We’re halfway through 2020 – hooray! If that’s not a relief in itself, I don’t know what would be. With plans cancelled, lockdown lingering, and the economy in the toilet, there’s not much else to do than flick through Netflix and eat – which is an accurate visual description of how I watched this month’s Catching Up with Classics choice, Ghostbusters (1984).
If you’re new here, let me bring you up to speed. At the end of 2019 I drew up a list of ‘classics’ I was yet to experience. So far I’ve caught up with Raiders of the Lost Ark (*insert heart eyes emoji here*), Fellowship of the Ring (meh), Alien (what a rollercoaster!), and The Princess Bride (now a fan).
Now, dear reader, before we step any further into the Ghostbusters realm, I want us to make a promise to each other. I know how beloved the film is, I understand its cult status (I’ve even visited the fire station in NYC, despite not having seen the film until two weeks ago). Following is an account of watching the film for the first time, on Saturday 16th May 2020, 36 years after its release. I didn’t grow up as a fan. I didn’t see the film on the big screen, popcorn bucket in hand. A large part of my viewing experience won’t match yours, but we’ll both keep that in mind – yes? Deal.
May’s pick: Ghostbusters
For anyone else new to busting ghosts, here’s a rundown. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are three ‘paranormal scientists’ working at Columbia University. Their research project doesn’t last for long however, after they cause a scene investigating a ghoul sighting in the New York Public Library.
Inspired by their first proper ghost, the trio establish ‘Ghostbusters’, a service promising to exorcise your demons. Their first customer is Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver, making her second appearance in my Catching Up… series), who unwittingly took a look into another dimension when her refrigerator became possessed by something named Zuul. Venkman investigates (we later find out Zuul is a demigod and all-round asshole) but is distracted by constantly trying to hit on Dana. Later, left alone in her apartment, Dana is assaulted and possessed by Zuul, while her nerdy neighbour Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) falls victim to possession by a similar spirit.
Meanwhile, due to the sudden popularity of their service, the Ghostbusters hire Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) to join their team. While things are looking up for the foursome, they face an eviction notice by the Environmental Protection Agency, all while Egon tries to warn his teammates that their equipment may malfunction if they continue to take on so many cases.
After an explosion at Ghostbusters HQ, releasing previously captured ghosts onto the streets of NYC, the team are arrested and put in jail. Desperate to recapture the escaped ghouls, eradicate the source of the city’s possession problem, and save Dana (Venkman’s still got his eye on her), the Ghostbusters convince the mayor to set them free.
Armed with their proton packs, the men storm Dana’s apartment building to take down Zuul and his cronies. But when he suddenly takes the form of a ginormous Stay Puft marshmallow man, will our busting heroes be able to make a s’more out of him?
Written by Aykroyd and inspired by his fascination with the paranormal, he approached Ivan Reitman to direct after his successes with Animal House (1978), Meatballs (1979) and Stripes (1981), all of which feature an amalgamation of names who went on to star in Ghostbusters. Others who were loosely connected include John Candy, Eddie Murphy and Julia Roberts, the latter auditioning as Dana but losing out – Weaver, known for ‘serious’ roles, got down on all fours and barked like a dog to prove she was funny.
With a budget somewhere between $25-30 million, it made $229 million by the time it left cinemas in late 1984, a year of iconic releases: Gremlins, The Karate Kid, The Terminator (next month’s Catching Up… choice!). Inducted into the US National Film Registry for being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’, it’s clear – Ghostbusters is a classic – but how does it hold up?
Has it aged well?
Hard to say. As with any film featuring pre-2010s CGI, 80s computer animation just looks a bit naff. The ghosts are set somewhere between terrifyingly realistic (the jump-scare of the Library witch) to cartoonish (Slimer). Since Reitman worked with Aykroyd to make his script funnier, it makes sense that the spirits featured look and feel a little silly – Ghostbusters is supposed to be kid-friendly, after all (it’s a PG in the UK, which blew my mind).
Seeing Zuul in demonic dog form, switching between a model and CGI, made me laugh out loud. It just feels a bit ‘janky’; it’s like you can see on-screen where the animation has been layered on. Watching Moranis run away screaming from what would’ve been an invisible spectre is pretty funny.
The comedy has its moments and it was lovely to see Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis working together, full of chemistry. Knowing they were all friends outside of the studio, watching them play out Dan’s spooky, silly story felt very wholesome. Ghostbusters is fun, kooky and action-packed – but I think I was expecting more?
Hindsight is 2020
From fresh, first-time (and female) eyes, the Dana and Venkman storyline doesn’t hold up. Hounding her for a date, coercing her into going for dinner when really she just wants him to rid her kitchen of a demon – from a 2020 perspective, it’s all very manipulative and creepy. Considering Dana spends the majority of the film unaware of what’s going on around her, hers and Venkman’s kiss at the end doesn’t feel romantic or fairytale-like. Coming round from her possession, she suddenly realises she’s in love with Venkman? Nah.
And on that note, did the narrative really even need a ‘love story’? Take it away and the team would’ve still hit the same plot points. I don’t think many eight-year-olds back in 1984 would’ve complained that it was missing a little ‘sexy’ somethin’ somethin’.
As anyone interested in film will remember, the Ghostbusters franchise received a reawakening in 2016 with…Ghostbusters (2016). Starring Krisen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth, the film plays out much the same to the original (just without unnecessary/distracting romance).
Of course, the internet has a lot to say whenever reboot news hits the stands, even before anyone’s seen a sniff of the action:
Now, I’m just taking a punt here, but I’m guessing that IMDb review writer ivo-cobra8 doesn’t speak to the few women they know like this. ‘Ghostbitches’? Really?
I would say, ‘Hey, we’re living in the 21st century now, you don’t speak to or about women like that.’ But we’re living in the 21st century and people do speak to and about women like that. The discourse around the 2016 reimagining was disgusting, and ivo-cobra8’s comment is just one of the thousands online, horrified that director Paul Feig would cast humans with vaginas as Ghostbusters. How dare women dream of doing an (imaginary) job that only men are capable of! Surely their breasts will get in the way of busting ghosts?!
Would the furore have been as loud and angry if the reboot had starred another all-male line-up? Would comments have been as gross if the all-female cast have starred women deemed to be ‘thin and ‘pretty’? If they’d sexed it up, shown a bit of shoulder, maybe a flash of sideboob? No, probably not. There’d be X-rated anime restylings of the characters splashed across fan sites, boilersuits ripped open to reveal teeny tiny, barely-there bikini tops underneath.
And why can’t we have two versions? Nobody’s forcing anyone to watch the remake. Hollywood churns out enough copycat superhero stories, one after another, and people flock to see those. So, where’s the issue? It’s because they’re women, isn’t it? Intelligent, funny, confident women – who don’t take their clothes off.
The remake doesn’t take away from the original. The remake’s existence doesn’t cancel out the original. It doesn’t ‘delete’ it from history. It’s still there, it hasn’t disappeared. And if you’re so wound up that the 2016 version exists, so rage-blind, maybe – just maybe – you should take some time to reflect inwards…and find a new hobby.
Classy or classless classic?
As mentioned at the beginning, I understood why Ghostbusters is beloved by millions across the globe, even before my first watch. With a cast list full of SNL stars, costumes that’re easily replicated for Halloween, and a pretty sweet Ectomobile – I get it, it’s cool. I just don’t think it was for me.
And remember the deal we made at that start, that we’d respect each other’s experiences? The 1,400 words above are just my opinion, which doesn’t make yours wrong. We’re just all here to have a good time.