Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Recap: "Ghostbusters" Part 1: Sensory Perception

And now, a movie that needs no introduction...



Well, let's get this Recap started, then.
The film begins with some lovingly old school theremin sounds and suspenseful chords as we first see the New York Public Library. The suspenseful music reaches its crescendo as the camera zooms in on one of the stone lions out front, foreshadowing later events like nobody's business. Inside, a kindly old librarian goes about her job of putting books back on the shelves. She goes into the basement, unaware that some of the books are floating from one shelf to another. But suddenly, the Dewey Decimal System goes nuts as file cards fly out. As she runs away, she runs into something unseen that results in her making this face that always terrified me as a kid.

Scared me more than most of the ghosts did, honestly.
But luckily for my 5-year-old self, it quickly transitions into the movie title and that oh-so-iconic theme that Huey Lewis and the News sued Ray Parker, Jr. over. We then cut to the unnamed college played by Columbia University. Specifically, the office of Dr. Egon Spengler, Dr. Ray Stantz, and Dr. Peter Venkman. A rather telling bit of graffiti on the door reads "VENKMAN BURN IN HELL."

I think we've all had a college professor like that, right?
But instead of boring you all with tales of how one of my Theatre teachers was a racist, I'll talk about the shenanigans that Dr. Venkman (Bill Murray) is getting up to. In his office, he's got a couple of college kids hooked up to wires. One of them is... well, just some guy. The other is a hot blonde. And since this is an 80's film, I think all know that whatever tests Venkman's running are going to be biased out the wazoo.

No amount of Professor X-ing will help you, dude.
Actually, Dr. Venkman's running a pretty standard test with Zener cards. You know, where somebody has to guess the shape on the other side of a card? This is one of the many aspects of the film that is completely accurate to parapsychology. Well, as "accurate" as you can get in a field that isn't officially recognized as a science.

How are you actually a professor again?
Male Student: "Square."
Venkman: "Good guess, but wrong."

And because he got a wrong answer, Venkman zaps him as part of his experiment. But when the blonde bombshell answers wrong, he gives it to her anyway. Even though she guessed a star. Which she was probably only thinking about because she saw that the last card was a star when Dr. Venkman turned it around to show them.

Venkman holds up another card for the male student. This time, it actually is a square, but he offers up "circle" instead. And after giving the male student enough of a shock to knock out his chewing gum, he holds up a plus sign for the female student, which she guesses is a figure eight. Again, he gives it to her, all the while feigning amazement at her "abilities."

Venkman: "That's five for five. You can't see these, can you?"

But the male student isn't as thrilled as they are.

Male Student: "I don't like this."
Venkman: "We only have seventy-five more to go, 'kay?"

The next card, the male student identifies as "a couple 'o wavy lines."

Technically wrong. There are three wavy lines.
And for this answer, Venkman zaps him again, angering the student so much that he loudly questions the purpose of the tests.

Venkman: "I'm studying the effect of negative reinforcement on ESP ability.
Male Student: "The 'effect'? I'll tell you what the effect is! It's pissing me off!"
Venkman: "Well, then, maybe my theory is correct!"
Male Student: "You can keep the five bucks!"
Venkman: "I will, mister!"

As unprofessional and unscientific as this setup may seem... it actually makes a lot of sense.

He says he's studying the effect of negative reinforcement on ESP abilities, right? Well, the more electric shocks and jerkish behavior what's-his-face got sent his way, the better his guesses got. And the more lying and flirting aimed towards the other one... well, her answers kept being wrong. “Negative” doesn’t mean “bad” when talking about science, it just talks about the removal of a variable. Here, the “negative reinforcement” is not getting zapped when you get a wrong answer.

Sure, this might be too small of a sample size to base a result off of, but it seems like Venkman is actually on to something here. Of course, even with the test interrupted like this, he keeps flirting with the blonde, but that just lets us know what kind of guy Peter Venkman is. He's a charlatan, a flim-flam man, a con artist. But he's also a scientist. So even though he's using this experiment as a way to flirt with one of his students, he wasn't actually sabotaging the experiment to do so, as many people assume. More likely, he planned this experiment around being able to flirt with a student. Two birds, one stone.

But alas, as he tries to comfort her about the loneliness her abilities will foster, Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) shows up, excited and asking for their video equipment. Venkman tries to hint that he would like a little more time with this beautiful woman please, but Ray won't hear of it.

Ray: "Peter, at 1:40 PM, at the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, ten people witnessed a free-floating full torso vaporous apparition!"

Sounds like some of your students just got high and had a bad trip is all.

Ray: "It blew books off shelves from twenty feet away and scared the socks off some poor librarian!"
Venkman: "...I'm very excited. I'm very pleased. I want you to get right down there, check it out, and get back to me."

But alas, Ray says that Egon's already down there taking PKE readings and they're off the scale, so they're going to need Venkman in on this one, too. So Venkman is forced to postpone his plans with what's-her-name.

Venkman: "I have to go now, Jennifer."

Jennifer, apparently. Because I guess all gorgeous young women in 80's movies are named Jennifer. Though, to be fair, in this case, that’s also the name of the actress.

Venkman: "Perhaps you could come back this evening, say at..."
Jennifer: "Eight o'clock?"
Venkman: "I was just going to say, 'Eight o'clock?' You are a legitimate phenomenon."

Venkman's attempt to fake being in a Xanadu-esque love story to seduce a student will have to wait.
As Ray and Venkman make their way up the steps of the library, Venkman criticizes this whole ghost-hunting kick that Ray and Egon have been on. They've talked to anyone and everyone in New York claiming to have had a paranormal experience and still have nothing to show for it.

Ray: "Of course you forget, Peter, I was present at an undersea unexplained mass sponge migration."
Venkman: "Ohhh, Ray, the sponges migrated about a foot and a half."

After tapping on a table and slamming a book down to shock Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), who was carefully listening to it with a stethoscope, Egon confirms that this is unlike any of the other things they've investigated.

"Yep. This is definitely a table."
Venkman: "Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole through your head, remember that?"
Egon: "That would have worked if you hadn't stopped me."

And so, with that ad-lib, Egon's reign as the funniest character in the movie begins. And I'm dead serious when I say that.

Some library-guy introduces himself as Roger Delacorte and takes them to meet with the shellshocked librarian. She talks about it's shape, and the fact that it definitely had arms, which excites Ray. But Peter's there to do his job as the token skeptic of the group, and asks some routine questions, like if any member of her family ever had some kind of mental illness...

Librarian: "My uncle thought he was Saint Jerome."
Venkman: "...I'd say that's a big yes."

...or whether she's on drugs, or whether she's menstruating.

Roger: "What does that got to do with it?"
Venkman: "Back off, man. I'm a scientist."

Actually, according to some paranormal theories, menstruation augments latent psychic ability, so it would be a fairly standard question. Although without that knowledge, it almost seems like Venkman’s asking, “Hey, are you on that time of the month that makes chicks nutso?”

But Egon's PKE meter is tracking something moving down in the basement, so they all head off to investigate. First up, they find.... books!

Ray: "Symmetrical book stacking. Just like the Philidelphia mass turbulence of 1947."
Venkman: "You're right, no human being would stack books like this."
Ray: "Listen! ...you smell something?"

Man, this movie is infinitely quotable.
They head around a corner and find some kind of goop all over those haunted filing cards from earlier, which Ray identifies as being ectoplasmic residue. "Ectoplasm" is an actual bit of paranormal terminology that Ghostbusters has essentially made the public consciousness believe means "ghost goo." But really, it just refers to whatever weird substance ghosts are made of, which means that "ectoplasmic residue" is the ghost version of losing dead skin cells. Again, this movie is pretty much accurate to "real life" paranormal "science."

Egon tells Venkman to get a sample of it...

Venkman: "Somebody blows their nose, and you wanna keep it?"

And they head off to the next area while Venkman tries to get the goo off his hands. Then a bookshelf nearly falls on top of them, which is certainly something that hasn't happened at any of the other sites they've investigated. In fact, it wasn’t in the script, either. The bookcase just randomly fell down. But the actors ad-libbed a reaction to it, and it was decided that having the bookcase fall over raised tension. Was there an actual ghost around? Could this be an actual haunting? Or was everything just a coincidence?

Hmmm….. Could go either way.
Egon is dumbfounded, Ray is in hushed wonder... and Venkman, as ever, is the realist.

Venkman: "So what do we do?"

They reconvene behind a shelf and Ray suggests that they need to make official contact. By talking to it. And guess who gets volunteered?

Venkman: "Hello. I'm Peter. Where you from? ...originally?"
Library Ghost: "Sssshhhhhhh...."

They go back behind the corner, and Ray comes up with a new plan. He doesn't she it with his fellows, he just tells them to follow his lead. Then slowly, he walks up toward the ghost. Closer. Closer. Until...

Ray: "Get 'er!"

The ghost does not take kindly to this, and turns into a spoopy animatronic.

But not as spoopy as the original, unused animatronic, which was later used for Fright Night.
And so, our protagonists switch from being science heroes to being the Scooby gang by running off scared out of the library. Luckily, they're able to laugh about it on their way back to the University. Even though they all ran like scared kids, Egon got some very promising readings that suggest that they might be able to capture a ghost and hold it in containment.

Ray: "This is great! If the ionization rate is constant for all ectoplasmic entities, we could really bust some heads! ...In a spiritual sense, of course."
Venkman: "Spengs, you serious about this catching a ghost?"
Egon: "I'm always serious."

"Egon, you get a Crunch bar. Ray? I'm planning my revenge for that whole 'get 'er' thing."
What what's more serious is the trouble they end up finding themselves in. When they head back to their lab, it's being cleaned out by Dean Yeager.

Dean Yeager: "The board of regents has decided to terminate your grant, you are to vacate these premises immediately."
Venkman: "This is preposterous. I demand an explanation."
Dean Yeager: "Fine. This university will no longer continue any funding of any kind for your group's activities."
Venkman: "But the kids love us."

 Did you not read that graffiti on your door, Venkman?
Dean Yeager: "Dr. Venkman. We believe that the purpose of science is to serve mankind. You, however, seem to regard science as some kind of dodge, or hustle. Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy, and your conclusions are highly questionable. You are a poor scientist, Dr. Venkman."

And honestly... I have to side with the board of regents on this one.

Whoops, there goes this movie's alleged Objectivist message! ...I'll explain in the Review.
I mean, think about it. Let's put aside today's encounter with the library ghost. Apart from the remote possibility of that sponge migration, the three of them have nothing to show for any of their forays into paranormal studies, other than if you zap some guy enough, he might be able to guess what's on the backs of cards.

Let's face it. While there are many things that we as humans don't as-of-yet know about the universe, there needs to be a sense of professionalism in how we go about it. If a scientist makes a claim, they doesn't necessarily need to prove that they're right, just that it's a valid possibility in the absence of more data.

For example, atomic theory. They (specifically, Niels Bohr) originally posited that electrons orbited the nucleus like the Moon around the Earth. Then after more study, they discovered that in all likelihood, they just kind of float around the nucleus as a kind of hazy cloud. No harm, no foul. Bohr didn't become instantly disgraced and shunned by all for the rest of time, his model of the atom was simply replaced by a more accurate one.

But our three heroes are basically insisting "Our theories are correct! We just haven't found anything to back up our claims yet." And that is, quite simply, terrible science. Despite the fact that they ended up being entirely correct in this case.

It's like if you asked me to count to five, and I said "1, 6, 89, 22, 5." Did I end up in the right place? Yes. Did I get there in an accurate way? Not one bit.

The fact that they are still insisting upon their theories could be taken as fraud, which is, quite understandably, serious business in the scientific community. Let me give you an example. Andrew Jeremy Wakefield published a medical paper in 1998 saying that he'd discovered a link between vaccines and autism, which caused a bit of a paranoid uproar. But upon later review by an independent source, it was concluded that... well, Wakefield's methods were sloppy and his conclusions were highly questionable. As such, the medical journal later redacted the paper and Wakefield lost his job.

Now, I'm not here to start an argument regarding vaccines, because I'm here to talk about Ghostbusters. My point is that if any part of your method is suspect, than your conclusion must be treated as being equally suspect. And when you're using paranormal methodology that hasn't even been recognized by the scientific community in the first place... yeah, I'm actually surprised they were able to become professors in the first place.

But professors they are no longer, and as Ray and Peter hang out on the building steps, they discuss their lack of a future in academia.

Ray: "Forget M.I.T. or Stanford now. They wouldn't touch us with a ten meter cattle prod."
Venkman: "You're always so concerned about your reputation. Einstein did his best stuff when he was working as a patent clerk."
Ray: "You know how much a patent clerk earns?"
Venkman: "No!"

Fourteen bucks an hour, here in 2016. Better than my last job.

Ray: "Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything! You've never been out of college. You don't know what it's like out there. I've worked in the private sector. They expect results."

I've got a sister working on her doctorate at the moment, and she tells me that she now appreciates exactly how true that line rings.

But Venkman launches into a Belushi-equse rousing speech left over from when John Belushi was the choice for the role, and convinces Ray that they can go into business for themselves. But Ray has only one concern. Money. We then cut to our three heroes exiting the bank, Peter having negotiated for a third mortgage on Ray's house. Well, I say "negotiatied."

Ray: "But at 19%? You didn't even bargain with the guy!"
Egon: "Ray, for your information, the interest rate alone for the first five years comes to $95,000."

"By the time you can conceivably pay this debt off, you will be a ghost."
But Venkman is focused on pioneering the next field of human endeavor.

Venkman: "Professional Paranormal Investigations and Eliminations. The franchise rights alone will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams."

You got that right. This franchise is a major cash cow.

The three of them check out an abandoned firehouse to use as a headquarters, but Egon's not too thrilled with the place.

Egon: "I think this building should be condemned. There's serious metal fatigue in all the load-bearing members, the wiring is substandard, it's completely inadequate for our power needs, and the neighborhood is like a demilitarized zone."

But because Ray is excited about the firehouse pole, he goes to move his things inside and suggests that they should all spend the night.

Venkman: "I think we'll take it."

We then cut to something that's probably a little jarring to fans of Alien. Sigourney Weaver is playing Dana Barrett, who is... most decidedly not a badass.

Watch as she bravely talks to her boring neighbor! Cheer as the triumphantly stays awake!
She's just an average woman going home to her apartment, being annoyed by her neighbor, Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). The guy's a neurotic dweeb who's completely oblivious to the fact that Dana isn't exactly interested in hearing about vitamins, or mineral water, or that party he's hosting.

He probably just wants to show off that trophy he won at the Peter Parker Lookalike contest.
He also tells her that she shouldn't leave her TV on so loud when she goes out, even though she doesn't remember turning it on.

After she leaves Louis to go get locked out of his own apartment, she watches the ghostbusters' commercial on TV. It's not very impressive, and was clearly made by guys with little to no budget. I mean, Egon looks down to find his mark when he steps up to speak. Which was a mistake on Harold Ramis's part that they left in because it fit the character.

Wait a minute. I've seen Back to the Future; that's a fake phone number for California, not New York!
Anyway, she goes to put her groceries away in the kitchen when all Hell breaks loose. Sure, it starts off innocently with her eggs bursting open and cooking on the counter, but then she finds a portal to Hell in her refrigerator, complete with a Hellhound snarling "Zuul" at her.

Meh. The inside of my fridge is scarier.
Back at Ghostbusters HQ, Ray arrives in the hearse he bought for the team and shows it off to Venkman. It's a bit of a fixer-upper, to say the least.

Ray: "Needs some suspension work. And shocks, and, uh, brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission, rear end...."
Venkman: "How much?"
Ray: "Only 4800. Maybe new rings, also mufflers. A little wiring."

Remember, people, that’s the equivalent of $11000 or so in today’s money.

Hoping for better news, Venkman goes inside to ask their new secretary, Janine (played by the lovely Annie Potts), about any new calls, messages, or customers.

Janine: "No, Dr. Venkman."
Venkman: "S'a good job, innit? Type something, will you? We're paying for this stuff. And don't stare at me, you got the bug-eyes."

You can stare at me all you want, Janine. Yowza.
After Venkman apologizes for that comment, Egon emerges from beneath her desk, having probably set up some equipment or something. They have a nice talk. You know, chit-chat.

Janine: "I bet you like to read a lot, too."
Egon: "Print is dead."

She keeps trying to strike up some kind of conversation, asking if Egon has any hobbies.

Egon: "I collect spores, molds, and fungus."

There are a couple moments like this in the movie that were left in after they cut out a romance subplot between these two. Allegedly, the filmmakers cut it out for being too unbelievable... and yet, quite a few fans like to pair these two up. Missed opportunity, guys.

Dana enters the firehouse and makes her way to Janine's desk, whereupon Dr. Venkman pops his head up like a groundhog, ironically enough, and leaps over a small barrier to offer assistance.

"Hello, I'm Peter Venkman, I'll be your goofy jerk for the movie."
They take her back into the office and hook her head up to a machine while she tells her story about the eggs and the Hellmouth in her fridge.

Venkman: "Generally, you don't see that kind of behavior in a major appliance."

Egon confirms that her brain scan reveals that she's telling the truth, or at the very least she thinks she is. Ray and Egon throw around some theories that... Alright, let me tell you something right now. One of my favorite things about this movie is how the characters just toss out paranormal theories like two mechanics talking shop. For example, this scene.

Ray: "You know what it could be? Past life experience intruding on present time."
Egon: "Could be race memory stored in the collective unconscious. I wouldn't rule out clairvoyance or telepathic contact either."

"Psychic visions of the future?"
"Perhaps. Unless seeing the future changed it."
"Mmm. Isn't that always the way?"
"Just makes our jobs harder."
Dana says she doesn't believe in any of that stuff, but they all still take the case anyway. Ray volunteers to go to the Hall of Records and check out if the building itself has any history. Egon says he'll look for the name Zuul in "the usual literature," like Tobin's Spirit Guide.

Fun Fact: Tobin's Spirit Guide is not real. But you can find a buttload of paranormal "experts" who have been praising this movie's accuracy for including Tobin's Spirit Guide since the film came out.

And Venkman offers to take Dana back to her apartment to check her out. Whoops.

Venkman: "...I'll go check out Miss Barrett's apartment."

They head inside and Venkman tries to impress her by checking the closet, tapping on the piano (claiming that ghosts hate that), and uses an off-the-shelf toxic vapor detector... which he can't properly identify.

Venkman: "It's technical. It's one of our little toys."

He zips off to her bedroom, but she kind of wants him to go to where the real action was.

Dana: "But nothing ever happened in there."
Venkman: "What a crime."

Dana tells him that he acts more like a game show host than a scientist as they head off into the kitchen. Venkman opens the fridge, finding the lurking horror of...

Oscar Meyer sandwich meat!
She insists that she knows what she saw, but the simple fact is that she has the inside of a refrigerator inside her refrigerator. Which isn't very unusual. Venkman tells her that he'll keep looking into this and tries to use the opportunity to put the moves on her. They do not work. At all. So he tries some new ones, and just outright tells her that he's in love with her, turning on the Bill Murray up to 10 as she slowly pushes him out the door. He passes Louis and returns to the firehouse for a delicious dinner of takeout Chinese.

He asks the others for a bit of petty cash to take her out to dinner, allegedly to keep her as a customer, but Ray tells him that their food represents the last of the petty cash.

Elsewhere in the building, Janine, while probably getting ready to leave for the day, answers the phone. And she can't believe what she hears.

Janine: "We got one!"

She sets off the alarm, and our boys slide down the pole and spring into action, suiting up and setting off down the street with the siren blaring. Which, since they're not recognized as an emergency service, is very illegal.

Actually, let’s talk about the Ecto-1 for a sec. Ray got that thing today, right? He was working on it when Dana came over to find a ghostbuster to help her. Between then and now, Ray seems to have not only gotten the car in perfect running order, but also painted it white. But I’m willing to forgive this, because, hey, it’s the Ecto-1. Along with the time-traveling DeLorean, it’s one of the coolest cars to come out of the 80’s. A 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance/hearse with a front disc brake conversion and a siren that was modified from the sound of a snarling cougar.

If you’re going to build a car to bust ghosts in, why not do it with some style?
Anyway, our heroes soon arrive at the Sedgewick Hotel and get down to business.

Coming up in Part 2! Starting up, shutting off, dropping off, and picking up!

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