According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.
2009 is a spectacular year for 25th anniversaries, because 1984 was a spectacular year for movies. Besides Purple Rain, which we discussed last week, it is also the year that brought us Ghostbusters and Gremlins (to be discussed next week). In fact, not only did the last two movies come out in the same year, they came out on the same damn day: June 8, 1984. What a glorious, glorious day to be a 9 year old boy, which is what I was, at the movie theater, trying to decide which one I should see first.
In addition to Purple Rain, Ghostbusters, and Gremlins 1984 also brought us Footloose (February 17), Repo Man and This is Spinal Tap (March 2), Splash (March 9), Police Academy (March 23), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (May 1), 16 Candles (May 4), Bachelor Party (June 19), The Karate Kid (June 22), Revenge of the Nerds (July 20), The Terminator (October 26), A Nightmare on Elm Street and Stop Making Sense (November 16), and the top-grossing film of the year, Beverly Hills Cop (December 5). Not to mention The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (August 15), both Breakin’ (May 4) and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (December 21), The Neverending Story (July 20), Romancing the Stone (March 30), and Tim Burton’s first major(ish) effort, Frankenweenie (December 1). Nearly every month of 1984 saw the release of an iconic film that has lived on in cinematic history. Was it the best year for film ever? I have no idea. I just spent 30 minutes on IMDB looking up those dates and I’m not venturing back in for a comparison. But in terms of quality mainstream Hollywood movies that have stood the test of time, I doubt you’re going to find too many years to rival that one.
Now, please note that I use the phrase “stood the test of time” loosely. Very few of these movies stand the test of time in the way that, say, The Godfather or Chinatown stands the test of time. But there is undoubtedly something compelling about them that keeps us watching. Is it mere nostalgia? Or are these movies actually good? In some cases, there’s no question: Stop Making Sense is one of the best music documentaries of all time, and This Is Spinal Tap is the movie that both defined the mockumentary genre and surpasses pretty much every effort since. In other cases, the quality of the film is so overshadowed by its place in culture that it becomes very difficult to look at it with fresh eyes.
Ghostbusters is one of these films. I doubt I’ve seen it more than five or six times, but I still know it inside and out. There are no surprises to be had in Ghostbusters at this point. No undiscovered gems of dialogue, no forgotten plot twists, no surprise laughs. Everything in Ghostbusters is just as you remember it.
I’m sure everyone already knows the plot, but I’ll give a quick overview: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis are parapsychologists at Columbia University. They get kicked out of their cushy academic jobs because the university deems their work to be unimportant. So, they start a ghost-capturing company. Coincidentally, just after they start their ghost-capturing company, ghosts start appearing all over the city. The ghostbusters are suddenly everywhere and completely necessary. (One of the few jokes I caught during last night’s viewing that I was too young to understand when I was a kid: during the montage in which the ghostbusters are becoming famous, one of the magazine covers shown is an issue of The Atlantic with the question, “Do Ghosts Have Civil Rights?” Which is funny because liberals are always concerned about bullshit issues like civil rights.)
Meanwhile, a building that Sigourney Weaver lives in is a giant ghost antenna and her apartment is a portal and she gets possessed by a ghost dog and so does Rick Moranis and she’s the gatekeeper and he’s the keymaster which means that they’re supposed to have sex or something … I didn’t quite get that part … and then they finally get together, I guess, while the ghostbusters are in jail, and the building becomes a portal into the sky or something. The ghostbusters get out of jail and go to the building and they’re attacked by a giant marshmallow man and then they cross the streams which you’re never supposed to do because it will end all life on earth but this time it doesn’t and New York is saved. The end.
Oh, and also there’s a nasty guy from the EPA who wants to shut them down for storing their ghosts in a way that might harm the environment. Because those fuckers from the EPA are always trying to get in the way of the decent, upstanding small businessman. Man, does he look like a fool when it turns out the nuclear reactors they carry on their backs are actually quite harmless!
So that’s the movie. Accept it, reject it, do what you gotta do. A balanced review is nearly impossible for me, so I’ll just leave you with a few observations and then turn it over to Mike.
1) There are at least 5 phrases from Ghostbusters that have either found their way onto t-shirts or that are almost universally recognized catchphrases:
- “Back off, man, I’m a scientist.”
- “But the kids love us.”
- “He slimed me.”
- “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”
- “Dogs and cats living together …”
Every single one of these catchphrases was said by Bill Murray. What is it about Murray’s performance that is so captivating? Is it that he doesn’t seem to give a shit about anything? If Bill Murray didn’t exist, would we have to invent him?
2) Murray is a
lesser more subdued version of an 80s stock character that disappeared during the 90s: the perpetually horny guy. From John Candy in Splash to Curtis Armstrong in Risky Business, the perpetually horny best friend was a potent symbol of the failures of the sexual revolution. What killed the perpetually horny guy? He did resurface a few years ago with Jonah Hill in Superbad, but somehow, it just wasn’t the same. We simply know too much.
3) The special effects hold up pretty well. The ghosts look great. According to Wikipedia, Aykroyd’s original idea was for the ghostbusters to travel through time and defeat ghosts with magic wands. I’m pretty sure that would have been a step in the wrong direction.
4) The final line of Ghostbusters is Ernie Hudson shouting “I love this town!” It is not a memorable final line.
That’s all I got. I’m pretty much dry on this one. Let’s give it, I dunno, 4 or 5 stars on the scale of pizzas. Mike, you got anything clever to add?