Retrospective: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 11 July 2016

Retrospective: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)

Retrospective: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)

Paul Feig's all-female reboot of GHOSTBUSTERS is about to arrive this week. But before that, let's take a step back to the past with the first two GHOSTBUSTERS which screened three decades ago during the 80s.


Retrospective: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)
Summer 1984. It was the year where Hollywood produced some of the most iconic summer movies of all-time such as INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, GREMLINS and THE KARATE KID. Then there's GHOSTBUSTERS, a supernatural comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starred a trio of SNL alums -- Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis -- as three parapsychologists specialising in catching ghosts.

Released on June 8, 1984, GHOSTBUSTERS was an overnight sensation as the movie hit No. 1 at the U.S. box office for seven consecutive weeks. Although GHOSTBUSTERS was eventually dethroned by PURPLE RAIN during the July 27-29 weekend, the movie managed to stay on and show longevity throughout the rest of the year. With a total gross of US$229.2 million, GHOSTBUSTERS peaked at No. 2 behind BEVERLY HILLS COP in the all-time domestic box office in 1984. After the movie was re-released in 1985 and again, in 2014 for the 30th Anniversary, GHOSTBUSTERS made a lifetime domestic gross of US$242.2 million. Given its production budget at US$30 million, the movie was undeniably a huge financial success.

The creative success of GHOSTBUSTERS was, of course, largely thanks to Dan Aykroyd who originally conceived the idea back in 1979 after he read an article published by the American Society of Psychical Research about quantum physics and parapsychology. Aykroyd wanted his idea as a vehicle for himself and his friend, John Belushi who previously collaborated in THE BLUE BROTHERS (1980). Back then, Aykroyd's original script was different than what we all saw in the final product. Apart from John Belushi, he also wanted Eddie Murphy to play as one of three main protagonists. The concept was far more ambitious, which centred on a trio of ghost hunters from the future travelling through time and multiple dimensions battling against apparitions. Even the famous Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, which could be seen during the climactic finale in the finished movie, was supposed to appear midway in the script. However, his original idea was deemed too expensive by the studio as it would cost US$300 million to produce. Then in 1982, John Belushi tragically died of drug overdose at the young age of 33. Following his untimely death, Aykroyd subsequently forced to revise his script while the outrageous budget of US$300 million was slashed down to US$30 million instead. From there, everything had to be rushed to meet the June 1984 deadline. With only 12 months given, it was nevertheless a huge undertaking since Aykroyd alongside his eventual co-writer Harold Ramis and director Ivan Reitman have to complete the script, shooting and special effects. The late John Belushi, who supposed to play Peter Venkman, ended up given to Bill Murray. Still, Aykroyd and Ramis managed to find an ingenious way to cast John Belushi (in a spiritual sense, of course) as a fat and ravenous ghostly blob called Slimer.

Retrospective: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)

A rushed job like this would often spell disaster, especially since GHOSTBUSTERS needed a lot of work in the special effect department. However, what could be an impossible task was proven otherwise as the makers of GHOSTBUSTERS successfully put everything together. The rest, as they said, is history.

Three decades since the original release, GHOSTBUSTERS remains an enduring classic till today. Not only the movie was a pop-culture icon, but also a quintessential summer movie that combined two genres successfully: supernatural and comedy.

The supernatural element alone, which inspired from the classic horror comedies of Abbott and Costello as well as Bob Hope, has a terrific novelty factor: a group of paranormal exterminators chasing ghosts with their ghost-catching devices known as proton packs. Even by today's standard, such novelty remains as iconic as ever and definitely one of its kinds ever seen in the cinematic history. The effects are also top-notch. From the memorable opening scene in the New York Public Library where the librarian (Alice Drummond) experienced a strange case of floating books, flying card catalogues and the elderly ghost to the climactic finale atop Dana Barrett's (Sigourney Weaver) apartment, every visual trick that combined the use of optical and practical effects are both fascinating and immersive. While it's obvious that some of the effects look dated by today's standard, the overall visual prowess still manages to stand the test of time. Keep in mind, these are all done before the convenient era of CGI. 

Retrospective: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)

Another major part of the movie's success is the witty script written by Aykroyd and Ramis. Not to mention most of the dialogues are quotable, with several now-memorable lines such as "We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!" and "This man has no dick". The cast is spot-on perfect. As Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler, Aykroyd and Ramis proved to be a great comedy duo working both onscreen as well as offscreen. The rest of the cast including Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis (as Dana's nerdy neighbour, Louis Tully), Ernie Hudson (as the new Ghostbusters recruit, Winston Zeddemore) and William Atherton (as the pain-in-the-neck lawyer, Walter Peck) all deliver strong supports to their respective roles.

But the biggest scene-stealer of all is none other than Bill Murray, who famously improvised everything as Peter Venkman. Already known for his earlier iconic characters including Carl Spackler in CADDYSHACK (1980) and Pvt. John Winger in STRIPES (1981), his role as Peter Venkman in GHOSTBUSTERS is among Murray's funniest performances ever committed.

Finally, the movie is also best remembered for Ray Parker, Jr.'s Oscar-nominated theme song of "Ghostbusters". After all, it was an infectiously catchy pop song which contained memorable lyrics such as "If There's Something Strange / In Your Neighbourhood / Who Ya Gonna Call? / Ghostbusters!" and "I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghosts".


Retrospective: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)
Following the huge success of GHOSTBUSTERS in 1984, it was inevitable that the studio (Columbia Pictures) demanded a sequel to be made. And so, five years later, director Ivan Reitman and the same creative team returned with the sequel simply titled as GHOSTBUSTERS II.

As in the first movie, the highly anticipated sequel was also released in June. Back then, it was a competitive summer movie season filled with numerous high-profile blockbusters such as INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, BATMAN and LETHAL WEAPON 2. At the beginning, GHOSTBUSTERS II was off to a promising start when the movie managed to open big at No. 1 with US$29.4 million at the U.S. box office. At the time of its release in 1989, it was the highest-grossing three-day opening weekend ever achieved in the domestic box office history. Unfortunately, poor word-of-mouth and lukewarm critical response quickly derailed the movie off the box office chart. By the second week, GHOSTBUSTERS II fell sharply at 53% and down to No. 3. The rest of the summer movie season was subsequently dominated by the phenomenal success of Tim Burton's BATMAN, and GHOSTBUSTERS II could only muster a total domestic gross of US$112 million. Even though the sequel remained a financial hit and also among the top-ten highest grossing movies in 1989, it was largely considered as a creative failure. Since then, GHOSTBUSTERS II is cited as one of the most disappointing sequels ever made in the Hollywood history.

Frankly, it's easy to see why. GHOSTBUSTERS II is nothing more than a tired rehash of the original. In fact, the sequel looks as if everything is hastily put together for the sake of cashing in the original movie's massive popularity. Gone are the sense of awe, creativity and wonder of the original that successfully combined supernatural and comedy genres.

Retrospective: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)

One of the biggest problems with this sequel is the lazy script itself. Sure, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd returns to pen the screenplay but their creative inputs are sadly reduced to auto-pilot modes. Instead of battling Gozer (Slavitza Jozan) who attempts to enter the real world from another dimension in the original, GHOSTBUSTERS II introduces a malevolent painting of the 16th-century tyrant named Vigo (Wilhelm von Homburg). His major plan is to kidnap and possess Dana's (Sigourney Weaver) little baby, Oscar (William T. Deutschendorf and Hank J. Deutschendorf II) with the help of a possessed Dr Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol). Then there's the "mood slime", which is actually a thick pink goo that able to control a person's mood negatively or positively. On paper, it sounds like a promising premise. But the execution is sloppy and lacks creative flair. While there are hints of frightening imagery such as the slime-possessed bathtub, such moments are few and far between.

Another major setback is the abrupt introduction of the sequel. In the first movie, the Ghostbusters became a national hero after they successfully saved New York City from the forces of evil. But five years later, the sequel suddenly reveals that the Ghostbusters no longer relevant and forgotten by people? Apparently, they were sued for property damage and subsequently gone out of business because people don't believe in ghosts anymore. This is evident during the opening scene where Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) attend to a birthday party and one of the kids called them "full of craps". No doubt it all feels as if the sequel wants to undo everything in the original and going back to square one. If that's not enough, almost every story beat replicates the original. For instance, the climactic finale basically rehashes the original's Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene with a walking Statue of Liberty across the New York City.

Then, as in the tradition of a blockbuster sequel where most movies would normally choose to go "bigger and/or more" route regardless of action or effects department, GHOSTBUSTERS II opted to stay the same like the original. Like the first movie, the ghost-busting action is  also limited to two major set-pieces. The middle scene where the Ghostbusters trying to catch the ghostly Scoleri Brothers in the courtroom? While it does deliver a brief moment of excitement, the scene still pales in comparison with the Sedgewick Hotel scene in the original. The final scene where the Ghostbusters encounter Vigo in the Manhattan Museum of Art? Instead of a potentially epic confrontation, the scene ends with a whimper.

Retrospective: GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) and GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)

As for the recurring main characters, they are still funny but basically more of the same. Ironically, the supporting actors fare better this time around. Rick Moranis is given ample room to shine as Louis Tully. Whether he defend the Ghostbusters as their lawyer or trying to be a hero armed with proton pack, Moranis gives an overall wonderful performance. Peter MacNicol is hilariously over-the-top as Dr Janosz Poha while Harris Yulin shows up in a worthwhile cameo as Judge Stephen Wexler.

Of course, no Ghostbusters movie would be complete without a theme song. While Bobby Brown's "On Our Own" may not as memorable as Ray Parker, Jr.'s "Ghostbusters" in the first movie, it remains a catchy pop song nonetheless.

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