When Harold Ramis passed yesterday, we — like most of you — shared our favourite memories and moments from his works, our own way of memorialising a great man we'd never met. It didn't take long to uncover the fact that while Groundhog Day is one of my favourite movies, I had a shameful secret. I've never seen Ghostbusters. At least, I hadn't until yesterday afternoon.
In fact, not only had I never seen it, my grasp of the movie's plot was not entirely — well, accurate.
Clearly I was starting not just from zero, but from a place of active misunderstanding. Which is why my employers forced me to watch it.
So how does Ghostbusters hold up for someone who not only hasn't seen it but was also born six years after its original release? Apparently, really goddamn well.
First off, I want to make it clear that I have zero regrets about having gone the last 24 years Ghostbusters-free. Unlike my more enamoured coworkers, I was able to approach Ghostbusters with a fresh eye, unfettered by childhood allegiances. We all have those movies we've watched maybe a thousand times since we were kids. They could be unequivocal pieces of shit, but because they're mixed with such a deep sense of nostalgia, we'll view movies like Billy Madison (guilty) with a reverence normally reserved for something like Schindler's List.
I had no such prejudices going into Ghostbusters. In fact quite the opposite; I was expecting a Farrelly brothers-esque slapstick romp. I was wrong! I was very wrong.
The humour in Ghostbusters is, surprisingly (at least to me), far more subtle and understated than I would have ever imagined. And therein lies its brilliance.
There's no big, cheesy catchphrase. Nothing overtly 80s references to date it. Rather, it's filled with the kinds of clever observations and wry wit that's much more indicative of human nature in general than any specific time period. For instance, as Dr. Peter Venkman is persuading the mayor to allow the Ghostbusters to stop the approaching apocalypse, his final, successful plea comes in the form of a jab at politicians in general:
If I'm wrong, nothing happens! We go to jail - peacefully, quietly. We'll enjoy it! But if I'm *right*, and we *can* stop this thing... Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters.
That's as funny today as it was in 1984 (I assume? I wasn't alive). And just like with Groundhog Day, the movie is all the better for the fact that it tends to rely on universal themes as opposed to more fleeting, circumstantial events.
Of course, going in cold meant that I also probably found a lot more at fault than most would. Like the fact that the introduction of Winston seemed half-baked at best and completely nonsensical. How could they possibly hire someone without any sort of interview? Why doesn't he need any training? And if they hired him for the purpose of taking some of the strain off themselves, then why are they all still going out to every single call together?
And this may just be a symptom of my own irrational desire for answers, but I wanted to know how the hell they got a grant from a university in the first place. Throughout the entire movie, the only person who shows any scepticism towards the existence of ghosts whatsoever is government employee Walter Peck. And while I realise the unconditional acceptance of a sudden supernatural infestation is part of the movie's charm, I do think there's fun to be had with a few more unbelievers.
But there were also plenty of smaller bits most of you likely overlook that I, thanks to my lack of saturation, was able to thoroughly enjoy. Like Tully worrying about his super's reaction as a demonic dog pummels his apartment. The librarian responding to a question about schizophrenia with "My uncle thought he was St. Jerome." The constant reference to Peck as "dickless". Egon's bizarre spore, mould, and fungus collection. The restaurant patrons' total indifference to the frantic, screaming Tully, even as he eventually gets dragged off by demons. And Janine responding to the first call with a hilariously deadpan, "Yes, of course they're serious."
Yes, the special effects are dated at this point, but that didn't lessen the enjoyment for me one bit. The quality of the graphics never took me out of the moment; while they play an integral part in the plot, the movie doesn't rely on them for its entertainment value. The pre-digital, cartoonish quality of Slimer isn't an issue because Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and co. are too busy stealing every scene. And considering that the premise itself is fairly absurd, the ghosts could have been straight, hand-drawn animation and still not have taken too much away from the experience of the film as a whole.
If I'd seen Ghostbusters as a kid, like many of you did, I doubt any of these thoughts — negative or otherwise — would ever even begin to cross my mind. I'd be blinded by my own delight. I'm glad I waited; it was even better this way.
Plus, this makes so much more sense now: