In the late 1980s and early 1990s I watched incredibly large number of Hollywood movies and that was probably the period that finally shaped my moviegoing preferences. That process was anything but painless, and now I feel uneasy anytime someone mentions phrase "high concept". If such phrase is accompanied with the words like "comedy by Ivan Reitman", I shudder. However, despite such Pavlovian reflexes, I am ready to admit that Reitman occasionally did rose above the levels of mediocrity. First, in the last two decades he produced some remarkable films (early works by David Cronenberg, Animal House by John Landis), and, finally, once he did direct a comedy that actually can make people laugh. Such event happened in 1984 with Ghostbusters, one of the biggest commercial hits of that season. The movie not only produced a successful cartoon franchise (and also abominably bad 1989 sequel, directed by Reitman), ZX Spectrum computer game (which the author of this review liked to play years before he had an opportunity to watch the movie itself), but it also stood the test of time.
Movie protagonists are three scientists - Doctor Peter Venkman (played by Bill Murray), Doctor Raymond Stantz (played by Dan Aykroyd) and Doctor Egon Spengler (played by Harold Ramis) - who study the paranormal phenomena at university. However, their research isn't appreciated by the university administration and all three of them are finding themselves on the street. Out of desperation they decide to cash on their field of expertise and soon they start brand new business of exorcising ghosts, apparitions and similar beings from the haunted buildings of New York. Their enterprise coincides with the sudden increase of paranormal phenomena all over the city, so with the huge demand for their services, trio of Ghostbusters is getting famous. One of their clients, beautiful musician Dana Barrett (played by Sigourney Weaver) have seen some strange things in her apartment, but womanising Doctor Venkman seems to be more interested in her than business. That is about to change, when the newcomer to the group, layman Winston Zeddemore (played by Ernie Hudson) warns about possibility of ghosts being the messengers of the Apocalypse. In the meantime, both Dana and her nerdy neighbour Louis Tully (played by Rick Moranis) are being possessed by evil spirits, who prepare the arrival of evil Sumerian demigod.
High concept of this film - mixing paranormal with comedy - doesn't seem too original these days. However, compared with similar films like Frighteners, Reitman's fantasy seems to be incredibly fresh and entertaining. First of all, the cast is simply superb – the lead trio is played by experienced comic actors. Bill Murray is excellent as womanising scientist, with a lot of lines that seem ad-libbed. Dany Aykroyd is good as his more serious, but also flawed colleague (his cigarette is nicely drawn character trait). The only "sterotyped" scientist is well-played by Harold Ramis, who keeps his serious demeanour even in most embarrassing situations. Rick Moranis is also good as an accountant. Even the actors who aren't usually associated with comedies are good - Sigourney Weaver in one of her first big non-Alien roles (and one of the most erotic in her career) and William Atherton as pushy Federal bureacrat. All those roles are spiced with witty, intelligent dialogue and sometimes really funny jokes.
Unfortunately, those jokes are too few to build a movie around them and at times the screenplay, written by Ramis and Aykroyd (obviously interested in paranormal, judging by his producing of PSI Factor television series), brings the pace of the movie at stall. Luckily, when the humour fails, director tries to compensate it with good special effects. Those effects, by Richard Englund, are fine and might still impress people even after more than a decade of constant improvements in that field. This technique – covering the lack of plot with visual attractions - is all too common (and mostly unscuccessful) in today's Hollywood, yet Reitman in this case managed to pull it off. Production design by John DeCuir is also fine and adds a lot to the spooky feel of the movie. Musical soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein Jr. is disappointing, unlike the title song by Ray Parker Jr., which used to be a great hit in its time. All in all, Ghostbusters could hardly be called a masterpiece, yet it remains as one of the more entertaining pieces of cinema of the previous decade.
RATING: 7/10 (+++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on November 19th 1998)
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