Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis
Having spent the entirety of my teens in the 1980s, two years stand out as watersheds when it comes to my development as a geek. There was 1982, with E.T. and Poltergeist and Star Trek II and Conan and Blade Runner and The Road Warrior, and that’s just the A-listers. Downright seismic for a kid just coming into adolescence and really appreciating moves. But 1984, while maybe lacking in numbers, made up for it in sheer concentration. Because in that ridiculous, giddy summer, three films duked it out for box office supremacy, each one destined to go on to become a beloved genre classic. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom had already been out for two weeks when June 8th rolled around. And on that wondrous Friday, moviegoers had the choice between two films that mixed equal parts horror and comedy with equally memorable results: Gremlins and Ghostbusters.
And here comes the part where I admit to not seeing Ghostbusters when it was in theaters.
See, I was in full-on “Spielberg is God” mode at the time. He’d had his lone misstep with 1941, a film I still really liked. He was coming off of Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. He could do no wrong in my eyes. And therefore, Temple of Doom and Gremlins were far and away the best. most deserving films of the summer of ’84, and how dare Ghostbusters come along and make more money? With that annoying song everywhere and that stupid ghost logo. Fie upon it! Fie, I said! Yes, I was pretty stupidly loyal to what I liked back then. So never mind that my friends all raved about Ghostbusters, and quoted it every chance they got. I wasn’t giving that dirty interloper one dime of my money. Well, of my parents’ money, anyway.
So it wasn’t until it hit HBO that I finally got it. And I felt like a complete idiot. The humor was right in my wheelhouse, just the right mix of silly and smart. Depending on the mood I was in when I watched it, I wanted to be Venkman, Ray and Egon. And it so perfectly balanced the humorous and the serious, so that when Venkman says, “See you on the other side, Ray,” you got the very real sense that one or all these guys might not make it out of this alive. That’s not easy to do in a comedy, to have dramatic stakes high enough you become as invested in them as you do the laughs, without overwhelming them. But Ghostbusters pulled it off with ease.
And of course, it nailed the daylights out of the comedy. I know this movie cold nearly backwards and forwards and the jokes still make me laugh. A lot of that has to do with the expert comedic timing all around. Even the straight parts like Walter Peck and Gozer are essential to the humor; if they’re not doing the set-up, the jokes have nothing to stand on. It all goes back to Ghostbusters not just being a great comedy, but a great film. That happens to have slime and ghosts in it.
Because of my stubbornness, I’d missed out on a few years of loving this movie, and was seriously behind the geek curve. It was years before I realized Venkman’s “Go get her Ray!” near the end of the film was callback to the beginning. And there’s still little things I notice when I watch it that I hadn’t seen before. But I like to think that’s not due to my late start, but due to the richness of the film itself. So Ghostbusters was a lesson learned. Spielberg and Lucas weren’t going to lose sleep if I didn’t defend them with my dying breath. And there was more to movies than just liking what I liked. I had to take the blinders off, so I could see what was on the other side.