Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters [Extended]

There are good reasons nobody has managed to recapture the magic of the original Ghostbusters. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis were riffing at the top of their games, Koch-era New York was still gritty, but not too Dinkins-gritty, and the villain was an EPA regulator. Unfortunately, the studio tried anyway, but the woeful reboot is mercifully ignored and the so-so sequel is only mentioned in passing during the new extended cut of Anthony Bueno’s Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering the Ghostbusters, which opens this Friday in theaters.

is a prime example of why the 1980s were such a great decade for movies. In some ways, it was an unassuming buddy film, yet Ghostbusters broke new ground in its use of special effects in service of comedy and became one of the greatest box-office hits of all-time. Bueno talks to just about everyone involved in the making, except Bill Murray, but that is to be expected, given his rep for media-shy eccentricity.

Aykroyd and director Ivan Reitman trace the film’s origins, starting with Aykroyd’s initial off-the-wall, futuristic treatment that sounds almost like a ghost-busting version of
Starship Troopers. Eventually, Ramis sat down with Aykroyd to script out something more contemporary and grounded. Their writing flowed nicely, not that the stars always kept to the printed page. To Reitman’s credit, he also directly addresses the scaled-down role of fourth Ghostbuster Winston Zeddmore (probably the great Ghostbusters controversy), about which actor (and fan favorite) Ernie Hudson maintains a philosophical tone.

When watching
Cleanin’ you realize it is unlikely future filmmakers could make equivalent documentaries about the big superhero tentpoles of our current day. Whereas Bueno’s film is chocked full of clever work-arounds devised by the special effects team, contemporary CGI films would just have SFX artists on laptops and actors wearing motion capture suits. In contrast, an awful lot of the effects on Ghostbusters were practical—and they had to render them relatively cheaply and with a much faster turnaround time than was previously standard practice.

You can tell how enduring the 1984 original remains, by the instant recognizability of thesps with relatively small roles, like Michael Ensign (the hotel manager), Timothy Carhart (the violinist), the late David Margulies (Mayor Lenny), and Jennifer Runyon and Steven Tash (the volunteers in the opening ESP experiment). It really is great to hear from them, because they all truly contributed to the film. Plus, William Atherton, a.k.a. Walter Peck of the EPA, deserves credit for being such a good sport about the memorable put-downs his character was on the receiving end of.

1980s nostalgia still can’t be beat. Fans will hope for the best from upcoming
Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but we can’t help wondering if the studio gatekeepers still understand what made the original work so well. Bueno’s behind-the-scenes chronicle could give them a quick refresher course. It is a fun blast-from-the-past and an admittedly fannish tribute to an enduring classic. Affectionately recommended for GBFans and 80s kids, the extended one hundred twenty-seven minute Cleanin’ Up the Town releases this Friday (10/1) in select theaters.