In honor of the July 15 release of the new film, Deadshirt movie editor and known Ghostbusters obsessive Max Robinson attempts to pseudo-scientifically analyze the original 1984 film in a four part commentary.
0:00 – 0:39
The opening sequence of this movie is really interesting. Let’s talk about the first thing we see: Elmer Bernstein’s spooky score over an iconic New York location: the main branch of the New York Public Library on a weekday afternoon. Pretty instantaneously, the film establishes a very specific tone that’s a mix of the mundane and the supernatural.
The camera comes to rest on one of it’s famous stone lions, a nice bit of foreshadowing for the Terror Dog statues that sit on top of Dana’s apartment building.
0:40 – 2: 25
The first actual scene of Ghostbusters is so good that it’s almost a mini-movie in its own right. We follow Alice the librarian from the reading room down into the basement, and the creepiness of this scene ramps up very, very smoothly as her ghostly counterpart tries to get her attention. She doesn’t notice the books floating across the shelves, and it takes her a moment to realize that the card catalog is literally exploding behind her. This poor librarian tries to run from her unseen assailant, but she gets lost, with the library shelves forming an inescapable maze for her. And then RIGHT at the moment she sees whatever “it” is, the drum machine of Ray Parker Jr.’s theme cuts in and we’re greeted by the Ghostbusters logo and title card.
The theme song cutting in is what stops this sequence from being a full-on horror scene, kind of acting like a needed palate cleanser for the next scene.
2:43 – 5:23
One of the things that I think makes Ghostbusters such an enduring film is that there’s so much depth to the world Reitman, Ramis and Aykroyd have come up with. Before we even meet Peter Venkman inside his office in the fictional “Weaver Hall” of an unnamed Columbia University, the movie shows us he’s a big asshole by virtue of the “VENKMAN BURN IN HELL” graffiti on his door.
Peter’s introduction here is a very economic bit of exposition. It establishes, in a really funny way, that Venkman is a sort of con man whose interest in the paranormal is sort of a pretense for picking up women and fucking with people. He’s totally disinterested in the male subject’s (seemingly) psychic ability to get one of the cards right.
There’s some really understated bit acting from the two students in the experiment here, too: notice how the guy on the right laughs a little when Jennifer tells Peter he’s holding up a star, then his expression when Venkman lies about what’s on the card.
How good is the shitty wink that Venkman gives Jennifer right before he shocks this guy?
“I’m studying the effect of negative reinforcement on ESP ability.” You know, technically Venkman’s telling the truth here. Dig how Bernstein’s score plays up Venkman’s whole schtick with Jennifer here when he’s leading her on.
5:28 – 6:40
Ray’s first appearance here is also a nice, to the point character introduction. We KNOW Ray’s a true believer in the ghost stuff and his comment about “that blank tape, the one we erased yesterday” sells you on the fact that these guys are all broke schmucks.
Peter’s exasperated parroting suggests that this isn’t the first time he’s been pulled away by Ray to investigate a false alarm.
6:42 – 8:19
Peter’s pretty firmly established as the team skeptic here, with his lines here implying he doesn’t buy into any of this.
“That would have worked if you hadn’t stopped me.” Ramis plays Egon with an amazing dry wit; all three of these guys have amazing chemistry together.
You’ll notice Peter does pretty much all of the talking here when they’re speaking with the librarian and the administrator, our first inkling that the only thing he really brings to the team is the fact that he knows how to schmooze.
8:50 – 9:59
The supernatural history and mythology of Ghostbusters is fleshed out in a really subtle way that I like. Ray’s reference to being witness to an unexplained sponge vibration earlier, “the Philadelphia Mass Disturbance of 1947” that he name checks when they find the books. Throwaway details like this make all of this feel sort of authentic. I think it helps that Aykroyd legitimately believes in stuff like ghosts and aliens.
Pay attention to how well this movie sets up recurring gags: in this case, Peter getting covered in slime.
10:00 – 12:23
This scene really cements that Peter’s role here is the “face man” of the Ghostbusters because Ray and Egon are too geeky to totally function. Peter SMACKING THE CALCULATOR OUT OF EGON’S HAND is an amazingly underrated gag.
Ray’s master plan here is to yell “GET HER” at the ghost librarian, which backfires spectacularly as she turns into a giant ghoul. The ghost being a librarian’s a fun detail because it’s more unspoken implying of history (she was, obviously, someone who worked here years ago). The Ghostbusters make first contact with the supernatural and they of course blow it.
12:55 – 14:39
Egon’s weakness for junk food is a nice character detail.
In classic “slobs vs. snobs” fashion, our heroes are kicked off campus by a snooty dean. His spitting hatred of Venkman in particular is marvelous.
14:43 – 15:45
Anyone else ever get the vibe that Venkman’s about to break out into song here during his pep talk with Ray?
Amazing cut to Ray, Peter and Egon leaving the bank after Peter’s conned Ray into taking three mortgages on his family home. Aykroyd plays Ray’s kind of innocent haplessness so perfectly in this film, there’s a real older brother/little brother dynamic between him and Peter.
You have to love that Peter, when confronted with definitive proof of ghosts, immediately sees a business opportunity first and foremost.
The gag that they’re stuck with the firehouse because Ray thinks the pole is cool and he’s the one with all the startup capital is such a simple, effective bit. Aykroyd’s really an overgrown kid in this movie.
16:45 – 18:35
55 Central Park West! The most important secondary location in the whole film, which we’re introduced to with a lovely matte painting shot. Peep that Terror Dog gargoyle.
No obligatory giant celery stalk in Dana’s groceries, but we do get a big head of lettuce. Did you know Dana’s building here is a (mostly) real location right next to Central Park? Notice the later-crushed-by-marshmallow man-foot church to the left.
Dana living in a pretty well to do penthouse is a big departure from the down and dirty college offices and cobweb covered firehouse we just left. Dana, a seemingly wealthy concert cellist, lives in a pretty different strata of New York City compared to the fairly blue collar Ghostbusters.
The low-key running gag of Louis locking himself out of his apartment starts right at the end here.
18:36 – 20:15
The deliberate shoddiness of the Ghostbusters’ commercial, especially Egon’s stiffness, really sells you on how this is like a bad local car commercial or something.
Dana Barrett buys Stay Puft brand marshmallows. The way they set up Mr. Stay-Puft in the background of the movie is clever. Why is Dana buying marshmallows anyway? Is she making ambrosia salad? Does she just snack on them?
The self-cooking eggs are such an incredible practical effects sequence, if only because even TODAY you look at this and wonder how they did it.
REFRIGERATOR DOG! Ghostbusters balances lots of straightforward scares (eggs cracking open and frying on their own) with some surprisingly sophisticated ones (an interdimensional portal to a demon dog temple inside a refrigerator).
20:16 – 23:59
Egon emerging from under Janine’s desk is probably the raunchiest gag in the whole movie. Wait, no, I forgot about the blow job ghost. Janine’s totally one-sided flirting with Egon is charming.
Check out at 22: 24 how Bill Murray almost catches his foot on that door running over.
“Spates Catalog.” “Tobin’s Spirit Guide.” More subtle world building. I love the idea that there are ur-texts for the supernatural in the universe of the film.
24:00 – 28:11
Peter is taking samples of the air here, something that isn’t really clear until you’ve watched this movie 50 times.
Weaver really is a crucial element to making this whole movie work. As funny as Murray is here, Weaver’s really pushing this scene forward with her growing disdain toward Peter once she makes him as a huckster. Venkman seems kind of caught off guard when she (accurately) compares him to a game show host. The fact that Dana completely sees through Peter’s shtick is a pretty important part of what makes their weird little courtship work in the film.
Louis locking himself out a second time, then kind of awkwardly staring at the ground is a great button on this scene.
Check back next week for Part Two.