If there’s a strange screenplay in Hollywood, who you gonna call? Ivan Reitman. Apparently.
Following my review of Juno, arguably the greatest cinematic achievement by Jason Reitman (though there is a very strong case to be made for Up in the Air), it seems only right I offer my take on 1984’s Ghostbusters, a film that many consider the finest work from his father, Ivan Reitman.
Ghostbusters began as the brainchild of then SNL star Dan Aykroyd, envisioning both he and fellow cast member John Belushi travelling through time as what he called “Ghostmashers.” Following Belushi’s untimely death, a plea from Reitman to make the screenplay more financially viable, and significant input from Harold Ramis, the Ghostbusters we know and love today was born.
The final story sees parapsychologists Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Raymond Stantz (Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Ramis) forming a ghost-catching business in New York City following a fateful encounter with a hostile ghost, with whom they found themselves ill-equipped to deal with. Armed with the right technology and an expanded team, the Ghostbusters make a name for themselves as the sole business that deals with paranormal activity, though they must eventually face their greatest challenge yet in a demigod that seeks to bring about the end of days.
While the story, on paper at least, still comes across as somewhat bonkers (though in this day and age, that is an ever-expanding term), it is the ingenious mish-mash of comedy and the supernatural that makes Ghostbusters not just one of the most significant aspects of 1980s pop cultural, but also one of the finest films of its kind.
The glue that holds these two genres together, much like Young Frankenstein, is its characters. While Mel Brooks’ classic maintains a more slapstick approach to its characters, Reitman and co. opt for more grounded characterizations, where the leads are presented as quirky “everyguys” who happen to be gifted scientists and live in a world occupied by the paranormal.
Impressive as the cast is, additionally featuring the talents of Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis and Bernie Hudson to name a few, the film is an indisputable showcase for Bill Murray’s signature deadpan style. I think only a select few actors, if any, can deliver lines like “What about the twinky?” and “He slimed me.” in a manner that is sincere, serious and droll all at once, without the slightest hint of irony to betray these qualities.
With this being said, the considerable talents of Murray and the rest of the cast would have been wasted had the screenplay been mismanaged. Thankfully, Aykroyd and Ramis deliver on its promising premise with a well-executed story, helped along by consistently inspired dialogue that never misses a witty beat, even when there is exposition at play.
Most importantly though, what this combination of impressive writing and well-rounded cast does is keep the audience invested, even when it is at its most incredulous, whether it be a hideous green ghost made up of ectoplasm storming the halls of a hotel, or a 100-foot marshmallow man stomping through the streets of New York. The special effects might not have stood the test of time, but its charming cast of characters, assisted greatly by Reitman’s intuitive direction of the material, keep us immersed, even when the effects are at their cheesiest.
All-in-all, Ghostbusters has more than earned its keep in the pantheon of cinematic greats, proving to be not just a resilient fan-favourite, but a cultural icon, its legacy solidified by quotable dialogue, impressive imagery, and an infectiously catchy theme song many still sing to this day. This is what classics are made of.