Ghostbusters

(1984) *** 1/2 Pg
107 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Ivan Reitman. Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis.

/content/films/2295/1.jpg Dan Aykroyd's inventive comedy concept for Ghostbusters attracted an all-star comedy team to bust out a classic of mainstream '80s cinema. Aykroyd's little-boy enthusiasm meshes well with co-screenwriter Harold Ramis' grumpy-old-man expertise, and class clown Bill Murray orbits his nerdy buddies, ready to take them down a notch. Following up on the hits Meatballs and Stripes (both with Murray), director Ivan Reitman pulls them together, orchestrating loose-limned comedy, quirky romance, and special-effects-driven science-fiction into a silly symphony.

Dr. Peter Venkman (Murray), Dr. Ray Stantz (Aykroyd), and Dr. Egon Spengler (Ramis) conduct experiments in the Paranormal Studies Laboratory at what looks to be Columbia University. Like Groucho Marx's Professor Wagstaff in Horse Feathers, a college "position" is merely an excuse to boink co-eds and crack wise. His attitude has something to do with the three friends being evicted from campus, but they apply their shared interest to a startup business: Ghostbusters.

And what excellent timing that turns out to be: an outbreak of paranormal activity signals that something is rotten in New York City, or more rotten than usual, anyway. When attractive early adopter Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) offers the strange case of a demon in her fridge, Venkman immediately begins putting the moves on her. An overload of business brings a new hire (Ernie Hudson's Winston Zeddmore), celebrity (the covers of Time, Omni, and The Atlantic—"The Politics of the Next Dimension: Do Ghosts Have Civil Rights) but also unwanted scrutiny from—horrors!—the Environmental Protection Agency (as represented by William Atherton's inflamed bureaucrat).

Demonic possession strikes, and a suddenly vampy Dana and her schlubby neighbor Louis (Rick Moranis) become "The Keymaster" and "The Gatekeeper," humorously searching for each other to unlock the gate for ancient Sumerian god Gozer to enter our dimension and deal out Judgement Day. When sexy-scary Dana, possessed by demi-god Zuul, tells Venkman, "I want you inside me," Venkman replies, "Sounds like you've got at least two people in there already. Might be a little crowded." The wild situation also triggers Moranis' immortal line "Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar that day, I can tell you."

Indeed, Ghostbusters is positively crammed with memorable dialogue. Some of the pithiest lines became popular T-shirt slogans ("He slimed me" and "Back off, man! I'm a scientist!") but Aykroyd and Ramis devised a lot of subtler stuff, and the welcome improvising of the cast raised the stakes. To Murray's line "Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole through your head. Remember that?" Ramis purportedly ad-libbed Egon's response: "That would have worked if you hadn't stopped me." In the category of PG-friendly swearing, Murray delivers "Mother pus bucket" with conviction at the sweet surprise of the finale.

Unmistakable chemistry helps to keep Ghostbusters humming. Moranis and Annie Potts (as blasé secretary Janine) make fine foils for the boys, and Weaver generates heat with Murray. Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Moranis are all Second City alumni, and Murray and Aykroyd bonded during their Saturday Night Live years, live from New York. New York becomes an important character in the film, as well: a place where uniformed ghost-catchers wearing proton packs, manning an old firehouse, and driving a souped-up ambulance (the "ECTO-1") may be strange, but also uncommon local heroes worth championing.

Reitman proved expert in building Ghostbusters fervor on-screen (in energetic montages like the one that introduces Ray Parker, Jr.'s hit theme song) and off. He also had the good sense to hire Oscar-winning talent, like Elmer Bernstein for the jaunty score and John De Cuir for the production design. Laszlo Kovacs (New York, New York) shot the film, and Richard Edlund supervised the special effects, which—apart from the odd devil dog shot—hold up very well, indeed. The magical combination of elements makes Ghostbusters an enduring, essential comedy (#28 on AFI's "100 Years...100 Laughs" list).

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Dvd

Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 8/2/2005

Distributor: Sony Home Entertainment

Ghostbusters gets a 25th Anniversary gift in its Blu-ray debut, complete with significant new hi-def bonus features. The image looks quite good. Brighter and more colorful than it appeared on the 1999 DVD and more detailed even than it appeared in a 2004 DVD remaster, the 1984 film has a naturally grainy look in keeping with the source, and the vibrant colors appear to be true (Ivan Reitman told reporters that this is the first Ghostbusters transfer he participated in approving). The soundtrack is mighty effective, sounding better than ever in a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that sets a new standard for this title.

As for the special features, they're ample, including several brand-new HD bonuses. On the 1999 DVD, the commentary track was a Mystery Science Theatre 3000-styled video commentary using a subtitle track to show director Ivan Reitman, co-writer/star Harold Ramis, and executive producer Joe Medjuck in silhouette. On the 2005 DVD and the new Blu-ray, the silhouetted filmmakers have gone, making the commentary audio-only. At one point on the track, Reitman refers to pointing at the frame, which won't make sense to viewers of the new set, but otherwise the missing silhouette isn't such a big deal.

This is an excellent, attentively scene-specific commentary, in which the chatty filmmakers draw attention to locations, give insights on the cast and characters (Egon: the brains; Ray: the heart; Peter: the mouth), and reveal the secrets behind the practical effects on set (versus the special effects added later). The origins of the project are kicked around once more, along with a discussion of the writing process and Reitman's openness to improv. Reitman points out the design element of Gothic statuary, from the film's opening scenes to the rooftop climax, and the visual influence of the Western. Anecdotes are plentiful: why John Candy turned down the role of Louis, what Bill Murray blurted at Harold Ramis's wedding, and how Isaac Asimov reacted to the filming of Ghostbusters in his neighborhood.

The Blu-Wizard feature allows viewers to customize their viewing of bonus features by selecting the extras they want to experience, which then play automatically. BD-Live enables the CineChat feature for live online chatting with friends, synched to viewing of the film.

The best new bonus is Slimer Mode, a feature-length Picture-in-Picture track featuring new retrospective interviews with Reitman, Dan Aykroyd, Ramis, Medjuck, Sigourney Weaver, William Atherton, film historian Paul M. Sammon, animation supervisor/creature design consultant Terry Windell, visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund, visual effects art director John Bruno, associate producer Michael C. Gross, and Ernie Hudson. Since setting and equipment and character information (including ghost profiles) pop up whenever there's a gap in the talking heads, the Slimer Mode effectively replaces the trivia subtitle track from the original 1999 DVD, though a handful of trailers (including those for both Ghostbusters films) remain unfortunately absent, and the Production Gallery with hundreds of conceptual drawings and production photos has gone AWOL this time.

Four more new HD featurettes turn up on the 2009 edition. "Ecto-1 Resurrecting the Classic Car" (15:37, HD) details the Ghostmobile restoration, capped by a visit from Aykroyd, who regales us with his knowledge of the car's machinery and takes it for a spin. Interviewed are Director of Sony Pictures Consumer Products Keith Hargrove, Aykroyd, Ramis and, from Cinema Vehicle Services, owner Ray Claridge, shop manager Sam Salerno and mechanic Mark Mazure. "Ghostbusters Garage: Ecto-1 Gallery" (5:27, HD) is a montage, to film score, of car restoration photos.

"Making of Ghostbusters - The Video Game" (11:18, HD) explains how and why Aykroyd and Ramis wrote a video game, and we hear from the team that created the game's functionality. Participants include Ramis; Hudson; Annie Potts; Sony Pictures Consumer Products Vice President, Licensing Mark Caplan; Aykroyd; executive producer John Melchior; Hargrove; Atherton; "recruit" Ryan French; and Terminal Reality President Mark Randel, lead level designer Andy Dombroski, lead game designer Stephen Cluff, lead animator Angel Gonzalez, and creative director Drew Haworth. We also get "Ghostbusters: The Video Game - Preview" (1:43, HD)

The rest of the features from 1999 and 2004 remain intact, starting with ten "Deleted Scenes" (with "Play All" option, SD). The image and sound quality is merely acceptable, but the snippets are mostly entertaining despite having been wisely trimmed. One wild clip features Murray and Aykroyd as propounding homeless guys; another includes Murray riffing "Didn't your mama ever tell you not to get involved with no Ghostbusters?".

Also returning from the 1999 and 2004 discs are the 1984 featurette "On the Scene with the Ghostbusters" (9:45, SD) with fun interview blurbs and B-roll footage, padded with film clips; a 1999 "Cast and Crew Featurette" (10:53, SD) featuring Aykroyd, Ramis, and Reitman comments; an "SFX Team Featurette" (15:22, SD) that reunites Richard Edlund's charges to reminisce; three "Multi-Angle" special effects comparisons (viewers can use the "Angle" button to toggle between effects-less rough cuts and the finished product); and three Storyboard Comparisons allowing viewers to watch storyboard images roll above three finished sequences.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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