I think it goes without saying Ghostbusters is a once-in-a-lifetime movie experience that can and never will be replicated, and a lot of that credit goes towards the special effects of the film. In 1984, this sort of visual sorcery wasn’t running rampant across filmmaking. With few exceptions like Star Wars and Poltergeist, (both of which Ghostbusters visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund worked on) audiences were bedazzled with the hypnotic effects the movie presented within.
Let’s take a ride and talk about that.
A mere year after the visual stunner of Poltergiest, Ivan Reitman and his crew were tasked to make Ghostbusters in UNDER A YEAR. In this case, is asking the impossible with the sort of movie that called for such heavy special effects to sell the story. But according to Ivan Reitman, it had to be done in such a way as to balance the comedy with the “ghosts” so as to not make it too silly, or too scary as doing so would damage the film entirely.
“The special effects are just as important as the comedy. We’ve never seen this level of first-class effects in a comedy film before and it has to be evened out.” – Ivan Reitman
Much of Dan Akroyd’s vision for the creatures were on a large scale, some of which even ended up in space if you can just picture that! However, the budget for the film was about $5 million and Reitman worked with Akroyd to rewrite the script and the creatures in a way that would work in a beautiful balance of comedy and terror. Though they ended up around $700,000 over by the time the film was locked, if Dan Aykroyd’s original script had been filmed, according to associate producer Joe Medjuck, it would have had “50 large scale monsters”.
Enter Richard Enlund, head honcho of Boss studios. Launched in 1983 specifically for Ghostbusters, who knew the importance of not making these creatures into flat-out jokes for the film. And what we ended up with was some of the best damn practical effects of apparations still to this day.
In the instance of the Marshmallow Man, Edlund and his team went through dozens of ideas and designs before opting for the simple, yet practical 100-foot monstrosity we all know and love.
Part of what made the effects so, well, effective, was their practical nature. You just can’t beat practical movie magic no matter how much technology you throw in front of it. The clip below from Ghostbusters.net gives us a short and sweet breakdown of some of the wizardry undertaken in bringing the Library Ghost, Slimer, and more to life in the film.
Made in just ten months and filmed in 55 days, Ghostbusters is the prime example of practical effects done in a time-crunch without the technology of a computer. Cliche to say it has aged like fine wine, so we’ll just say it has aged as well as Keanu Reeves in 2022. Charming, beautiful, breathtaking, and as soft and nostalgic as a twinkie.
With that, I’ll leave here with my personal favorite shot from the movie- the ghost escape from the firehouse that wreaks havoc on New York City all leading up to the climax of Gozer. I’m actually kind of obsessed with this scene as it has everything that is great about this movie all rolled into two minutes of spectacular energy. It’s ominous, a bit silly, but not so much to where you can’t overlook the sense of dread that is coming. Paired with Mick Smiley’s “I Believe It’s Magic”, this is just cinematic gold right here. And I believe what Ivan Reitman set out to do in balancing terror and comedy, marries perfectly in this one scene alone.