Ghostbusters was catnip for the average adolescent boy, which is what I was when this came out. Viewed as an adult, it qualifies more as a guilty pleasure.
Bill Murray’s wiseass hero, Dr. Peter Venkman, was instantaneously a childhood hero for me, mostly because he had mastered the sort of cleverly dismissive snarkiness that I was just learning to speak and thought was necessary for marking my teen territory. It doesn’t matter who Venkman is talking to: the school administrator who kicks him and his fellow paranormal activity researchers (Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) off campus; the EPA tightwad (William Atherton) who wants to shut their Ghostbusters project down; or any of the various spooks, ghouls and Godzilla-sized monsters they encounter. None of them are even considered worthy of being adversaries; they’re just material for a smarmy joke.
A surprising amount of Ghostbusters is dead air.
As an adult, I’m more inclined to agree with Ghostbusters client Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), who early on identifies Venkman as a “game show host.” Actually, Murray is less accommodating than that. A surprising amount of Ghostbusters is dead air, as everyone – including director Ivan Reitman – stands around watching the star, waiting for him to lob something in. He does, and it’s almost always funny, but gone is the sort of amiable camaraderie of Stripes, an earlier Murray comedy that was also co-written by Ramis and directed by Reitman.
This isn’t to dismiss the onscreen contributions of Aykroyd and Ramis, who get a fair number of solid one-liners themselves and do an even better job of incorporating them into the story at hand. (My favorite is Ramis’ deadpan “I’m terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.”) Even more committed is Rick Moranis as Dana’s neighbor, a manic, socially awkward goofball – and that’s before he becomes possessed by some sort of ancient demon dog.
I certainly understand why Ghostbusters is near and dear to so many – if for nothing else, it deserves to be fondly remembered for bringing the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man into the world, and putting that maniacal grin on his face. Yet if the film doesn’t quite hold up in the way other movie touchstones from my childhood do (Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), it’s because Ghostbusters suffers from a touch of arrested development. The movie’s juvenile concerns are its only ones. That doesn’t make it a failure, just something short of a classic.