40 Movies For 40 Years: 1984
By 1984 I was old enough to start noticing that there might be some good TV shows and movies out there that didn’t involve cartoon animals and Muppets of various sizes. A lot of the hours that I spent in front of the television were in the company of Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo. But I started to pay attention a little more often when my parents were watching their shows. I started noticing things like The Incredible Hulk and The Dukes Of Hazzard. Live action entertainment was just starting to peak my interest.
And it was a pretty good year for live action movies. Indiana Jones was exploring the Temple Of Doom, theaters were full of Gremlins, and the crew of the Enterprise was back in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.
A lot of the movies that came out in 1984 are on my list of some of the best of all time. One of these days I’ll make my top 100 list and all of the ones that I just mentioned will probably be on there. 1984 also had Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid, Police Academy, Footloose, Romancing The Stone, and Splash. All of these are fantastic movies, in my opinion. Some of them spawned franchises and some of them are considered classics today. But there was one movie that came out in 1984 that really affected my childhood more than any of the others…
I didn’t see the movie until after it had been out for a couple of years. I remember that my dad was going to watch it when it aired on HBO a few months after it had left theaters and invited me to watch it with him. But seeing the lady in the library burst into a scary monster was all that my seven-year-old eyes had to see to realize that it wasn’t the movie for me. I went and hid in my room until he called me back a couple of hours later to show me the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man that was rampaging New York City. That did get my attention, but not enough for me to brave that monster again. At least not for a while.
It was a year or so later before The Real Ghostbusters started coming on TV on Saturday mornings. I started watching that cartoon from the very first episode and I loved every second of it. The idea of a group of men that could battle ghosts with proton beams captured my imagination. I had my mom buy me action figures for my birthday so that I could make up my own stories. I bought myself a proton pack with a beam made of Nerf and ran around in the woods behind my house pretending to be on an adventure with Peter, Egon, Ray, and Winston. Slimer was always hovering just over my shoulder, waiting to eat ever crumb that I might have dropped on the ground.
I was a full on Ghosthead…and I’d never watched the movie.
It wasn’t until the announcement of Ghostbusters 2 that I finally got brave enough to give the original another shot. I went to the local video store and rented it. I was probably 10 or 11 at this point so when I saw that library ghost this time she was not nearly as scary. In fact, I didn’t even think she looked real. I let out a deep and satisfying sigh of relief, sat back, and enjoyed one of the best movies ever made.
What I love about Ghostbusters is that it is a paranormal, science fiction, horror themed film…but first and foremost it is a comedy. They could have made a very serious and scary version of this same story, but the decision to make it funny and to fill it with actors that had cut their teeth on Saturday Night Live was genius. It gives us a jumping in point with the audience, because we know that this stuff isn’t real and we know that this stuff doesn’t even look real on the screen. By making sure that we know that it’s supposed to be funny then they know that we forgive some of the less than stunning special effects.
Not that all the effects are bad. Some of them are pretty good for 1984 standards. Stay Puft looked as real as he could. The images of a lot of the ghosts that escaped and ran loose in the city looked pretty good. The two gargoyles didn’t look great. They were going for a whole Harryhausen kind of stop-go animation that I never thought looked quite right even at the time, and completely takes my kids out of the movie today.
The characters make up for so much of that. The characters were so well laid out. We know exactly who these guys are from the very beginning. The personalities of Peter, Ray, and Egon…played by Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis…were telegraphed so well that they each filled a slot that was needed. We had the brain, the tech guy, and the street smart. Dana, played by Sigourney Weaver, and Louis, played by Rick Moranis, were great as well. Moranis adding the comedy sidekick character that he has always done so well.
The one character that I felt bad for was Winston, played by Ernie Hudson. This character was originally written for Eddie Murphy. Hudson stepped in after Murphy bailed. He thought that he was going to be one of them main characters and would be used throughout the movie. Eventually, his character was re-written so that he didn’t appear until halfway through the film and was only really given a handful of lines. Hudson took a bit of a hit with that. But, to his credit, he’s the one that still makes himself available at Ghostbusters events whenever he can.
So, as far as a sci-fi/horror movie it lacks some substance. The story is pretty simple and would be rather weak if it were being taken seriously. But the fact that this is the bottom layer of a cake in which the top layer is comedy it works just fine. It takes edge off and makes it so that even though we’re watching the fate of the city as well as that of the world…we’re having a good time.
It was followed by a sequel a few years later that take a lot of flak that I don’t think it deserves. How often do you get a sequel that compares to the original? Not very often. But it was fun.
And then there is the story of the 2016 reboot that got its legs knocked out from under them before it was even given a chance to stand up. I went to see it in the theater. It was not the terrible movie that the critics want to make it out to be. It was funny and it was a lot of fun to watch. It doesn’t compare to the original, but I never expected it to. I really hope that they get a chance to do another one, but that may be hoping for a lot.
So, in a year when so many of my favorite movies were released I can definitely say that only one had as big of an impact on who I am as this one. Ghostbusters will always be my favorite 1984 film. It possibly makes my top ten list. Maybe one day I’ll make that list and find out.