Friday, August 21, 2009

Flashback Friday: Ghostbusters

For the final Flicks on the Bricks of the summer season, Ghostbusters will be the feature film. It won the vote in an online poll (beating 16 Candles, Karate Kid, Gremlins, and one other one I can't remember right now). Since Pioneer Courthouse Square was created in 1984, the organizers of the free summer film series wanted to show a film from that summer twenty-five years ago. There's was no real contest. That had to be the film. I would attend this last Flicks on the Bricks for any of the ones selected (except 16 Candles. Never was a fan of John Hughes films, thus why his passing didn't merit an in memoriam post on my blog).

Since I'll be attending this screening tonight, it made sense to feature this monster hit comedy for this week's Flashback Friday. I had planned to write about Ghostbusters sometime this year anyway because it is twenty-five years old. Gosh, I feel old! Twenty-five years felt like eternity when I was a 12 year old! When I think about how long it seemed to take from birth to twelve years old, versus the thought that I started college twelve years ago...I keep wanting to slow down the clock some. Time is speeding by too quickly! Make it stop!

Anyhow, I first saw the trailer to Ghostbusters when my parents took the family to see Romancing the Stone at the movie theater. Cue scary music. I remember my brother getting scared when the previews came on. When I saw the title Ghostbusters, I knew it would be a comedy, and thus not scary. It was a must see film for me and I was annoyed that the kids in the neighbourhood all saw it before I did and acted out scenes from the movie as well as quote dialogue. When I finally got to see it, I was blown away. I was absolutely nuts for the movie. It was all I could think about and I wanted to be a Ghostbuster.

That Halloween, I even made my own Ghostbuster costume for a church party. When I wrote "Venkman" on a nametag, my dad asked why I couldn't just be myself. Because, dad, Venkman is funny and cool! I totally wanted to be as funny as Venkman. Bill Murray's genius as a comedian is that he always looks serious. He doesn't smile much. He kind of resembles a human bulldog, if you think about it. Thus, with his serious demeanor, you never expect him to say the kind of funny things he does. That's my favourite kind of comedian (serious demeanor, hilarious and witty commentary).

For my birthday that year, I received the Ghostbusters Original Soundtrack. I really liked the song "Saving the Day." I also like the instrumental music, and the theme song by Ray Parker, Jr. I bought the movie novelization and read it, disappointed by the changes (such as when Winston tells the white judge in the movie: "I have seen shit that will turn you white!" The novel version was watered down to: "I have seen jazz that would boggle your mind!" Lame! The phrase in the movie got a laugh, the line in the novel would not have).

The Ghostbusters logo is probably my all time favourite product logo ever created. I used to draw that logo all the time on my homework papers and notebooks. I even created my own Ghostbusters laminated button to wear. Like I said, I was a nut about the film. My parents couldn't believe how much I loved this movie. Whenever I wanted to see it in theaters, my dad didn't understand why I'd want to see it again. I saw it five times in a theater, which was unusual for me back then (in my life, there might be less than ten films that I've seen at least five times in a theater).

In the seventh grade, this movie basically bonded me with my group of friends, even though we also shared being Air Force dependents as well. One of the guys in the group was named Ian, but I thought of him as Egon (played by Harold Ramis). There was a classmate (Todd Magee) who reminded me of the nerdy Louis (Rick Moranis). But the biggest bond was with a classmate who had the same first name as me. He was also a Ghostbusters fan. When I visited him a few years ago, he showed me a picture of himself in a Ghostbusters costume his mother made for him to wear for Halloween in 1984. We were in the same group of friends around that time, but he didn't become my best friend until I moved away and he was only one of two people who kept in touch through letter writing.

For another example of how crazy I was about this film in 1984 (my seventh grade year), in my Speaking and Listening class, we had to stand up in front of the class and give a 30 second commercial of a product we thought of. My commercial was on "Stay Puft Yogurt." My pitch was that now, people could eat the actual contents of Mr. Stay Puft, who was melted in the climatic scene of Ghostbusters. I remember some people groaning with my presentation, while others laughed.

In terms of movies, Ghostbusters had so many quotable lines. Ones I would repeat at various times included: "Does anyone want to play Parcheezi?", "Okay, who brought the dog?", "Are you the gatekeeper?", "Are you the keymaster?", "Someone blows their nose and you want to keep it?", "You're right, no human would stack books this way," "Take me now, subcreature," "Okay, so my girlfriend's a dog," "dogs and cats, living together. Mass hysteria!", "You will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters," "Back off man, I'm a scientist," "Your girlfriend has the corner penthouse of Spook Central", "get her!", "you can keep your five bucks!", "I collect spores, molds, and fungus," "sorry about the bug eyes thing", "if there's a steady paycheck, I'll believe anything you say," "I'll go over to Miss Barrett's apartment and check her out", "You know, you don't act like a scientist. More like a game show host," "we got one!", "he slimed me", "I've quit better jobs than this", "there's something strange about that man", "do I? Yes, have some!", "Nice shootin', Tex," "you didn't say the magic word," "yes, its true, this man has no dick," "what about the Twinkie?" "yeah, its a sign alright. Going out of business," "are you a god? Then die!", "let's show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown," "it just popped in there," "no one steps on a church in my town," "smells like burnt dog hair," "who turned out the lights?", and "I love this town!"

As I reflect on this quarter of a century aged film, I wonder what about it makes it a classic. It was fresh and different when it was released. The idea of having a comedy about ghosts...where spiritual ideas and ancient history are part of the narrative...just seemed far fetched, yet it captured the imaginations like few films before or after.

While I understood the close working relationship between actors Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Dan Ackroyd, I never understood why Ernie Hudson was in the film. He isn't given much to do, except as the new employee so that the audience could learn through him how the ghost trap works. He does have a great line that he tells the white judge and he talks about Revelations in the Bible. Eddie Murphy might have been funnier, but he had his own hit comedy that year (Beverly Hills Cop).

As a teenage boy, I had a crush on Janine, the secretary. I found her uniquely attractive (I've always liked ladies with short hair). The creators of the film did a disservice to her character, though. It seemed natural that she would fall in love with Egon. They seemed perfectly suited towards one another. Thus, I was completely baffled why she would end up with the nerdy Louis in the sequel. Especially when she seemed so afraid of him in the first film.

One unique fact about this movie is that Debbie Gibson was an extra in the movie. She plays the girl having a birthday party at the Tavern on the Green when Louis gets attacked by the demon dog. I had such a crush on her in 1987-1989. She's so lucky to have been an extra in this awesome movie!

The plot moves from a kind of benign otherworldly presence and an intro into all things paranormal towards an apocalyptic doomsday featuring an ancient Babylonian god that is summoned by a gateway in a gothic apartment building in Central Park West that was created by a demented genius. Kind of outlandish, but amazingly enough, the movie does present an idea that seems to be gaining more traction in spiritual circles. That idea is the one the goddess gives the Ghostbusters. They get to choose the form of their destruction. All of them, save Ray Stantz, empty their minds of all thought. Ray couldn't help but think of Mr. Stay Puft marshmallow man. Its actually pretty awesome. Out of all the cool things in this movie, Mr. Stay Puft is the ultimate in coolness. If one had to face destruction by something, why not a cute and smiling cartoonish mascot. I love the facial expression it makes, first smiling like a lunatic, then mouth open in horror as it melts before our eyes. You can't create a better climax to a movie than that.

One thing about this movie that I didn't get as a teenager, which I did as an adult was the suggestive scene when Ray receives oral sex from an angelic ghost floating above him at headquarters. I can't believe the Film Ratings board allowed that scene to remain in the movie and still keep the PG rating. As a teenager, I knew it alluded to something, but didn't really pay attention to what it actually signified. I bet Dan Ackroyd wrote that scene himself.
Who you gonna call, suckas? Slimer is waiting for you just around the corner!

Mr. Stay Puft, the most awesome villain ever! Each time I've roasted marshmallows at a campfire, Mr. Stay Puft always comes to mind. That's the impression this character has left on me for twenty-five years.

In 1989, the most highly anticipated movie of the year for me was the sequel to Ghostbusters. I remember being really excited about seeing this movie on opening day in June. I walked in the rain to the movie theater (about a 40 minute walk from my house) to be there for the opening show. The film did not disappoint me at the time. I ended up seeing it five times in a theater that summer. The entire cast had gone on the Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about the movie and I remember Bill Murray joking that Rick Moranis had a competing film out (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) and if that movie made more than Ghostbusters II, he would be in big trouble. Everyone laughed because it was expected that Ghostbusters II would be a huge hit. Turns out, though, that Honey, I Shrunk the Kids made more money than Ghostbusters II. Rick Moranis got the last laugh.

With distance from that exciting summer of movies, I have to admit that Ghostbusters II does not hold up very well. I can understand why fans might have been disappointed. The movie pretty much follows the formula of the first film. Instead of an early ghostbusting scene in a hotel, its a court room in the sequel. In place of Mr. Stay Puft, the Ghostbusters manage to make the Statue of Liberty come to life (what I once thought as a clever move, I now find as ridiculous). And instead of a Babylonian god, the sequel focused on a painting of an Eastern European madman named Vigo the Carpathian, Ruler of Moldavia (modeled after Vlad the Impaler) who possesses an equally strange Eastern European art curator who has a crush on Dana Barrett. Also copying the first film, the Ghostbusters demand to see the mayor again.

What I liked about the sequel is Dana's baby. He's a cute little guy and we get to see Bill Murray play the big kid to this baby. Five years may have passed, but we learn what went wrong in the relationship between Peter Venkman and Dana Barrett. The Ghostbusters had gone their separate ways after facing lawsuits in the aftermath of the destruction of the first movie. Venkman hosts a psychic channel, where he mocks his guests for their end of the world predictions. Stantz has an occult bookshop. Spengler is a psychologist who studies human behavior as they wait for their appointment.

The main feature of this movie, though, is pink slime. Rivers of it. Running beneath the city of New York. The Ghostbusters do experiments on it and realize that the slime "feeds on bad vibes" ("like a cop in a doughnut factory"). I have a feeling that this idea is based on actual spiritual thought. In current thinking, with the increasing attention on "the law of attraction", all thoughts emit energy into the ether that surrounds us. Everyone has had an experience where they have walked into a room and could feel that something bad had happened in there. People have alluded to air being thick with tension. Even at my work in the past couple weeks, co-workers have come by and mentioned how different the room feels with the nasty co-worker out of there. For the hell I went through last year, my unhappy co-worker did convince me of the truth about how powerful our thoughts are. She was so negative in her thinking that it overpowered my own desires to maintain a positive vibe. I wish I was much more stronger to bounce back her negative energy and affect her with positive energy, but I just got worn down by her daily negative assault. Two freaking years of it!

So, its amazing that a twenty year old sequel presented ideas that I'm only just now having a deeper understanding of. In recent years, as well, there have been experiments done on water, where one could actually see water crystals being affected by positive or negative vibes. In light of this viewpoint, then, it makes the scene where the Ghostbusters were taken by the river of slime and once they are out of it, they start fighting until Egon tells them to take off their slime-soaked clothing. The negative vibes affected their attitudes. To convert the slime to positive vibes, they play happy music ("Your Love is Lifting Me Higher"). Interesting idea.

On a positive note, I thought the soundtrack for the sequel was much better than for the first film. I loved the Run DMC rap version update on the classic title song. It made the song fresh and new. I especially loved Bobby Brown's "On Our Own." The rap "Spirit" was also pretty good.

In the end, though, all that "I love you" talk in the movie was a bit too mushy for me. The villain was lame (Vigo wishes to be born into the infant so when he reaches a certain age, he can unleash armaggedon and become ruler of the world). They should've thought of something more original. Thus I understand why this movie made exactly half the amount of the first film and why no third film was ever made.

Oh, but wait a minute. Dan Ackroyd keeps talking up a third Ghostbuster movie. He had an idea nearly a decade ago, which didn't sound all that great. His idea was that hell has emerged to incorporate New York City and the original Ghostbusters would train a younger group in how to be Ghostbusters. I think Ackroyd really wants another Ghostbusters movie because his film career has been pretty crappy (he played Britney Spears' dad earlier this decade in Britney's film debut, Crossroads). He wants Bill Murray on board, but Bill has been the most reluctant of the group to want to do another one. But why does it have to depend on him or any of them? None of the actors have been in a hit film in awhile. It is time to have a new cast if they are going to do it. I would love to see Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Justin Bartha, and Queen Latifah as Ghostbusters.

As for a storyline, I would hope that it would not feature an end of the world scenario, though maybe with the Mayan calendar of 2012, it might be okay if they incorporate that into the movie. I'd love to see what they could do with the special effects technology of today. After all, it has greatly improved since the sequel was released twenty years ago. A new Ghostbusters movie will most likely happen at some point in the future. The trick is coming up with a killer script and storyline. I personally would love to have a crack at a storyline. With all my personal study about spiritual ideas, I think I might be able to come up with something interesting enough. But would it be funny?

Anyhow, I look forward to the screening tonight in Portland's Living Room. Witnessing the audience reaction is almost half the fun of watching the film (I have the DVD set, which I could watch at anytime, but I've decided to wait until the screening since I haven't seen either film in years).

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