Friday, July 9, 2010
Ray (Dan Aykroyd), Egon (Harold Ramis), and Peter (Bill Murray) are three parapsychological researchers with a grant at Columbia University. Their research focuses on extrasensory abilities (like ESP) and the scientific possibilities for spirits to exist on the physical plane. There are two great things about their work; it does not require hard results (Ray's reason) and is a great way to meet slightly gullible women (Peter's reason). The three lose their grant and are forced out into the real world for the first time, so they do what any of us would do in a similar situation. They purchase an abandoned firehouse and a used hearse, and open up a ghost capture service called the Ghostbusters. Naturally, their actions coincide with an increase in paranormal activity and it's ultimately up to these goofballs to save the world.
Despite that surprisingly brief synopsis, I (like my entire generation) am a big fan of Ghostbusters. It has a great cast, filled with some of the funniest people of the late 70s and early 80s. Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd were still very funny people (their funniness seems to have decreased proportionally to their increase in weight over the years), and the script (which they co-wrote) has some of their better contextual jokes. Ramis and Aykroyd have written some of the best subtle conversational humor in film history, and this script is full of it. Of course, there is a decent part of the film that was at least partially improvised; are you telling me that you think that someone wrote exactly what came out of Bill Murray's mouth in this movie? I'll take the high road and just call you an idiot. Even without Murray's fantastic improvisational talents, this is still a great script. It's a comedy, sure, but it's a sci-fi movie first. These guys could have gotten away with a plot that made absolutely no sense (Want proof? Watch Aykroyd in Nothing But Trouble), but they actually based this in science. Well, as much science as parapsychology has to back it up, anyway.
The plot and script are good, but a decent part of this film takes place with its supporting cast, so they are more important here than in other films. Luckily, the supporting cast is pretty great. Rick Moranis was funny as the socially awkward health food nut, Louis, but he was awesome once he was possessed by The Keymaster demon. Likewise, Sigourney Weaver is a good fit for Murray as his love interest, Dana, and she does a good job hamming it up once she is possessed by a demon named Zuul. Ernie Hudson primarily acts as a straight man for the group, but he does it without coming off as stupid or inept, which is especially nice in a comedy. Annie Potts has a pretty minor role, but she is able to provide some laughs and gives the movie a little bit of the New York flavor that we would see more of in the sequel. Last, but not least, William Atherton is completely successful as the short-sighted jerk who doesn't see the value of the Ghostbusters; like his weasel reporter role in Die Hard, Atherton does a great job playing a complete bastard.
This may look like an ensemble cast, but the film really belongs to Bill Murray. He uses Aykroyd and Ramis --- two generally funny guys, mind you --- as little more than props in his scenes...and it works! Murray's comic timing is at its best here, making even his blandest lines just a little funny. He isn't as wacky as his Caddyshack role, or as outgoing as he was in Stripes, but I think this is probably Murray's most well-rounded early work. This isn't his best acting role, mind you, but he is able to show charm, wittiness, boldness, cynicism, and a great talent for the understatement at different times in this film. If there is one actor that benefited the most from director Ivan Reitman's experience filming comedies, it was definitely Murray.
Having stated that, I feel a little weird saying that my main criticism of this film is its reliance on Bill Murray. That may not make a whole lot of sense, but let me try to explain. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis were not new to comedies at this point and both had written and acted in several movies and on television. Both had worked with Murray before, too. And yet, their roles seem extremely two-dimensional. Yes, Aykroyd is occasionally a little funny, but it's mainly in response to something hilarious that Murray said. Ramis, on the other hand, is dry to the point of flaking. As a trio, they are fun to watch, but without Murray, these two can only hope to inch the plot forward with some vaguely scientific dialogue. Of course, there's something to be said for giving a star some room to work. I'm not trying to say that this was a bad choice, because it definitely works in this movie, but I just mourn the complete over-awesomeness that could have been if Aykroyd and Ramis had spent a little more time on their characters.
Looking at the movie as a whole, I think this is the best comedy/sci-fi blend ever (although Men in Black is pretty good). Even with some of the main actors contributing less than others, the acting is still great all around, with some fantastic bit parts and a good plot.