Monday, June 4, 2012

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts

This weekend, I watched Ghostbusters for the first time.  That's right.  Even though this movie came out way back in 1984, a year that I was most certainly alive, and nearly 30 years have passed since then, this is the first time I've managed to see this film that ranks 28th on AFI's list of "100 Years...100 Laughs."

So, what did I think?

Well, first the good stuff:

I was originally planning on watching the movie in the background while I worked on other things, but I got into it enough that I quit trying to multitask and just sat back and watched the movie.  It was fun, and silly, and with an engaging enough plot that things stayed interesting.

It was also fun to see the original context of some lines that I've heard quoted over the years.  I've played a number of video games that involved spell graphics that look like streams of light being channeled, and someone will inevitably yell, "Don't cross the streams!"  I now finally understand the movie reference!

The interesting stuff:

For me, the most interesting part of the movie was looking at who the bad guys were.  I'm not talking about the ghosts.  No, I'm talking about the human enemies of Peter Venkman and his crew--specifically, Columbia University and the EPA.  I was fascinated that the EPA would have any jurisdiction over what the Ghostbusters were doing, for starters, which made me then think about how the film really represented the politically conservative, entrepreneurial spirit of the 1980s.  As much as it is a story of four guys beating back the forces of supernatural evil, Ghostbusters is also the story of an entrepreneurial start-up company that overcomes the forces of research standards and workplace safety to achieve financial success.  Sure, that's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but given the scene early in the film when Stantz remortgages his house at a 19% interest rate as a way of financing the company, I don't think it's out of the question to read the film as a love song to capitalism.

The bad stuff:

What was the most unfortunate part of the movie for me, I think, was the obviously dated way it treated gender and race.  I nearly turned the film off when, in the first few minutes, Venkman asked a woman who had just seen a ghost if she were menstruating--I really couldn't handle a movie filled with jokes like that.  And while those sorts of jokes were mercifully few and far between (there was another similar moment when Winston Zeddemore, the only non-white member of the ghostbusting team, makes some sort of joke about getting "scared white" or something like that), the film's representation of women, and particularly Sigourney  Weaver, was very frustrating.  I really think she spent 3/4 of her screen time posing with her mouth slightly open, head thrown back, and hair sexily tousled.

I recently read a 2010 interview with Bill Murray in which he talked about whether the rumors of a Ghostbusters 3 are true.  Now, I haven't seen Ghostbusters 2, so I don't know if (or how) things were different in that movie, but I do have to say that if a Ghostbusters 3 were to be made (which looks like it won't happen, at least from what I've read), seeing the updates that would have to be made to make the movie culturally relevant for today would be fascinating.  Not only is the political and economic climate of the 2010s quite different than it was 30 years ago, but some of the defining character traits of the main characters would have to change--or at least be addressed in a much more direct way.  It would take quite a bit of subtlety to make it work, I think--and given the decidedly un-subtle nature of the Ghostbusters movie, perhaps it's a film best left unmade.