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“Okay, so, she’s a dog.” And yes, they, “conjured up a hundred-foot marshmallow man, blew the top three floors off an uptown high-rise, and ended up getting sued by every city, county, and state agency in New York. Yeah, but what a ride.” If quotes like these don’t ring a bell, it’s because time has silenced the echoing bell that once brought a team of exterminators to assemble for action in an old ambulance. If it sounds crazy, maybe it was, but they were ready to believe you. Since falling out of business, less and less may have come to believe in them. The Ghostbusters cleaned suites and streets of paranormal activity. The Ecto-1 may need a jumpstart, but let’s take a ride down memory lane after the jump.
It’s May 8, 2013, as I begin to write this. If it was circa 1984, it would be officially known: a) that George Orwell was a little too pessimistic when writing his signature book; and b) that as of today it is exactly a month until Ghostbusters arrives in theaters. Ghostbusters wasn’t based on any source material. It was based on something a little rarer: original material.
The concept was inspired by Dan Aykroyd’s own fascination with the paranormal and it was conceived as a vehicle for himself and friend John Belushi, another fellow Saturday Night Live alumnus and the other half of The Blues Brothers. Tragedy struck early on to curtail that plan. Akyroyd was sitting in a production office, at 150 Fifth Avenue on March 5, 1982, writing a line for Mr. Belushi’s character when he received the call: his dear soul man was dead in Los Angeles. The news hit fans, friends and family hard. But as always, the show must go on. It had to go on as ideas of passion never loosen their grip.
“We’re ready to believe you.” – The Ghostbusters
As written by Aykroyd, his concept was different from what was eventually filmed. In the initial version, a group of Ghost Smashers traveled through a mix of space, time and dimensions combating the paranormal which engulfed the environment wherever they arrived. The actor-to-be-known-as-Stantz pitched his story to director Ivan Reitman. You can maybe imagine Reitman nodding at points and then saying how he likes the basic idea, followed by a dreaded, “But…” Sure enough, he immediately saw the budgetary impossibilities in the first draft. At his suggestion, Harold Ramis, who Reitman had worked with on Stripes, was brought on to skillfully ground the fantastic elements of the high-concept premise. Aykroyd and Ramis hammered out the script over three weeks in a Martha’s Vineyard bomb shelter in the summer of 1982.
Casting had to be set. With Belushi dead, the role of Peter Venkman went to former Saturday Night Live cast member and current rising star Bill Murray, who Retiman had earlier worked with on 1979’s Meatballs. Rising star Eddie Murphy ended up being too busy with Beverly Hills Cop to put in any teamwork on Ghostbusters. As for Louis Tully, who was originally conceived as a conservative man in a business suit played by comedian John Candy, commitment issues lead the way for Rick Moranis to step in and provide a new beat of nervous, geeky comic humor. Gozer would end up being filled by a skin-tight-costumed Yugoslav model by the name of Slavitza Jovan, replacing the original plan of Ivo Shandor as a slender man in a suit played by Paul Reubens. But while Jovan triumphed with her figure, her voice and accent didn’t cut it. The demonic voice of Gozer was provided by Paddi Edwards in the final cut.
The changes and polishing of the plan for the movie didn’t stop in the casting department. Over in the storyboarding room, the Ghostbusters wore SWAT-like outfits and riot squad helmets with movable transparent visors, and used wands instead of Proton Packs to fight the ghosts. All came together when the film score was composed by Elmer Bernstein, notable for his use of synthesizers and, his 1980’s staple, the ondes Martenot. So with all that, could anyone have confidently predicted which way the movie would go with moviegoers? It did well with test audiences, but it’s always the box-office that is the final and ultimate test. Roberto C. Goizueta, the then chairman of Coca-Cola, which owned the studio, was skeptical of Ghostbusters digging itself into a gold mine after a cost of $30 million. Sure, it was a movie not closed off to segments of the market, as all ages could enjoy the movie, but there was a consensus with critics that big effects largely ruined comedies. Add to that, Columbia Pictures hadn’t had a hit since 1982’s Tootsie. Only half the paranormal-exterminating team was familiar to audiences, so would anything change in 1984 with an action-comedy mesh? Let’s visit the weekend after Ghostbusters’ release day: June 8, 1984. Theaters are open and accepting patrons. What will the weekend and beyond hold in store?
“We got one!” -Janine Melnitz
Specifically: a $13.6 million take on opening weekend, a studio record of $23 million in its first week, a #1 position at the box-office for five consecutive weeks, grossing $99.8 million in that time. After seven weeks at the top of the leader board, it was finally knocked to second place by the debut of Prince’s Purple Rain. But by then it had grossed $142.6 million, second only to Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom as the year’s top moneymaker. Then came a reversal of direction in the box-office race: Ghostbusters regained the top spot the following week.
The movie went on to gross about $229 million at the domestic box-office, making it the second highest-grossing film of 1984, behind only Beverly Hills Cop. That figure put it within the top ten highest-grossing films of all-time. A re-issue in 1985 gave the film a total gross of $238.6 million, officially surpassing Beverly Hills Cop and out-sliming all to make Ghostbusters the most successful comedy of the 1980’s with earnings of $238.6 million domestically.
Assisting the film’s triumph was its theme song written and performed by Ray Parker, Jr., and sparking the catchphrases, “Who you gonna call?” and, “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.” The song was a huge hit, staying #1 for three weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and #1 for two weeks on the Black Singles chart. The music video with Ray Parker Jr., directed by Ivan Reitman and starring actress Cindy Harrell, had its fair share of celebrity cameos with the likes of Chevy Chase and even John Candy popping in to answer, “Ghostbusters!” The song earned Ray Parker Jr. an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. It lost to Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Love You from The Woman In Red, but it won hearts and minds in pop culture and an iconic status in history crossing the fields of music and film.
Ghostbusters propelled all of the film’s stars to a new level of fame and brought an undermined genre respect. Luckily for us, the movie thoughtfully combined sly humor and blockbuster special-effects by taking each seriously, a skillful task, and having fun with them both like a delicate ballroom dance between dramatic bulls. The use of adults made the suspension of disbelief quite easy for all ages in America put under the spell of Ghostbusters in 1984. There was a maturity put to this wide-eyed dream of ridding rooms of ghosts for a living that adolescence could never capture and a juvenile mind could latch on to. Yes, kids became pseudo-scientists when the details of the wondrous technology used by the Ghostbusters served to be accessible. All was able to be understood like a researcher explicating his groundbreaking invention and his or her peers following the process that is so theoretically simple and yet so practically provoking. Every child growing up loved instances that left it up to them to teach Mom and Dad about topics to which parents had only ignorance to offer. While fractions were just being taught at school and sex education was still a few years off, nuclear devices were something the kids could excel in.
So during dinnertime, it played out as a little boy, for instance, illustrating a blueprint of the Ghostbusters’ primary tool-of-trade on his dinner plate with mashed potatoes, snap peas and evil Brussels sprouts as the paranormal culprit, while simultaneously educating:
“The Proton Pack consists of a handheld Neutrino Wand, also commonly referred to as a Proton Gun, connected by hose to a backpack-sized nuclear accelerator. A particle accelerator propels said particles to high speeds and contains them in well-defined beams. And so, the pack functions like a complex mobile positron collider, smashing high-energy positrons together to generate an excess amount of charged protons. The blasting component fires the by-product of this process in the form of a positively-charged stream of protons that polarizes the negatively charged energy of a ghost, allowing it to be held in the stream like a lasso. The proton streams produced by the devices are semi-controlled; meaning they are concentrated in direction, but still volatile. Beware as unpredictable effort will still be needed to wrangle your entity into an optimal position to finish the job. Operated by a remote pedal, the complimentary unit known as a Ghost Trap emits a force field that vacuums the apparition into the confines of the trap to be held indefinitely. Practice makes perfect, but congratulations: you’re on your way to becoming an honorary Ghostbuster. Oh yeah, and an important safety tip: don’t cross the streams. Crossing the streams can result in total protonic reversal; causing all life as we know it to stop instantaneously and every molecule in a user’s body to explode at the speed of light. As I said: important safety tip.”
All of to which Mom and Dad would freeze in shock with their mouths possibly gaping and their eyes certainly popping. Or they’d maybe squeeze my cheek and stir the hair on my head like a pooch. Parents are adorable that way: how little they’ve always comprehended about the goings-on of an aspiring Ghostbuster.
As for the suspicious gold mine, the franchise burgeoned as a bonanza. Produced by Columbia Pictures Television, DiC Enterprises, and Coca-Cola Telecommunications for a limited time until it was folded into Columbia, The Real Ghostbusters was an animated take that ran from September 13 of 1986 to 1991. “The Real,” was added to the title after a dispute with Filmation and its Ghost Busters property, which had been a live-action show from 1975. When Columbia Pictures started producing the film Ghostbusters, it neglected the fact that Filmation had already produced a live-action comedy series with that same name in 1975. Columbia agreed to license the name from Filmation for $500,000 plus 1% of the profits. As per Hollywood accounting practices, Filmation would never get anything from the profits because there were none as far as the balance sheet was concerned.
After the movie came out, there was some room to reteam in the cartoon world. Filmation mistakenly never asked for the animation rights as part of their early settlement, but Filmation and Columbia tried working together to produce a cartoon based on the feature film. The proposed deal eventually fell through and a duel began. Columbia moved forward with DiC Enterprises and Filmation tried to capitalize on their own by creating their cartoon entitled Ghostbusters, which was based on their live-action show. Columbia retaliated by proceeding to name their cartoon show The Real Ghostbusters to directly distinguish it from the Filmation show. Both shows premiered in September of 1986 only a few days apart. Filmation got the lead with a date of September 8, but most people were unfamiliar with the original show more than a decade old at that point and saw Filmation’s product as a copy. Columbia had won. Filmation’s Ghostbusters lasted for 65 episodes from September to December 5, 1986. The Real Ghostbusters continued the adventures for years of the famous paranormal investigators, their secretary Janine Melnitz and their mascot ghost, with a much-expanded presence from the movies, Slimer.