Just like most cinephiles out there, many of the movies I’ve seen throughout my life have a way of linking themselves permanently to specific memories or time periods. Sometimes the memories that resurface are expected ones that are often remembered fondly, and other times they pull forward a time and place I had otherwise forgotten. I was excited when I read Ghostbusters was being re-released in theaters for the 30th Anniversary, not because it had special meaning, but because I jump at every chance to have a theater experience with a movie I enjoy. Recently, the trailer for the new fall movie St. Vincent sparked a conversation with a friend about our favorite Bill Murray movies, which filled me with nostalgia and the desire to hunt down copies of some of my favorites such as Groundhog Day and The Man Who Knew Too Much. So it only seemed fitting that I take advantage of my sparked Murray enthusiasm, even though I couldn’t remember the last time I watched Ghostbusters from beginning to end, since I usually just pause my channel surfing to catch 15 or 20 minutes of it during the rounds the movie usually makes on TV at least once or twice a month.
Imagine my surprise when I settled into my seat this week to watch Ghostbusters and, about ten seconds into the run time, I was immediately transported to my first watch of the movie. That experience occurred when I was 8 or 9 years old, lying on my father’s hideous floral couch, giggling over the old lady ghost reading books and the cute green blob that eats everyone’s food, until I became completely terrified that giant, hairy arms were going to reach through the couch cushions and grab me. I had nightmares for weeks about that gargoyle dog with the red demon eyes, and my old night light had to be put back to use for awhile. It’s funny now to be able to vividly draw up that memory of the raw, childhood fear I associated with this movie when I was young. Needless to say, my viewing experience was quite different this time around.
Now, my fear-informed memories have been paired with those that adhere to laughter, albeit a different kind of laughter than the harmless looking ghosts I giggled over when I was a child. My boyfriend and I surprisingly had the theater to ourselves, so we talked freely, laughed loudly, and maybe even danced a little, as if the theater were our living room. And since I was paying attention rather than catching glimpses as I was doing dishes or writing emails (like I would have been doing if I really had been watching at home), I finally realized how genuinely hilarious and entertaining this movie really is.
The best part about the comedy in this movie is that in comes in different forms, particularly surprising for a collection of jokes and gags that has aged 30 years. The unintentional funny moments stem from the 30-year old special effects that once created the movie’s scares, Sigourney Weaver’s big hair, along with her transformation into a ghost-possessed sexpot. The scene where Dana is snatched up by a beastly ghost in her chair now produces a delightful giggly reaction rather than a petrified one. The fact that the big budget effects of the 80’s are now laughably bad doesn’t detract from the viewing experience, it enhances it tenfold. It makes this movie even more endearing, because we remember how awesome it seemed then. So awesome, in fact, that it was nominated for Best Visual Effects the year it was released. The effects that created sparkly leotard wearing, red eyed Zool and the Stay Puft Marshallow Man earned an Oscar nomination. I don’t know about you, but that makes me happy.
On the other side of the coin, the intentional comedy laced in Ghostbusters, anchored by its all star comedic cast, has proven to be timeless and even more raucously funny than it was in 1984 (I’m guessing here. I wasn’t born yet). Bill Murray was coming into his own and building his identity as an actor, and the deadpan sarcasm and one-liners that we’ve come to associate with him carry even more weight in laughs now, because they’re nostalgic laughs. Because this was when he really started to come into his own. His portrayal Peter Venkman is an embodiment of what makes him so funny, with his bored smugness and unwarranted confidence in his abilities to woo women and kick some ghost ass. Venkman never fails to be impressed with himself, from his ability to seduce his students to his success is yanking a tablecloth off a dinner table while keeping the flowers standing.
Though we want to remember it as such, this is far from a case of Bill Murrray carrying this film on his own though; his best moments rely on the chemistry he has with the rest of the cast. Dan Aykroyd’s writing along with his own uninhibited enthusiasm as Raymond Stantz creates lighthearted laughs that sometime stem from merely a shared glance between the two, and it’s all balanced Harold Remis’s always serious depiction of Spengler, who might be the real ladies man after all.
30 years after it’s initial release, Ghostbusters proves itself as one of those rare movies that only improves with age, and hopefully its revived time in the theaters will create new memories for this generation. In 30 more years I hope to be sitting in the the theater again with my popcorn, watching the old lady ghost read her book, being transported to this moment right now, laughing even harder and loving it even more.