Director: Ivan Reitman
Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver
Have I Seen it Before: Do you want me to perform it for you?
Did I Like It: Top five, likely. Top ten, definitely.
Ghostbusters fandom is a divided place now, it seems. If you like the original films, the 2016 remake is akin to sacrilege, inciting a series of dumb opinions, many of which coming from people who have never seen the new film. Similarly, to those who really found something to attach themselves to in the new film, the original is less thrilling.
To wit, the question I come to as I start writing this review: Is it possible to like both the original and brand new Ghostbusters? I enjoyed the new film, and never once felt threatened by its existence. This may be one of the prime pieces of evidence supporting the notion that I’m not an entitled man baby, and just like funny movies about people catching ghosts. And yet, the original film is one of my all-time favorites. I hope it isn’t perceived as sexist to prefer the original, because I’m of the mind that ghostbusting must know no borders of race, creed, or gender.
Now that we have that out of the way, I will restrict my comments to the original film.
There’s something special about Bill Murray. With many comic actors—indeed, many of those appear in this film—there is a period where they are at their funniest. Not so with Murray, as while he changes as the years go by, each version of Murray is equally watchable. That being said, the Murray enjoyed by filmgoers in the 80s through the mid-90s is peak Murray. He’s aspirational. Some people my age might have wanted to be James Bond or Michael Jordan, but the kind of people I would most get along with wanted to be like any Bill Murray character, even if they couldn’t quite admit. Laid back, but charismatic. Funny, but no one’s fool. Loved—even if begrudgingly so—by the best of people, and detested by the worst. For someone trying to get by on his wits, Bill Murray is the peak of manliness, and no more so than in this movie.
There’s an interesting extension to the above thought that I realized during this viewing. Any role during this same period that Bill Murray played, Chevy Chase could have played as well, and vice versa. However, when Murray plays the role, he is the heroic scamp, where if Chase portrayed the character, he’d be an irredeemable asshole. If Murray had been in Fletch (1985), it would have been an even better film, and if Chase had played Dr. Peter Venkman, the movie would have suffered within this alternate universe.
While the movie lives and dies by Murray’s presence, the rest of the cast helps elevate the movie to a true classic worthy of eventual remake. In my deep Ghostbuster fandom, I once had occasion to read the original screenplay by Aykroyd and Ramis. The script is fine, but the movie as we have all come to enjoy it is not on the page, it is in the performances. This film is a brilliant low-key comedy wrapped up in the trappings of a summer blockbuster. The blockbuster elements will fade (and in the case of the special effects, already have), but the film will live forever, owing to the bizarre, ineffable alchemy that is the true fun of the movie.