“Well, there's something you don't see every day.”
Dr. Peter Venkman, on seeing a giant marshmallow man crash through the streets of New York
|My well-loved paperback|
The film wasn’t released in the UK until December 7th 1984 and I could hardly wait. Remember, this was long before the Internet, so all we knew was what we saw on TV, though I did pick up the Coronet novelisation by Larry Milne, that just filled my head with more imaginery and whetted my appetite further. The novelisation (which is written in present tense) is packed out with interviews of the main cast and crew, plus an article on the making of.
In case you’ve never seen it (and this will contain spoilers), the film follows three parapsychologists Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), who lose their jobs at Columbia University. After being called to investigate a series of apparently supernatural activities at the New York Public Library (where they encounter the ghost of a dead librarian), they set up a paranormal extermination/investigation company called “Ghostbusters” which Stantz funds with a mortgage.
|(l to r) Dr Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis)|
Venkman: You're not gonna lose the house, everybody has three mortgages nowadays.
Spengler is the boffin and he develops high-tech equipment to capture the spirits and they set up a base in a disused, run-down firehouse. Their first call is to the Sedgewick Hotel where they have a run-in with a disgusting green ghost (who is called Slimer everywhere but in the film itself).
Venkman: He slimed me.
Stantz: That's great. Actual physical contact. Can you move?
Venkman: I feel so funky.
During the battle in the ballroom with Slimer and firing their “unlicensed nuclear reactors” with abandon, Spengler has a thought.
Spengler: There's something very important I forgot to tell you.
Spengler: Don't cross the streams.
Spengler: It would be bad.
Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.
Paranormal activity explodes in New York City and the Ghostbusters, with their ads and media friendly turns, become celebrities by helping to contain it (taking on a fourth member, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) to help cope with demand).
Venkman: (as they’re leaving) We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!
|Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver)|
Barrett: You know, you don't act like a scientist.
Venkman: They're usually pretty stiff.
Barrett: You're more like a game show host.
The Ghostbusters facility is shut down by Walter Peck (William Atherton), an over-officious EPA representative who believes the team are acting as unlicensed waste handlers. When the system is shut, it causes an explosion that releases hundreds of captured spirits that wreak havoc over the city. The Ghostbusters are arrested but taken to see the Mayor, who is holding a meeting with the police, city officials and clergy to try to figure out a plan of action.
Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.
Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!
Mayor: All right, all right! I get the point!
|Weaver and Rick Moranis, just prior to becoming Terror Dogs. I had such a crush on her...|
Venkman: So, she's a dog...
They are unable to prevent the arrival of Gozer (Slavitza Jovan) though they manage to briefly subdue her.
Gozer: Are you a God?
Gozer: Then... DIE!
Zeddemore: Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say "YES"!
Venkman: All right! This chick is TOAST!
She then tells them to choose the form of their ‘destructor’ and Stantz, trying to play safe, thinks of a beloved memory from his childhood.
Venkman: I didn't choose anything...
(there’s a long pause. Venkman, Spengler and Zeddemore all look at Stantz)
Stantz: I couldn't help it. It just popped in there.
Venkman: (angry) What? What "just popped in there?"
Stantz: I... I... I tried to think...
Stantz: No! It CAN'T be!
Venkman: What is it?
Stantz: It CAN'T be!
Venkman: What did you DO, Ray?
Zeddemore: Oh, shit!
(they all see a giant white head topped with a sailor hat)
Stantz: (soberly) It's the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
|Crossing the streams - The Ghostbusters, with Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) at far left|
* * * * *
Although it marked the first film pairing of Aykroyd and Murray, most of the main cast had worked together before, often in various comedy troupes. Reitman had directed Aykroyd - they are both Canadians - in a TV show called “Greed” and worked with Murray and Ramis on the original “National Lampoon Show” review on Broadway. The three men would then team up for several films before “Ghostbusters”, including “Meatballs” and “Stripes” (which Reitman directed and Ramis wrote) and “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (which Reitman produced and Ramis co-wrote).
Production began in June 1983, with Reitman assembling a crack team based on their experience with large scale productions. John DeCuir was recruited as Production Designer, having won Oscars for “The King and I”, “Cleopatra” and “Hello Dolly!” whilst Richard Edlund, fresh from ILM and just setting up Boss Films (though the effects are credited to Entertainment Effects Group), had won for the “Star Wars” trilogy and “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”. Renowed cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs was brought in as Director Of Photography and Theoni V. Aldredge joined as Costume Designer.
|Ivan Reitman (left), Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in New York|
The special effects (over 200 shots in total) were filmed at the Entertainment Effects Group facility in Marina Del Ray and utilised a lot of tried-and-tested low-budget, practical approaches. Steve Johnson (who had worked with Rick Baker on “American Werewolf In London” amongst other projects) was just striking out on his own and he headed up the creature shop with Randy Cook. Whilst Cook would create all the stop-motion animation of the Terror Dogs, Johnson created Slimer and the ghosts. The suits for the biggest monster of all, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, cost $20,000 each and three were made and destroyed during filming. To keep things as simple as possible, a lot of the effects were very ‘old-school’. On the DVD commentary, Reitman points out that the floating books were simply hung on wires and Ramis says that the index cards were blown out of their drawers by technicians behind the wall, blowing air through copper tubing.
|left - Steve Johnson introduces Sigourney Weaver to Slimer |
right - behind the scenes, setting up for the shot as Weaver is pulled into the kitchen
|Filming on the miniature Central Park set for the Mr Stay Puft attack|
“Ghostbusters” was released in the United States on June 8, 1984 and was a huge critical and commercial success, receiving positive reviews and making $238m in the US alone (it would add a further $291m worldwide). It was nominated for two Oscars, for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song, but would lose out to “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom” (with effects from ILM) and “I Just Called To Say I Love You “ from “The Woman In Red”. The film also launched a franchise, which includes the 1989 sequel, two animated television series and several video games.
With re-issues, it was the most financially successful comedy of the 80s.
For my part, I think the film holds up really well - the leads are perfect in their roles, the interplay between the Ghostbusters themselves is priceless and the effects work (apart from a couple of shots) is excellent and always believable.
Great fun - now, who ya gonna call?
* Dan Aykroyd referred to “Slimer” as the ghost of John Belushi.
* William Atherton, who played Peck, complained the movie ruined his life as people would talk to him as if he was the character and give him a piece of their mind.
* The singers shouting “Ghostbusters” on the song were the people Ray Parker Jnr could find in the studio - his girlfriend and her friends
* The music video for “Ghostbusters” was directed by Ivan Reitman and featured a cast of celebrities who didn’t appear in the film at all - including Chevy Chase, Irene Cara, John Candy, Jeffrey Tambor, Danny DeVito, Carly Simon and Peter Falk. The Ghostbusters themselves danced through Times Square behind Parker Jr.
* One of the deleted scenes on the DVD release has Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd play two tramps that witness Louis being chased by the terror dog.
* Sigourney Weaver was apparently desperate to do a comedy and was keen to win her audition, so when the script called for her to transform into a dog, she barked. She later said she considered herself the straight man in a Marx Brothers movie.
* The Ghostbusters vehicle - Ecto 1 - was originally painted black until it was pointed out that most driving would be at night, meaning it would be difficult to see. It was then repainted white.
* As part of his deal, Bill Murray made Columbia Pictures agree to a remake of The Razor's Edge (1946) with him as the star (it was also released in 1984).
RIP Harold Ramis, who died earlier this year, aged 69.