So my birthday was yesterday. I’ll spare you the trouble of looking it up on Wikipedia or Facebook or wherever: I’m 42. All I wanted was a desperately needed mani-pedi and to take Nicolas to a matinee of “Ghostbusters,” which is back in theaters for a week in honor of its 30th anniversary.
I don’t think I’d watched the film in its entirety since it came out in the summer of 1984 and quickly became a pop-culture phenomenon, staying atop the box office for seven consecutive weeks and grossing a whopping $293 million worldwide. You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing the catchy Ray Parker Jr. theme song, playfully asking you who you’re gonna call, or switch over to MTV without seeing the video. Man, it looks dated all these years later with its neon lighting, shoddy green-screen effects and baffling celebrity cameos. (Melissa Gilbert, Danny DeVito, Carly Simon?)
I was curious to see how Ivan Reitman’s horror comedy held up after all this time — whether it would still be as funny or inventive, or whether fond memories stemmed from the nostalgic pull from a formative time in my life. And once again, I wanted to share something from my own childhood with Nicolas, who’s almost 5 but already seems to love movies as much as I do. We’ve sat through all six “Star Wars” films multiple times as well as “The Wizard of Oz.” He’s seen some potentially disturbing stuff. I figured he was ready for the ghouls and goblins of “Ghostbusters,” which would probably look more silly than scary, given the technology that existed back then.
Chris and I took him to a matinee at the ArcLight in Hollywood. There were maybe a dozen other people there for the first showing, including a couple of dads with their sons who were about 7. Nic got lemonade and somehow tricked Chris into buying him Jelly Bellies, and by the time the old Columbia Pictures logo appeared, we were all settled in and ready for our retro adventure. I figured Nic would dig it, or at least get a giggle out of the green, gooey Slimer … but not so much. He kept saying he was bored and that he didn’t like this movie. He asked how much longer it would go on and whined about being tired. He climbed into my lap, then into Chris’ lap, then back into mine again.
Part of this probably has to do with the fact that the pacing in “Ghostbusters” is different from what he’s seen in other action-comedy mash-ups this summer, like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It’s more low-key, it takes its time. It’s not smothered with wall-to-wall music and sound effects. And while the monsters look extremely dated — as does a super-sexy Sigourney Weaver as the possessed Gatekeeper — I can see how they’d seem startling to a kid. Nic jumped a few times, especially during the climactic battle when the evil Gozer shows up in the form of a heavily eye-shadowed Sheena Easton look-alike who sends lightning bolts from her fingertips. (Although Darth Sidious does the exact same thing to Luke Skywalker at the end of “Return of the Jedi” and it’s way scarier.) In retrospect, the sight of the World Trade Center towers and New Yorkers scurrying in terror pre-9/11 seems almost quaint.
As for me, I laughed a lot — so hard I was crying at the mere anticipation of the marauding Stay Puft Marshmallow Man — and so much of that has to do with Bill Murray’s performance. Sure, he has a great chemistry with Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as his fellow paranormal investigators. They bounce off each other beautifully and share the spotlight nicely and make it all look effortless. But that early Murray persona from the late 1970s and early ’80s in movies like “Meatballs” and “Stripes” is just irresistible — the combination of deadpan humor and shameless swagger. And as I wrote in my appreciation of Ramis when he died in February, “Ghostbusters” was a great example of Ramis’ ability to function as the smartest person in the room without being smug or condescending. (He also co-wrote the script with Aykroyd.)
Later in the day, I asked Nic again what he thought about “Ghostbusters.” This time, he said he liked it. “What did you like about it?” I asked. “I liked the parts about the Ghostbusters,” he said — which is pretty much the entire movie. Not a bad way to get older — by revisiting my youth with my kid.