It's been said that home video's changed the movie-watching experience; instead of going to a big public space to watch movies in the dark with a community of strangers, we now mostly take them in within the privacy of our home, transforming what used to be a special event into an everyday convenience. And while some purists will insist that the only way to see a movie is on the big screen, I'm not that naïve; more importantly, watching movies on DVD has, at the very least, saved us from watching them on broadcast television. There are some film so often-broadcast, so uniformly ubiquitous in the 500-channel universe and cut to fit the screen or for language or for commercials that slipping in the DVD and watching them — start to finish, no interruption — is a welcome refresher course in why we loved them.
Like, for example, Ghostbusters. Released in 1984, Ghostbusters works so perfectly it's become a classic; the thing is, it shouldn't work at all. A big-budget high-concept mixture of action, special effects and comedy backed by several Saturday Night Live alumni? That describes Ghostbusters, but it also describes notorious flops like 1941, Spies Like Us and The Golden Child. On paper, Ghostbusters shouldn’t work. On screen, it does.
Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as a trio of researchers who take their ideas about ghosts and how to trap them private when they're kicked out of academia, Ghostbusters plays like watching a jazz trio riff on a well-known song, in that loose-but-tight style where people have room to play while still heading toward a destination. Murray, Ramis and Aykroyd can be funny doing anything — the team's Chinese take-out dinner alone is a marvel of comedy ("Slow down. Chew your food. …") — but the film also knows that comedians this good need can often use a little nudge from a well-crafted plot line to keep them on-track.
That nudge comes as supernatural forces possess nebbish accountant Rick Moranis and cellist Sigourney Weaver so that New York might be made into a playground for infinite evil (as if it wasn't already, waaanh-waanh). And our Ghostbusters (along with recruit Ernie Hudson, who's more than just a late addition) step up to the plate to try and stop it, even though the task is so far above the minor ghost-wrangling they've been doing it's like asking an exterminator who's prepared to spray for ants to get an angry grizzly bear out of your home.
But the effects-heavy climax works — as both comedy and as action — and watching our four heroes save the day because they're the last, best option is a nice welcome relief from the muscled, macho heroics of too many '80s films.
The other thing to watch and enjoy about Ghostbusters is that it is, in the end, a New York film. For many, independent films and classics like Woody Allen's Annie Hall define New York, but to me the greatest New York films are the ones that put a little oomph behind the plot, as if they were giving you a shove to get moving on the sidewalk. The original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, or The French Connection, for example — or Ghostbusters; you can't imagine it taking place anywhere else, and fortunately, you don't have to.
This DVD includes plenty of extras, including a video-commentary from Ramis and director Ivan Reitman, plus extensive footage looking at the film's genesis and old-school non-computer-generated special effects; even if you've seen Ghostbusters a thousand times, the DVD's extras are rich, robust and diverting enough to provide hours more enjoyment. Nothing can quite compare with how I felt watching Ghostbusters on the big screen, but re-visiting it on DVD and remembering how good it actually is after years of repetition and imitation comes surprisingly close.