There are films that change the way movies are perceived by the public, the films that abandon the normal tenants of moviemaking and strike off on their own. Ghostbusters is such a film. No social commentary shrouded in comedy is to be found here just a fun romp through the unreal. The film follows a group of scientists (and having trained and worked in research biochemistry I use the term in its loosest form) whose unorthodox methods in Para-psychiatry are removed from their position in a reputable New York City University and strike off on their own ridding New York City of the seemingly ample supply of ghosts. The scientists, Peter Venkman (Bill Murary), Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Akroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) pool the rest of their funds and rent an abandoned firehouse and purchase an old beat up ambulance. With fantastical equipment they begin their new careers as Ghostbusters. Akroyd and Ramis wrote the script and according to the commentary largely ignored by the improvisational Murray is nothing short of brilliant. The jokes are a mélange of sight gags, one-liners and the type of humor that builds throughout the film for a payoff much later on. There is virtually nothing in this film that will force you back to reality for even the briefest of moments. One of their clients is Dana (Sigourney Weaver), a classical musician who lives in a building designed by a noted 19th century spiritist. Her neighbor Louis (Rick Moranis) is a hapless accountant desperate to fit in. Dana and Louis are possessed by the spirits of ‘the Gatekeeper’ and the ‘Keymaster’, beings of pure evil trying to break into the physical world to impose disaster upon the citizens of New York. The storyline here is not something easily described, it is something that has to be experienced. Not a moment is wasted. This film is a ride through the warped minds of its creators. What really makes this film work is the long time friendship and collaboration of Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis. They been together for years, all alumni of the paramount comedy troupe the Second City Players. This improvisational comedy group has been the birthing ground for many of the best comics of modern times. Having worked together for so long they seem to sense what works and they have long ago given up the spotlight, each member comfortable with alternating between the center stage and acting in support of the others.
The cast here takes their comfort with each other and translates it to such a smoothly assembled film that I am certain no other actors could have pulled off this film. Each of the actors provides his or her character with a distinct personality, which while satirizing people most of us has known takes them to a comic extreme. Murray’s Peter Venkman is a womanizing man, certain that his constant humor will make him more of a ladies man that he could ever hope of being. His off center view of the world actual helps him cope with the strange beings the Ghostbusters encounter. Ramis plays Egon as a man devoted to the often-disrespected science he researches. Egon is the type that finds wonder in the strange. When faced with a ghost or ghoul his only thoughts are how to measure and document the experience. Armed with devices of his own imagination he works to prove this unseen world exists. To him, the X-Files belongs on the History channel. Then there is Ray. Part Sergeant Friday, part unorthodox scientist he is forced to act as the balance between the extremes of the other two. When you think of comedians your first thoughts are most likely not of Ms Weaver. After all she has provided some of the greatest dramatic roles around and fought aliens better than the over muscular men of action films. Here she shows that a great actor can do comedy. While her performance starts out subdued it moves away from reality as the film progresses.
The ringmaster of this comic circus is Ivan Reitman. He worked with many of the cast members in such comic masterpieces as Stripes and Meatballs. Here his job seems to point the cast in the right direction, aim the camera and stand back. He didn’t seem to even attempt to exert a lot of control over his actors. This was a great decision; everyone here is the best possible. That is not to say that his sense of direction was not used. He frames the action in such a manner that on the first viewing you concentrate on the main character but in subsequent plays you will notice the little details and side bar action taking place. There is nothing static about Reitman’s style; he provides a film that we sweep you away from reality. Having lived my life in New York City I appreciated little touches like the blasé way New Yorkers take the most incredible circumstances. A ghost cab driver, no problem, ghost coming out of the subway, people run but seem used to such disruptions. In the end scenes there is the special way New Yorkers come together and galvanize against any threat. New York is used by Reitman more as a supporting character than a backdrop.
Although one of the early special editions released back in June of 1999, this disc still holds its own against any special edition being released today. The commentary is one of the funniest I have ever heard. Akroyd and Ramis detail how this film grew, of weekends in Akroyd’s home and experiences they have had over the many years of their friendship and professional association. They also point out many of the times Murray leaves the script behind to the enjoyment of the audience. There are multiple angle shots of the special effects process, animated menus and DVD ROM features that will keep you entertained for many hours. Add to this a special effects documentary, subtitles production notes and deleted scenes and you have a disc that uses every last byte of information with none wasted. The audio is mixed to Dolby 5.1. While the sound field provided is not as all encompassing as many have grown to expect it is clear and gets the job done. The video is middle of the road. Not great but also better than many discs. The colors are a bit muted but considering all you get with this classic film something that most will be able to overlook. The American Film Institute placed this film in their top 100 comedies for good reason. Get this disc and enjoy.