Guantanamo for Ghosts: Rewatching Ghostbusters

I was late getting to the cinema to see the Ghostbusters re-release. As I rushed into the theatre I realised I still had on my enormous backpack, with straps over both shoulders. To the half-dozen other attendees, I may have looked like I had dressed up for the movie, like one of those special people you see going into the cinema on their own in the morning. I was on my own. And it was the morning.

When the film started, I was appalled to see that this was not some fancy-pants digital remaster, but a bog standard print. Disgusting. I cared for at least 30 seconds. And how was the film itself? Very good fun, just not quite as good as I remember. This isn’t one of those ‘revisiting a childhood favourite’ situations; I was about 26 when I last saw Ghostbusters.

I guess I’m just pickier now, and some parts of Ghostbusters just aren’t very well realised. Bill Murray’s humour falls a little flat. It had never occurred to me before that he might be improvising some of his lines. Many of them don’t seem as funny or as cool nowadays.

Peck appears out of nowhere like the Joker in The Dark Knight. The film makes out that Peck’s anger was caused by Venkman’s disrespect , but he was pissed off from the very beginning. He appears on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (who are never represented in any other way) and causes this massive problem that nearly destroys New York City. He serves Gozer very well without ever meaning to. So much so that his role would make more sense if he was part of Gozer’s plan. When he does get the storage facility shut down, he doesn’t even have any colleagues with him, just a cop and a workie. William Atherton does a great job making Peck loathsome and horrible, particularly in such a one-dimensional role.

The storage facility concept isn’t explored to my satisfaction. It’s not even visualised, not really. All we see is a wall with a panel on it, and we’re told that the storage lies behind it. That’s too abstract for me. I want to see it. With my eyeballs. Don’t tell me that there’s this big box with hundreds of ghosts in it and I can’t even see what’s going on inside. This ‘prison’ begs so many questions. Do the ghosts know that they’re trapped? Do they communicate with each other?  Do ghosts have human rights?  Are the more human ones scared of, say, Slimer? Have some become resigned to the fact they’ve been imprisoned? Is it like Guantanamo for ghosts?

When Peck tries to shut off the storage facility, the GBs understandably argue. But only in vague ways, speculating about potential problems. At no point does someone say “We’ve got hundreds of ghosts in there, if you switch it off they’ll all come pouring out”. Even if Peck doesn’t believe in ghosts, wouldn’t that be worth a try?

Until Winston appeared I had forgotten he was even in the film. By the time it finished I understood why: he is pointless. I heard that a bigger star was in line for the role, so presumably they would be there for presence alone. But Winston hangs around with nothing to do.

Sigourney Weaver’s Dana might be the most believable character of the lot. How she changes from her normal, gangly, intimidating self to the sexy Zool is an impressive display of her acting ability. That she would stay in the haunted flat she abandoned just to escape Venkman’s advances seems a bit silly however, considering how unconvinced she was that the flat was back to normal.

The Zool possession does lead to some of the best dialogue in the film. Dana/Zool says to Venkman “I want you inside of me” and he responds “There’s at least two people in there already”. Nicely done.

Slimer is an underused character, something that the cartoon recognised. I’m not too sure how he could be further used in the film, but his appearance was disappointingly brief.

My favourite moment on this viewing, the one that I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face during, was the Marshmallow Man’s appearance. Even for a film full of wild ideas, Mr Stay Puft is a moment of demented brilliance. The brief shots of him between buildings, like the glimpses of a serial killer in a slasher film, made his full appearance all the better. If I were to die, I’d like to be cuddled to death by the Marshmallow Man.

Egon was very quick in deciding to cross the streams. They shot the Marshmallow Man once. He burns, looks a bit miffed, and starts to climb the building. I’m not saying it doesn’t look bad, but the GBs didn’t even take another shot at him before they decided to do the one thing they shouldn’t. Glad it worked out okay. Phew. And crossing the streams: if it’s so dangerous, isn’t there a better way to take down ghosts than trying to catch them in a crossfire? Every ghost take-down is one bad shot away from disaster.

Anyone with any sense gasps at the dreaded ‘R’ word – remake. I’m not against the idea generally. It’s poor execution that has resulted in so many bad remakes, not just the idea of redoing it. There are many reasons why a Ghostbusters remake would be a good idea, and a terrible one. With modern special effects and a stronger script, a new Ghostbusters could be a cinematic spectacle. However, there is a rare, captured magic to the original. Any dull moment or dubious casting would be magnified under the comparison to the original. Although at least a new one could examine that goddam storage facility.


2 thoughts on “Guantanamo for Ghosts: Rewatching Ghostbusters

  1. As I recall, the cartoon shows us the interior of the containment facility. It’s actually a vast featureless space criss-crossed with a laser grid; somewhat at odds with the concrete blocked exterior. An artificial pocket universe created by Ray and Egon? Or are the ghosts compressed down like ghoulish MP3s to fit? Whatever the case may be, the captured ex-humans have a great deal of elbow room, and are free to move around and fraternize with the other prisoners.

    In another instance of “Ghostbusters” brilliance, the writers foresaw the ethical dilemma posed by the practice of ‘busting. You’ll recall during the business-is-booming montage, there appeared an Atlantic magazine cover with caricatures of Ray, Egon and Peter. The headlined story: “The Politics of the Next Dimension: Do Ghosts Have Civil Rights?”

    And even though the film’s meant to be a comedy, that really is an excellent question. For the majority of standard-issue haunting, non-Zuul-demonic ghosts, what IS their crime, really? Trespassing? Disturbing the peace? None of these would rate prison time in the mortal world. Oh, I guess the polters and beings like Slimer who can affect their environment could really damage things if left unchecked… but it’s interesting to speculate when the Ghostbusters themselves (well, maybe not Peter) would start having qualms about what they do for a living, once they’d attained a measure of comfort and financial security.

    Oddly enough, I think Winston would’ve been the first to raise the issue, because of his Christian beliefs. That may have been his character’s intended angle when the screenplay was being written, as the other Ghostbusters are scientists. But exploring that probably opened an unpleasant can of worms for the story regarding religion; even the scene with the cardinal is curiously muted on this point… though it’s also possible that (like Peck) the city bigwigs all considered the Ghostbusters to be a bunch of con men, perpetrating a grand supernatural-themed hoax.

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