Ghostbusters represents such a high water mark for not only the careers of those involved, but also for comedy in general, that it’s hard to overstate the level of accomplishment on screen. It’s difficult enough to make a good movie, not just a good comedy, but to produce a comedy classic while dealing with the complications of an ambitious special effects picture has to be some kind of cinematic grand slam.
Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are a team of parapsychology researchers at Columbia University with three very different approaches to their discipline. Ray has an almost childlike enthusiasm for all things ectoplasmic, Egon has a more intimate relationship with his pocket calculator than with any human, and Peter just thinks it’s a great way to hit on women. The dean of their department takes a dim view of their research and boots them off the campus.
Faced with financial ruin and professional disgrace, the trio decides to turn their ghost hunting into a business. Taking out a third mortgage on Ray’s mother’s house, they set up shop in a dilapidated firehouse and turn an old Cadillac ambulance into their “ghost-mobile.” After their first paying gig, successfully but messily ridding a snooty hotel of its ghosts, they are hired by a classical musician named Dana (Sigourney Weaver), whose has been fending off poltergeists in her kitchen as well as the amorous attention of her nerdy neighbor (Rick Moranis).
Peter takes a personal interest in her case because she looks like Sigourney Weaver, but as they dig deeper into it, they start to deal with a sudden spike in the level of supernatural activity in the five boroughs, which may be centered around Dana’s kitchen and have something to do with an ancient Sumerian god and the end of the world. Just as this is reaching a head, they get a visit from the EPA in the person of William Atherton in full sniveling asshole mode.
Unlike a lot of the comedies we see these days, Ghostbusters is built around a wholly original concept and is not just a lazy, brainless spoof of another genre. They took an idea from the darker recesses of Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ shared hive-mind and just ran with it. Even though the casting was largely the result of established friendships, it was letter perfect. Despite stepping into a role original intended for the late John Belushi, Bill Murray makes Venkman his own to the point that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
Outside the trio of Second City alumni at the core, the other players were also near-perfect fits: Annie Potts as the receptionist with the inexplicable crush on Egon; Rick Moranis, taking what would become the standard Moranis character and pushing it to eleven as the neighbor from hell who would have to attend finishing school just to reach socially awkward; and Ernie Hudson as the phlegmatic fourth Ghostbuster who believes whatever he has to believe to pay to rent.
But you really can’t say enough for Sigourney Weaver’s contribution to this movie, when she didn’t have a track record for comedy when this movie was made. She has to start the movie as the audience surrogate, the normal person who grounds the movie in some sort of reality, before committing completely to going 180 degrees in the other direction. Throwing herself like she does into some of the crazier shit in the latter half of the movie is the mark of an actress with a zeal for her craft.
But, as an aside, for a classical musician to be able to afford a Manhattan apartment that nice in the real world, she would either have to inherit money or have a side gig as a high-priced call girl. I’m just saying.
This is one of those rare movies that just simply works on every level, and I think that’s a result of Aykroyd, Ramis, Murray, and director Ivan Reitman just going ahead and making the movie they wanted, with no focus groups or other marketing nonsense coming into play. You have to give Columbia Pictures props for letting them go with their vision, but it worked out pretty well for them.