Some people are such good company you don’t mind hearing their jokes over and over again.
For me, the Ghostbusters are like that. Venkman, Egon, Ray and Winston are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their first, best film with a shiny new big-screen re-release this weekend, giving us all the chance to spend a little more time with four of the most wonderfully un-heroic heroes to ever hit the silver screen. They were manipulative (Venkman), completely unaware of social cues (Egon), incredibly naive (Ray) and just looking for a paycheck (Winston), but they still managed to save the world in a far more entertaining fashion than plenty of heroes have since.
I don’t remember the first time I met the Ghostbusters. It just seemed as though they’d always been there, shoulder to shoulder with Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny as one of the pillars of my childhood. I faithfully watched the animated series, as well as a later variant with new, younger characters, and remember more about both than I’m willing to admit in mixed company. I also have far too much affection for the soppy, inferior sequel, so happy to spend more time with the boys that I’m willing to overlook the ridiculous ending.
Nothing, however, beats the glorious first movie. It’s such a classic now that it’s hard to remember how unique it was for a movie to take a dramatic supernatural concept and bring it down to a mundane, realistic level. These weren’t priests battling the forces of Satan, or even brave young heroes dedicated to ridding the world of evil.
Instead, they were the supernatural equivalent of plumbers, doing the job for practical and often selfish reasons. The government wasn’t thrilled with them, and when they went around spouting nonsense they got arrested just like real people would.
But oh, they were so much funnier than people get to be in real life. Particularly the oh-so-cynical Venkman, a con artist at heart who ended up becoming the most reluctant of all reluctant heroes. Though some of his best lines are unprintable in a family newspaper, nearly everything he says is brilliantly quotable both in and out of context.
Murray’s dryly perfect delivery burnishes the lines to an even higher sheen, the specific inflection of every word echoing in our heads months and even years since we’ve seen the movie. Inevitably, some of it leaks out into my own voice during those rare, happy opportunities when I get to quote my own favorite: “Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes!”
Oddly enough, though, he may not be my favorite Ghostbuster. I have quite a soft spot for Winston, the least well known of the team both among fans and in the movie itself. He wasn’t there for the beginning, didn’t get caught up in the heady rush of science that dragged Egon and Ray into the whole mess. He wasn’t even there for the money in the same way Venkman was, that quick road to glory and attractive women.
Winston was just there to get the job done. A haunted kitchen and a clogged toilet were similar problems, in his eyes, and in a weird way there’s something more magical about that than all the special effects in the world.
Just like the Ghostbusters.