For a moment, let's lay out what we've got for comedy in the movies today. There's Christopher Guest and his band of actors in films such as "Best in Show," "A Mighty Wind," and "For Your Consideration," the very definition of an ensemble cast that works well individually and with each other. There's Sacha Baron Cohen with his 2007 hit, "Borat," who no doubt knows that he must tread carefully with his next film in coming up with situations that seem organic to Bruno, a TV interviewer.
Then there's Will Ferrell, lately of "Semi-Pro," who already had the talent in his years on "Saturday Night Live," and is one of the very few alumni making big laughs in the movies. He's the centerpiece of each film and a kind of group forms around him, with those actors reacting to who he is, and keeping up. And yes, there's also Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in "The Wedding Crashers," and other comedic teams of note.
All of the above performers and movies come to mind because of Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, who not only wrote the "Ghostbusters" script, but also star in the film opposite Bill Murray. All three are graduates of Second City in Chicago where comedy can be taken many ways, based on who a person is and what the most dominating part is of their personality. Or at least that's one way of seeing it, based on the personalities of these men.
But what's also seen is a tight bond between them, that what they do together is for the comedy that can be mined from each situation that involves them, and them as Ghostbusters. However, they're not ones to make it overly known that they're in it for the comedy. They're also good at characterization, clear-cut personalities that viewers not only can latch onto right away, but react with whatever feelings they have after watching each scene.
And they've got a lot to give, what with them as three scientists---Peter Venkman (Murray), Ray Stantz (Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Ramis)---ejected from Columbia University on the basis that their scientific methods and studies are a disgrace to the standards that the university holds. The only way to continue their work is to form a business, Ghostbusters, designed to help people be rid of those pesky ghosts that interrupt their lives. And since New York City is basically home to everything, including these men, it's the best business location.
This film has worked so well for years, always one for repeat viewings, because of the distinct personalities that come together. Bill Murray basically owns the script. He gets at least 90% of the great lines, and it may also be possible that there was some improvisation during filming as well. At the beginning, Venkman doubts that there is a ghost in the New York Public Library, but goes along with it anyway because that's who he is and if he didn't, well, this film would be robbed of a whole lot.
Those who have seen this film at least twice, try imagining a Ghostbusters without Murray. He's a remarkable actor simply because imagining his films without him is impossible because he makes them what they are, to some extent, beyond the screenplays, beyond the directors. Venkman is also the sort who goes along with things simply because it seems amusing. Murray has always been good at that as well.
Ray is, in some part, the innocent of the group, the one most enthusiastic about these finds, who has built his entire life around studying the paranormal and always wanting to be in the presence of the paranormal. Aykroyd's characters, including Ray, have always been thinking men of sorts, even when they don't seem like the kind to do so. They know what they want and how they might get it, even if it takes the entire movie.
Egon is the be all and end all of brains in the group, the expert on the paranormal and the deep-down investigator, who of course is naturally interested as to why the ghosts are around, and especially in the equipment that the Ghostbusters work with, from the portable nuclear accelerators to the ghost storage system. And then, of course, Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson), looking for a steady paycheck, not minding that it's earned by chasing down ghosts. You've got to respect a guy like that who just wants to learn the job and doesn't worry that it involves ghosts, a debatable subject.
And of course there have been lots of comedies before Ghostbusters that have dynamics between actors, chemistry that's either funny or not funny. But Ghostbusters is one of the few and the proud that boats a strong dynamic between all the featured actors, including Sigourney Weaver who as Dana Barrett, serves as Venkman's sounding board. Is comedy in the movies that tightly wound today? Is it as airtight as that?
If a comedian is writing material for their own use that stands out in a film, like Sacha Baron Cohen with "Borat," or writing for a set of actors like Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy do for their films, then yes. And Will Ferrell's got his mind and screenwriter/director Adam McKay's as well.
But to me, the only films that match the repeatability of a film like "Ghostbusters" in the modern day is Christopher Guest's films. Fred Willard as a commentator during a dog show with hilariously inappropriate comments, and other moments in his films have made them a valuable part of the '90s and now. And what has always counted in comedy is what can be discovered upon repeat viewings.
Besides, it's always good to laugh and as if "Ghostbusters" didn't already feature enough comedy by the firm of Aykroyd, Murray, and Ramis, Rick Moranis is also in here too as Louis. He's an accountant and fitness nut whom Aykroyd and Ramis get right in the writing, and Moranis adds to it because it's not certain whether you should laugh at how absurd Louis seems or be uncomfortable when watching him.
And with vivid ghosts carefully created by talented special effects artists, and the skill of director Ivan Reitman to just let his actors have at the material, "Ghostbusters" has always been and always will be one of the great movie comedies. It rates as an 8 out of 10. (R Aronsky)