city, literally came to life.
Not only did they manage to warp the already iconic architecture of New York to something new and terrifying, they created a whole host of unforgettable movie props.
The Proton Pack (it’s not a toy) the Ecto-1, the Ghost Traps – they all became part of popular culture parodied and referenced for decades, following their big screen debut.
As mentioned above though, I consider the Ghostbusters script exceptionally tight and this, combined with the exceptional improvisational abilities, makes Ghostbusters one of the most quotable movies ever written.
If I say ‘Who you gonna call?’ you immediately think Ghostbusters and to prove this fact, I just asked my editor the exact question.
He immediately replied ‘Ghostbusters’ even singing the theme as he did, before blushing and admitting he couldn’t help himself.
It’s cheating slightly to use Ray Parker Jr’s lyrics as a movie quote perhaps, but the point stands, and I can guarantee if I wrote: ‘Yes it’s true…’ at least one of you completed the quote ‘…this man has no d*ck.’
So there we have it, Ghostbusters is a perfect movie and a perfect comedy for four essential reasons, a basic relatable story which grounds the outlandish concept, a great cast and a wonderful script.
If only Hollywood could get it right again…
More of a concept than a journalist, Tom Percival was forged in the bowels of Salford University from which he emerged grasping a Masters in journalism.
Since then his rise has been described by himself as ‘meteoric’ rising to the esteemed rank of Social Editor at UNILAD as well as working at the BBC, Manchester Evening News, and ITV.
He credits his success to three core techniques, name repetition, personality mirroring, and never breaking off a handshake.