Friday, February 19, 2016

Movie Scientist Blogathon: Ghostbusters

This post is part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon: The Good The Bad and the Lonely hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings.

I got into this blogathon without really thinking about it too much. When it came to movie scientists, what could be better than Ghostbusters. Then again, what could I say about a film that most people have seen so many times that they quote bits and pieces in everyday life. Then it dawned on me, maybe the key to saying something fresh about Ghostbusters was to embrace the topic of this blogathon, not the film itself, but the scientists in the film.

At it's heart, Ghostbusters is the story of a team of scientists, Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) who make a great discovery and then use it to save the world. Whenever you deal with science, even pseudo-science, there's an issue, where the scientists can't relate to ordinary people. One of the things that makes Ghostbusters work is how they play with this idea.

Let's look at these scientists in reverse order:

Ray, when someone asks you if you
are a god, you say, 'Yes!'

  • Winston Zeddemore – Now, I know what you're thinking. Is Winston really a scientist? Well, I argue that if he has an unlicensed nuclear accellerator on his back, he darn well better be. Originally, the part of Winston was written for Eddie Murphy, as a former Marine with multiple degrees and a founding member of the Ghostbusters. Murphy withdrew to make another little film, Beverly Hills Cop. The part of Winston was rewritten to have him be a layman who joins the Ghostbusters about midway through the movie. As far as I'm concerned, the real issue is not whether Winston is a scientist, but what he brings to the team. He keeps them grounded and has more common sense and street smarts than the other three combined. In the DVD commentary, they say they needed Winston to explain the paranormal science to audience. As such, he's the everyman and soul of the Ghostbusters.
Well, let's say this Twinkie represents the
normal amount of psychokinetic energy...
  • Egon Spengler – Egon is the most gifted scientist of the group and as such the least relatible. He's the most detached. It's almost as if he doesn't care about ghosts themselves, but more that they are physical phonomena that can be studied and captured. His real thrill is with the discovery. There's a line where Bill Murray says that something reminds him of the time when Egon tried to drill holes in his own head. Egon's response, "That would have worked if you hadn't stopped me." Here is a man who would be willing to drill a hole is own head if he thought he could learn something from it. Clearly, Egon is the mind of the Ghostbusters.
"He's an ugly little spud isn't he?"
"I think he can hear you, Ray."
  • Ray Stantz – Of the team, Ray is the believer of the bunch. He's definitely a true scientist, not just an expert on the paranormal phenomena, but also well-versed in metallurgy and structural engineering. For him, science is a means to an end, to prove his belief that ghosts are real. The screenplay was written by Harold Ramos and Dan Aykroyd, and Aykroyd's real-life fascination with the paranormal shines through in his character. When it comes to the historical paranormal background of the film, Ray is the authority. He's also the one who inadvertently chooses the form of their destructor, the most harmless thing, something he loved from his childhood, "Something that could never ever possibly destroy us. Mr. Stay Puft!" Ray is the heart of the Ghostbusters.
    Yes, it's true.
    The man has no dick.
  • Peter Venkman – So if Winson is the soul, Egon the mind, and Ray the heart, what does that make Bill Murray's character? I was having trouble with that one myself. I think it was Harold Ramis in the DVD commentary who nailed it. If Aykroyd is the heart of the Ghostbusters, Bill Murray is the mouth. He's the front man, the Steve Jobs of the Ghostbusters. While Egon and Ray do all the scientific heavy lifting, they would never be able to get anywhere without Peter Venkman slinging the BS. Sigourney Weaver says that he doesn't act like a scientist, he's more like a game show host. Face it, it's Bill Murray's movie, but without the rest of the cast playing straight to him, it would never work. 
Together they make not just  the perfect team, but also a complete whole. But what of the science. Is the science in Ghostbusters real, even as pseudo-science? Even though I don't believe in ghosts, I have to say, yes. In some respects it's a modern update of the Horror comedies of Abbott and Costello, but at the same time, it's well-grounded in the contemporary paranormal folklore. Akroyd's father and great grandfather regularly held seances in their family home in Ontario. The scene where Dr. Venkman studies the effect on negative reinforcement on ESP, where he shocks the guy and pretends the cute girl is getting all of the answers right, is an amalgamation of actual experiments conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram, and earlier ESP experiments conducted by parapsychologist, J.B. Rhine. As pseudo-science goes, you could do a lot worse.

Ghostbusters is a fun and extremely funny movie. It has great dialog that has completely permeated popular culture. The cast is brilliant from the top all the way down. The scientists are archetypes of people we all know, so they come off as real. Who hasn't known an overly intelligent person like Egon, who hasn't a clue socially. Or a smart guy like Ray who gets so swept up by his passions that he often comes off like an idiot. Or the schmoozer Peter Venkman who slides by on how well he can capitalize on the little knowledge he does have. You want great movie scientists, who you gonna call. Yeah, you know the answer.


  1. Loved how you concluded this review: "You want great movie scientists, who you gonna call. Yeah, you know the answer." Brilliant!

    Really enjoyed your review. So much has been written about this movie, but your approach to concentrate on the scientists gives us a fresh perspective. In fact, I'm thinking I need to see this again, and soon!

    You also raised good points about all the scientists/actors. I agree that this is Bill Murray's movie but, as you said, the movie needs the other three to make it work.

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon and for bringing these paranormal scientists with you!

  2. Thanks for stopping by and all of the work you put in setting this up. I looking forward to reading more posts over the next few days.


  3. What a great way to look at this film in a fresh way! I only saw this for the first time last year and loved it, especially at the end with Mr. Stay Puft. I didn't anything about the end, so it took me off-guard and I just about sputtered with laughter to the floor.

    Interesting point about it being like a modern Abbott and Costello. I never thought of it that way, but I see what you mean.

    1. Hi Christina, thanks for the comments. That's one of the reasons I like getting involved with these things. They push you into directions you might not go on your own.

  4. "Who hasn't known an overly intelligent person like Egon, who hasn't a clue socially. Or a smart guy like Ray who gets so swept up by his passions that he often comes off like an idiot. Or the schmoozer Peter Venkman who slides by on how well he can capitalize on the little knowledge he does have."

    Put that way, I think I might be all three rolled into one, sometimes...LOL I know I'm more like Ray than any of the others. At least I identify with him more.

    This is a favorite movie of mine. The wackiness comes off great. I only hope the remake coming out soon can at least measure up.

  5. Thanks for stopping by. I think most people are blend of all three to varying degrees. Then you have to ones who go way in one direction, like Egon and Ray.

    I would hate to be the people doing the remake and have to live up to the original. I just hope they come up with something decent.