Wednesday, January 28, 2015

'Bust Never Sleeps

Hey, this post is synched with blog posts from Al, Jamas and Guanolad!

Thirty years on and a month or thereabouts from its New Zealand debut, here’s my Ghostbusters blog post.

I was a fan of Ghostbusters as soon as I’d heard of it, which if memory serves was during a hike on a school camp at the end of the third form year. My friend Andrew was recalling a clip that had played on a local after–school kids’ TV show, now easily identifiable as the hallway confrontation between Venkman and Slimer, but in Andrew’s re-telling, including the urgent walkie talkie relaying and eventual “he slimed me”, it sounded even more exciting.

And it was! I eventually saw it with other friends at the local picture theatre on a Friday night, sitting restlessly through a special short beforehand – which I think must have been a heavily-truncated Bowery Boys movie (Spook Busters comes to mind. It wasn’t great.) The rest cemented itself into my mind – already fed by a childhood of mythologies, ghost stories and space opera - phenomenally.

Anything with Bill Murray or Dan Ackroyd in it I’d watch; I got the soundtrack for Christmas from my sister and played and played and played it (my favourite post-production soundtrack goof in the movie – as the trio’s equipment is being removed from the college at the beginning, check out the headphone-wearing removal guy ‘rockin out’ to a slow Air Supply ballad) and I just basically loved the movie. I coveted, though never owned the roleplaying game (it got pretty good reviews as I recall) and envied my friends for their copies of the ZX Spectrum game (here's a walk-through!)

Ray was my favourite character (certainly he’s the most sympathetic, being cheated out of his family home for a decrepit fire station), although I was intrigued by Egon;  Venkman is a charming and charismatic creep, and Winston is a strange sort of audience-translator to introduce halfway through the story (he’d have been even more distracting if Eddie Murphy hadn’t passed on the role.) And I liked Janine more than Dana – and Louis Tully, seemingly formed in media is a brilliant character brought to life by Rick Moranis and Ivan Reitman.

Above all that it’s such a great and imaginative concept:  blue-collar pseudo-scientists and paranormal activity that springs from the very city they inhabit. I thought at fourteen that a double degree in Psychology and Parapsychology seemed a pretty valid field to go down – thankfully I never entertained the notion of actually pursuing it, but I also sketched out an idea of what my ghost hunting TV series would be like a year later – yes, influenced by Ghostbusters, but it was over time refined into something much more cynical and less funny. Speaking of which, it’s intriguing to note that there weren’t really any successful imitations (although I loved John Ratzenberger’s turn in the goofy House II), and I never saw Ghostbusters II in the theatre, that ship had clearly sailed for me as much as nearly everyone else by 1989.

But in the original there’s a lot to love, including a highly-quotable script and great teamwork by all onscreen. There’s a real invention to the effects – the earliest hand-painted Eighties lightning I think I’d seen; blue lightning was de rigeur by the end of the decade, but the Ghostbusters thanks to their proton packs had pink and orange energy beams, while Gozer was a radiant crystalline rose, Slimer was a lurid green, the library ghost was magenta – it’s a movie not afraid to play with the colour palette, probably for levity’s sake, but it really helps the movie find its own identity. The design is similarly unique – a firehouse HQ, the ’distinctive’ and utilitarian beige uniforms, the Ectomobile of course – there’s nothing really flashy or showy outside the backpacks and the ghost traps; even the containment grid is robust and practical, lending it more credulity. It has a great aesthetic and tone overall, effortlessly combining scares and laughs with virtually no mugging from any of its cast, and it made me want to visit New York. It also sparked my appreciation for Art Deco – an absolutely-fitting design choice for this movie being very New York, and being the design era of both the skyscraper and the archaeologist/antiquarian – heavy plot elements in this film. The success of all of the above means to me that Ghostbusters hasn’t really dated, even if it has become very very familiar.

And from here on? It’s been fun to reconnect with the movie, as I have through the Black Dog podcast, a recent SFX Special, and rewatching the film itself. The fan community still seems quite strong online: the original Ghostbusters RPG is now online. and reliably, Crooked Dice have produced a team of Paranormal Exterminators who would make great stand-ins for the crew, and currently there's also under construction a bea-u-tiful model of the Ghostbusters HQ

Will the love still be there once the feminised reboot has arrived? I think so – I hope so. The original’s place is secure already; last week I read a Spider-Man story to Jet Jr that featured Reed Richards trapping Spidey’s belligerent black symbiote costume in a special technical snare – rendered by the artist as a direct copy of the Ghostbusters’ spirit traps. I think we’ll be seeing the Ghostbusters around for some time yet.


  1. Nice!
    I'm loath to raise it here, but Ivan Reitman's truly unfunny 2001 film Evolution (also featuring Dan Akroyd for his sins) might be counted as a pseudo-imitation. If anything, it shows how badly wrong Ghostbusters could have gone - but certainly didn't.

  2. Hey, I liked Evolution! Lots of fun!

    And there was also the recent(ish) Ghostbusters video game, which is sort of a third part to the set.