Opening: Great movies open with something happening. A rare few, like "Superman", can start with credits. Librarians getting the bejeezus scared out of them are always funny. In 2 minutes, we already feel like something happened, then we get a teaser of the song.
02 minutes: Was Dr. Venkman being overly cautious in his assessment of the female test subject in "Ghostbusters"? I remember watching this in 1984 and agreeing she was a legitimate phenomenon, but I applauded him for stating that he needed 1 to 1.5 hours more with her before drawing a conclusive determination.
Jennifer Runyon as an undergraduate student in a psychology study. 28 years later, psychology remains "a study of undergraduates", as psychology legend Prof. Paul Ekman deadpanned at a conference I attended last year.
The mark of a quality researcher is that he isn't overcome with confirmation bias. Well done, Dr. Venkman.
Link: John Hawks, so sue him, Columbia Pictures.
06 minutes: PKE Valences? Gosh, I haven't seen anyone invoke psycho-kinetic energy since, well, the 1980s, because Princeton still had their paranormal department back then. They didn't close it until 2007. Those ghost hunting shows likely still claim to find it, along with a bunch of other pseudoscience mumbo-jumbo.
07 minutes: 'Schizo' is a term you don't see often enough these days. Stupid DSM IV took all the fun out of psychology. But it's a fine non-descriptive way to address the big psychological elephant in the room regarding people who claim to see ghosts, UFOs, etc.
08 minutes: I am not surprised to learn Egon once attempted self-trephination - skull drilling. It's as legitimate as most of the alternative medicine making the rounds of the New York Times today, like turtle blood and feng shui. There is a reason the revenue of the New York Times is back at 1998 levels. It's only the paper of record to people who still listen to records.
St. Jerome is notable for his translation of the Bible. That's an obscure reference. These guys know their stuff.
It might be worthwhile to became a researcher just to be able to say, "Back off man, I'm a scientist" but by the time most researchers get to be researchers, they are pretty modest. That seems like a waste.
09 minutes: In 9 minutes we have had a lot of great lines but "Listen! You smell something?" is classic.
The bit with the mucus/slime/ectoplasm had to be ad-libbed. No way that could have been done in more than one take.
"It's hot" and "stronger readings over here", we'll have to see what that means.
11 minutes: This thing detects elecromagnetic energy? Why wouldn't they use a magnet to capture ghosts then? More likely is the idea that electromagnetic fields may cause people to see ghosts. As Lost In Science notes, psychologists created their "God Helmet" by stimulating temporal lobes of people, and they saw something that could be ghosts.(1) Stay away from power lines on a full moon.
12 minutes: That librarian ghost is still scary. This movie isn't for kids anyway.
So the readings determined that the ionization rate for all ectoplasmic entities is constant, and they say they might be able to capture one. That makes sense, electron capture ionization has been done since the 1930s (Nuclear K Electron Capture, Luis W. Alvarez, Physical Review 52 (1937), pp. 134–135, doi:10.1103/PhysRev.52.134)
13 minutes: A candy bar? Nice use of operant conditioning, Dr. Venkman. Stantz laughs but Egon is locked in. That means it worked.
14 minutes: They've been thrown out of the university. Venkman is not worried but Stantz is, and this is one of two lines from this movie I have used non-stop since 28 years ago:
15 minutes: They are daunted by $95,000 in interest over 5 years. How quaint. Since every taxpayer in America is now on the hook for $1.1 million in government debt and we add another $50 billion every month, $95,000 sounds pretty good. Oh Reaganomics, we once imagined you were the worst economy travesty a government could give us.
23 minutes: They hook up Dana Barrett to a polygraph and look at an EEG of her brain and speculate about meaning. Except for using fMRI now, not much has changed there.
25 minutes: They are at Dana's apartment. He has a blood pressure cuff pump attached to a box with a stick. I like being practical. After his lame attempts at treating Dana like she is a psychology undergraduate, she hits him with one of my favorite lines:
26 minutes: He's not all wrong. When he sees nothing resembling a demon in the refrigerator she asks him if he is sure he is using his ghost detection device correctly and he replies, "Well, I think so. I am sure there are no animals in there."
31 minutes: "Why worry? Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back." Particle physics was a big deal by then. Spider-Man had even fought Doctor Octopus at the swanky new Brookhaven lab a few years earlier. (1)
You have to love the crazy sound when they turn them on.
35 minutes: "Don't cross the streams...try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light." "Total protonic reversal."
Huh. Well, even though the LHC doesn't create enough energy to hurt a fly, I wouldn't stick my hand in it. Well, we know they definitely mean negative ionization for the ghosts anyway.
37 minutes: Slimer is trapped. There must be more to these ghosts, because the protons immobilized him and then the trap captured him. If it was just negative and positive he'd be kerplooey.
40 minutes: Nice "Omni magazine" shout out in the montage. At 41 minutes there is an ethereal sex scene, which no boy over the age of 8 is going to not notice. You have been warned. Kymberly Herrin got that dream role. She had been a Playmate in 1981 and was also notable in the ZZ Top video "Legs".
42 minutes in and we get a new Ghostbuster, Winston Zeddmore. I am not sure why. Liberal guilt? Studio desire for diversity? No one ever remembers him even though he's in half the movie. But his entrance does give us a chance to learn about the laser containment grid "storage facility" for the ghosts and Venkman explains what he has learned about the monster in her ice box. Zuul the Gatekeeper, Gozer the Sumerian god of Destruction, and Vinz Clortho the Keymaster were invented for the movie.
47 minutes: Oh no, the EPA arrives. Even in 1984, a scant 14 years after their creation, they were a running joke. Walter Peck goes right to 'we are the government', which you sort of expect.
60 minutes: Louis Tully, Dana's neighbor, has been possessed by Vinz Clortho the Keymaster and they analyze him with a spaghetti colander with giant passive electronic components attached.
67 minutes: The EPA is back, this time with a cop and an electrician. It's rare you see a cop in a dress uniform for this kind of thing. We find out it's a high-voltage laser containment system and that shutting it off would be "like dropping a bomb on the city".
Maybe the EPA guy has a point, if the thing is that dangerous.
But then he uses the awesome power of government to just shut it off, without doing a real investigation or thinking about the consequences. That sounds more like the EPA we know and love. A federal court had to order them to stop blaming fracking for everything that happened underground without doing an investigation so not much has changed.
70 minutes: Telemetry trackers like NASA uses to identify dead pulsars in deep space? Cores of pure Selenium? Wait, the antioxidant? Is the building an old semiconductor? You'd think a ghost able to take over the world would have invented silicon to use in his building. Spook Central, where Dana lives, is a weird place.
71 minutes: Holy crap, Stantz says the whole building is indeed a huge superconductive antenna. To focus spiritual turbulence. Ramis and Akroyd, Spengler and Stantz in the movie, did their homework.
88 minutes: Egon declares things 'extraordinarily bad' a lot in this movie but this time we never learn why. No Twinkies, no protonic reversal, nothing. Just bad.
90 minutes: Stantz imagines the Stat Puft Marshmallow Man and he becomes the form of their destructor. Social psychologists are nodding their heads vigorously right now and reviving Folk Psychology Theory. Look for studies that are surveys of students affirming this by next week.
Link: Mostly Nerdy Crochet
94 minutes: They cross the streams. I thought that was bad, but I am fuzzy on the whole good-bad thing. Apparently, they can reverse the particle flow back through the gate. I guess this Zuul guy used active components rather than passive.
This is a proton collider, they say, so maybe the attorney and the science fiction writer who filed the lawsuit to try and stop the LHC believed in ghosts. Since we learned earlier that the ionization rate for all ectoplasmic entities is constantand it's negative I guess their positron collider will attract that negative energy. nothing says negative to me like a giant marshmallow man tearing up New York City.
Anyway, it works, the bad guys explodes in flame and everything gets sucked into a hole in the sky except marshmallow parts. And we find out Winston only makes $11,500 a year. And they are all okay!
They exit to the theme song: The song is cool but I'm just not buying it. Ray Parker, Jr. ain't afraid of no ghosts? Really, Ray? "Evil Dead" was out by then. If you were not scared of ghosts after watching that movie, you're crazy. Cheryl was not afraid and look what that tree did to her.(3)
Did I miss any science in the film? If so, let me know.
(1) If it was on the Science Channel, it must be true, so God Helmet's are probably legit.
(2) Here you go:
Credit and link: Brookhaven National Laboratory.
- A Ghostbusters Tour Of Manhattan
- Can Hauntings Be Verified By Science?
- Star Wars Will Win Even If Your Expectations Are Too High, Because Nostalgia Rules
- Think Pseudoscience Isn't Dangerous? Ghost Hunter Looking For Ghost Train Killed By Real One
- The Marshmallow Test: How 4-year-olds Can Help Elucidate Willpower