Ghostbusters has been in my life for as long as I can remember. No, really. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve watching the flick with my dad (and missing 75 percent of the jokes), strapping on a backpack and teaming up with friends to take down spooks, specters and ghosts on the school playground, sitting with my nose pressed to the TV eagerly awaiting the next episode of The Real Ghostbusters, perhaps the greatest animated series of the 1980s, singing along to that awesome Ray Parker, Jr. song; and spending all my money on the Game Genie just so I could (unsuccessfully) try to beat that stupid Ghostbusters NES video game (I could never figure out how to ascend that damned staircase).
I even recall a moment when, in Summer 1989, I happened upon a discarded, plastic Ghostbusters II cup (from Hardees, if memory serves) that I took home, washed, and held onto for some time.
Another great life-fulfilling moment occurred when my parents bought me a Real Ghostbusters glow-in-the-dark t-shirt featuring the iconic logo on the sleeve — the closest I’d ever get to owning a jumpsuit.
So, yeah, Ghostbusters had an enormous impact on my life.
However, one thing always alluded me, a rare item that I yearned for, even begged for like Ralphie Parker on crack — the Kenner Proton Pack, aka the coolest toy on the planet on par with the effing Millennium Falcon. Seriously. I often dreamt of the day I could discard my school backpack, strap on the real pack, ignite my “stick” and fend off whatever prehistoric bitch got in my way with that weird-ass yellow nerf thingy that protruded from the end. I mean, the damned thing even had a place to hang a Ghost Trap. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.
Yet, I never got one. Maybe I didn’t beg hard enough, maybe I was just a terrible kid, or maybe my attention span turned away from Ghostbusters too quickly and latched onto other “fads” like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman … but, boy, for a hot minute anyone who was anyone owned a Proton Pack.
Naturally, my friends weren’t any help. Most of them were into G.I. Joe and Transformers. You’d go in their house and they’d have Optimus Prime partially transformed in the corner next to a bunch of naked Barbies (?), but nothing of the Ghostbusters variety, much less a Proton Pack. There was one kid who got the Firehouse set for Christmas along with a miniature Stay Puft Marshmallow Man figure, but I didn’t know his name and figured he would kill me if I asked considering he threatened to punch me in the face for wearing my socks up to my knees.
I used to wander through the toy aisles of K-Mart ogling my dream toy the way Indiana Jones gawked at the Golden Idol, and tried to think of ways that would allow me to sneak off with the treasure without getting shot. Was a Proton Pack really worth a life of crime?
Yet, I never worked up the courage to steal the toy. And before you say, “Jeff, it’s on eBay for, like, $120!” let me just interject with, “It’s not the same.”
See, I eventually outgrew Ghostbusters. I latched onto Ninja Turtles for a few years, then discovered Tim Burton’s Batman, after which all bets were off. My longing for a Proton Pack faded and I rarely speak of it … except for at annual Thanksgiving meltdowns with my parents.
Dad: “You could have been anything!”
Me: “YOU NEVER BOUGHT ME A PROTON PACK!”
Dad: “What the f*** is a Proton Pack?”
The point is: I moved on from ghost-busting, discarded the cartoon, and even threw away that disgusting Ghostbusters 2 cup. I. Moved. On.
Then, the original released on a new platform called D-V-D in 1999. Curious, I picked up a copy and watched the film from a much older perspective. Suddenly, it hit me: Ghostbusters was not a family film. There were sex jokes, most of them subtle, smoking, drinking, swearing, womanizing … a far cry from the lighter tone of The Real Ghostbusters and the cheesy Ghostbusters II for that matter. Here was a high-concept adult comedy, albeit one with gadgets and monsters too cool for kids (and, subsequently, marketers) to ignore — hence, the lighter tone in follow-up entries. Bill Murray’s performance remains legendary, the chemistry between him, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis astonishing. The special FX (particularly Stay Puft) hold up extremely well considering the film is nearing its 30th anniversary; Elmer Bernstein’s score (which I just purchased a few months ago) is magnificent, and the concept of (as Red Letter Media put it) three entrepreneurs starting a business in New York City still resonates today.
In other words: Ghostbusters is genuinely a perfect movie, and one the best comedies to emerge from the 1980s — right up there with 48 Hours, Caddyshack, and Back to the Future — and much more than the marketing gimmick the franchise eventually became.
So, in celebration of Ghostbusters Day, as we eagerly await Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which hopefully returns the franchise back to the spotlight, let us give thanks to the original 1984 Ivan Reitman classic that started it all — an amazing, funny, extraordinary, one-chance-in-a-million film that certainly means a lot more to me now than that silly Proton Pack toy.