Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Overthinking Ghostbusters

The 1984 movie Ghostbusters has special significance for me. It's part of my childhood and has been a hugely influential pop culture reference for me. It's up there with a handful of classic movies from the 80s which I have a great fondness for: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), Back to the Future (1985) and The Goonies (1986).

I went to the cinema twice to watch it. The first was for my 10th birthday when it came out over here in the UK in 1985. Despite my mum insisting that she took me and my mates to go and see David Lynch's 'Dune', we convinced her to let us see Ghostbusters instead. I'm glad we didn't go for mum's choice as Dune was a three-hour unfathomable sci-fi fantasy based on an even more unfathomable (at least to a 10 year old) book about spices, worms and intergalactic politics. No, nerds fighting ghosts with lasers was much more down our street.

As soon as it came out on VHS to rent I got it out and watched it over and over. The same again when it was shown on TV. It was recorded onto tape with the mandatory GHOSBUSTERS: DO NOT RECORD OVER warning scrawled on it. I remember they showed it to us at school in a big hall during some teacher strike or something and it was obvious none of the staff had actually vetted it for bad language. There's quite a lot of sexual innuendo in it too, which I only noticed later on in life, but that must've gone over our heads. The swearing, however, didn't - much to the embarrassment of our teachers.

Me and a friend even made our own comic-book version, 'Bogbusters'. It retold the Ghostbusters story, but the heroes were fighting spectral toilets that had a tendency to attack people with, er sewage. It was purile childish nonsense - but fun. We even sent it to the BBC in the hope that they would make it into a TV programme, but sadly we were turned down. A hard lesson in the life of young artists unappreciated for their art.
Such was my admiration for the movie, when I discovered a sequel was coming out five years later I leapt out of my cinema seat and cheered when I saw the trailer (much to the embarrassment of my friend who was sitting next to me). It was never going to be as good as the original, and it pretty much retells the plot of the first movie, but Ghostbusters II is still worth watching.

I had always regarded Ghostbusters as something of a guilty pleasure. A large slice of mainstream silliness with timeless jokes but not a great deal of substance. That was until I came across 'Overthinking Ghostbusters', a website devoted to critiquing the movie in minute detail. The author's position is that Ghostbusters is possibly one of the greatest movies of the twentieth century. Certainly, one of the greatest comedies of all time. Quite a claim.

You have to humour this guy to start with, but when he starts unpacking the various elements of the film it's hard to disagree with him. Admittedly, I am biased, but it's clear this guy has done his homework and isn't making things up.

Here are a just a few of the many gems that I hadn't realised or noticed before (some which are, admittedly, pretty obvious):
- The name of Dana, the female lead character, is a merged version of one of the writers' names: Dan Ackroyd.
- When Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) has an idea about how to defeat Gozer, the enemy, there is a lit lightbulb on the left of the frame.
- The film has subtle feminist undertones and most of the male characters (apart from the GBs themselves) are jerks.
- Statues are a recurring image in the film and are symbolic of an evil presence watching the protagonists.
- Saint Jerome is mentioned at the beginning of the film by the librarian attacked by a ghost. St Jerome is the patron saint of ... librarians.

There is an argument that you can overthink any movie e.g. finding details that relate to the situation or characters on screen all over the place, so you could easily put horrendous films like 'Batman and Robin' or 'Gigli' on a par with Citizen Kane if you really tried. It's a fair point, but I think most people, even those that don't like Ghostbusters, if comparing some of today's CGI-laden half-baked movies to the 1984 comedy, will agree that they don't make 'em like they used to. And you can't deny the fact that Ghostbusters is one of the most successful comedies of all time and has become permanently lodged into the Western cultural consciousness.

So if like me you have fond memories of this film, I encourage you to have a read of 'Overthinking Ghostbusters' and enjoy the fact that one of your favourite 80s flicks is far deeper than most people realise.

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