Welcome to 1984: The Greatest Year Part II – Electric Boogaloo, the Geek League of America’s 30th anniversary tribute to the iconic geek culture films of 1984. This series of in-depth, analytical, fun, and nostalgic essays on the year that brought us instant classics like Ghostbusters, The Terminator, Gremlins, and others serves as a sequel to our 1982: The Greatest Year articles. Like 1982, 1984 was a game-changing year for genre cinema, loaded with popcorn blockbusters, cult hits, and genre-defining masterpieces. Join Jeff and other members of the Geek League of America for a fond, and sometimes funny, look back at this monumental year in nerd culture history.
June 8, 1984. I remember it like it was…well, 30 years ago. A week or two before, I had partaken in one of my favorite film events of my life – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; a wondrous experience and the diving board into the crowded pool of one of the greatest movie summers of all time. So after a rollicking adventure with the greatest archeologist vs. the creepiest heart surgeon known to small Indian children, what could possibly be so memorable about June 8th? It was the day I knew I wanted, make that NEEDED, an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on my back.
This was the day Ghostbusters was launched upon the world.
Every single person has a list of favorite films for a multitude of random reasons. Nostalgia, flash, deep archetypes, giant robots. Whatever your reasoning, for most people in the summer of 1984 – Ghostbusters conquered all.
Here was a movie that had no reason to exist. Think about it. Before this landed, SNL comedians were not usually the first choices for a major film production. The cast consisted of the two morons from Stripes, a Blues brother, and an actress known more for slaughtering aliens than playing the girl / dog next door. It was centered around three heroes (poor Winston never really gets the credit he deserves) who are frankly not very heroic. It features ghosts, yet goes for laughs more than scares. It showcased a giant marshmallow man more akin to the Pillsbury Dough Boy than Darth Vader as a primary villain. This was not your typical summer blockbuster in 1984, or any other year prior.
But director Ivan Reitman had vision and Columbia Pictures had faith. Even after Eddie Murphy dropped out for Beverly Hills Cop (yes, he was originally cast as Winston) and the film had to be drastically rewritten, everyone onboard had faith that this could be something special. They had no idea how right they were nor how many cloudy childhoods their goofy film brightened.
I remember sitting with my mother and best friend in the theater, waiting for Ghostbusters to start. At this point, everyone already had the song ingrained in their minds yet had no idea what to expect. Who are we gonna call? Why would we call these guys? Why are they calling this a comedy? Aren’t ghosts supposed to be scary? What the hell is a proton pack?! Didn’t The Day After say nuclear energy was really, really bad?!
Once the lights went down, everything started to make sense and a lifetime adoration was born. How rare is it that a movie is this perfectly well-rounded and all-out FUN?! From the painfully simple logo (who would have thought a cheesy ‘No Ghosts Allowed’ symbol could be so infinitely memorable) to the ridiculously simple and infectious title song (CURSE YOU! Get outta my head, RAY PARKER, JR!) to a giant, gooey sailor wreaking havoc downtown – this is a rare example of a movie where everything just worked.
Looking at how such a classic came together is a story all itself: Let’s start with that painfully ludicrous concept: catching and holding onto an actual ghost – genius! The film started out as something much darker, as writer / star Dan Aykroyd envisioned a future where Ghostbusters were the last bastion of protection between heaven and hell. They fought ghosts in S.W.A.T.-type suits, were franchised around the country and used wands instead of guns. No doubt an interesting concept, but a pricey one in 1984. Director Ivan Reitman stated in his Ghostbusters commentary that Aykroyd’s original vision would cost roughly $300 million…in 1984 dollars! Harold Ramis was brought in to bring the project back to earth and the now-renowned story was put in place. Ivan Reitman and his fellow producers were actually in the process of adapting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when they got ahold of Aykroyd’s idea and decided this story needed to be told instead. With the right actors and tone, this could be gold.
Even the cast was a crazy mix of coincidences. John Belushi was originally in line to play Peter Venkman before his unfortunate passing. Bill Murray filled the slot with effortless charm, gleefully ad-libbed most of his lines, and created his most memorable role. John Candy was to play Louis, until he clashed with Reitman over his insistence to give Louis a German accent and throw in a pair of schnauzer dogs. Thankfully Rick Moranis arrived and took Louis from caricature to character in less than two hours, and managed to maintain our sympathy even as he turned into a giant terror dog rampaging Central Park. And, of course, Eddie Murphy dropping out caused them to rewrite Winston’s character from being a lead to a character that does not even arrive until mid-film.
The rest of the film is full of pitch perfect casting: Sigourney Weaver having to downplay that she is the toughest person in the film and only she seems to realize it. Ernie Hudson as the lone voice of reason and logic in a world full of nonsense. Even Annie Potts as the perpetually irritated Janine, managing to still have us pull for her and Egon to end up together after all these years. Speaking of casting, poor William Atherton. “Dickless” did such a great job playing Walter Peck that at one point he told Reitman the character ruined his life. Even going so far as it actually brought about physical fights when socializing. That is how serious people take messing with their Ghostbusters.
Ghostbusters is one of the most quoted films in Hollywood canon, and it is thankful to most of those actors cast. Who hasn’t waited for the absolutely perfect moment to drop one of these into some random situation (absolving the obligatory ‘Who ya gonna call?’):
‘Ok, so…she’s a dog.’
‘That’s a big Twinkie.’
‘Yes, it’s true. This man has no dick.’
‘Back off, man. I’m a scientist.’
Or my personal favorite: ‘Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown!’
Saying any of them out loud at the right moment could make even Gozer the Gozerian smile.
Combining supernatural elements, action, and comedy into one hilariously engaging film is a recipe Hollywood has been trying to recreate for decades now with nary a comparable result. Ghostbusters is unlike most other films cinephiles frequently discuss as it truly is one-of-a-kind. This perfect mix of story, cast and execution is one of cinema’s greatest lighting-in-a-bottle scenarios. Even watching the film now, 30 years later, instantly fills me with the kind of giddy childhood happiness that only rare films like Star Wars, E.T., or The Goonies are able to muster.
Why this film captured the hearts and minds of millions of people has more answers than a weekend Jeopardy championship. There were so many moons that aligned that even the parties themselves were unable to duplicate the original film’s success (go re-watch Ghostbusters II if you doubt this). Even still today, children dress up as Venkman, Egon, Stantz and Winston every Halloween. When the theme song kicks in, you will still hear random passersby chime in and if you look closely you are bound to catch a smile. If someone dares to eat or mention sponge cage of any kind in any setting, you know what line is coming. Ghostbusters is the very definition of timeless.
Time for me to go gather up my overalls, slap on a leaf blower and run wild in my neighborhood recreating new Ghostbuster memories in honor of the 30th Anniversary…and for you to make a few of your own with your children or friends. After 30 years of comedies searching for this same feeling, countless attempts to mimic this formula, and even more attempts to revive this franchise with another sequel no one needs; there still remains only one singular truth: In the event of dogs and cats living together, terror dogs on our front lawn or a 40-story marshmallow sailor waddling down Broadway: We all remember exactly who we’re gonna call.
Ed. note — in bit of serendipitous timing, it was announced recently that a newly-restored and remastered 30th anniversary version of Ghostbusters will be released in 700 theaters nationwide on August 29th, followed by a couple of collector’s edition Blu-rays on September 16!