Throwback Thursday: ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984) masterfully mixes genres as it chronicles a struggling small business (Movie review)


hirty-five years later, “Ghostbusters” (1984) stands as a master class in how to smoothly mix genres. Bill Murray is consistently in a wry comedy while everyone else is his straight man, and the film delivers lots of laughs with this structure. The gothic schlock horror, taking full advantage of real New York City architecture, is mesmerizing. The composited special effects of Slimer, the animated gargoyles and of course the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man are so 1980s, but in a good way.

Playing underneath all that, the entity standing in the way of the Ghostbusters stopping Gozer’s destruction of Earth is the Environmental Protection Agency. Based on fears of what might happen rather than any evidence, EPA official Peck (William Atherton) shuts down the power to the Ghostbusters’ ghost-containment cell, which releases all the ghosts and opens a dimensional gateway for Gozer. Writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (who play Ghostbusters Raymond and Spengler) and director Ivan Reitman deliver a scathing critique of government muscle-flexing with this extreme example of the EPA shutting down a business the people desperately need.

Concerns with real-life issues and the ways government impacts daily life are prevalent throughout the screenplay. Consider: The team builds their business after losing their federal science grant, Raymond takes out an atrociously unfavorable loan in order to start the company, Winston (Ernie Hudson) has money and job concerns, and accountant Louis (Rick Moranis) gets business-expense write-offs for throwing a party for clients.

“Ghostbusters” delivers a scathing critique of government muscle-flexing with this extreme example of the EPA shutting down a business the people desperately need.

Without sacrificing its delicious cynicism, “Ghostbusters” builds to a happy ending by showing what can happen if private business, government (in the form of a supportive mayor, won over by the notion of saving thousands of registered voters), and citizens come together against common foe. This origin story for the team (which leads to a second movie in 1989 and an announced third film in 2020) is organic, as we see it grow to the point where they have cheering fans and — from a moviegoers’ perspective — a far-too-catchy theme song.

The genre that most stands out for me, though, is comedy. A lot of it is subtle, clever and adult-oriented, and it comes through dry one-liners – not exclusively from Murray’s Venkman, although he gets the best ones. I think Sigourney Weaver is cracking a character-breaking smile in some scenes with Murray, who plays a pushy love interest whose persistence wins the woman over in the fashion of simpler cinematic times.

Considering that “Ghostbusters” later became a Saturday morning cartoon, this is a notably adult movie, with sexually oriented dialog and foreboding ancient lore, even though it’s making fun of those types of stories. Blending the two notions in one exchange, Weaver’s Dana – possessed by Zuul – says she wants Venkman inside of her, and Venkman declines, noting that there are two or three people inside her already.

The broader comedy is often great, like when the team destroys a ballroom while trying to trap Slimer. It’s intercut with the ballroom attendant assuring his client the room will be ready in time, even as we hear sounds of tables, chairs and glassware being smashed to bits. Before that, the Ghostbusters walk through the lobby, assuring the building manager they will be discreet in securing the ghost. All around them, people are goggling at the team’s huge equipment packs and gear.

I think the climactic rooftop showdown lags and isn’t as funny as the rest of the film. Probably all of us who grew up in the 1980s feel like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man spends more time stomping through the streets than he actually does. What was an amazing spectacle at the time is less so now, and I still feel bad for the giant brand mascot because he looks so happy until the Ghostbusters roast him.

The slightly clunky ending aside, “Ghostbusters” stands as one of the most layered wide-audience blockbusters ever made, as it features comedy, horror and social commentary, and is written for adults while also drawing kids into its sphere with the action-figurey nature of the Ghostbusters and the cuteness of Slimer. Plus, there’s that dang inescapable theme song.

Click here for our review of “Gremlins.”