Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Brief Look Back at Extreme Ghostbusters

When you're asked what your favorite movie about ghosts is, I'm willing to bet at least a quarter the U.S. population would say the 1984 action comedy masterpiece Ghostbusters.

And for good reason.  Ghostbusters had the perfect mix of scares, thrills, and funny moments.  The story about a company that goes out to snare and trap ghosts with their fancy equipment has all kinds of action-packed possibilities, and with comedy legends like Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd in the leading roles, it all came together for a timeless classic that anyone can enjoy.  Its sequel, Ghostbusters 2, had a more mixed reaction, but I love it just as much as the first movie.

Though arguably not as popular as the movie, there was a TV show made in the 80s using the characters from the movie called The Real Ghostbusters.

Essentially The Real Ghostbusters was a series about what working for the Ghostbusters was like, which was mainly only shown as a montage in the movie.  The series followed the basic premise and had the same characters, but was not canon from the movie, which might have been for the better.

From what I understand, it was quite a hit with the kids in the 80s, even having its own toy line.  It has a similar lighthearted tone (and animation quality) to the old 80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon; definitely a product of the era.

It pretty much followed a monster-of-the-week formula, which works well enough when it's about their day to day lives.  For the most part, it seems all the writers had to do was come up with a ghost for them to fight each episode and then write the conflict around that.

There was comedy, cheesy one-liners, and a sidekick in the form of Slimer, from the first movie, if you can believe that.  While it doesn't hold up to my standards today, I can see why The Real Ghostbusters was a hit in its heyday.  Especially considering it had the Ghostbusters fighting Cthulu!

Pictured: me not making this up.
But I am not a child of the 80s, I am a child of the 90s, and in 1997, we got a new team of Ghostbusters with a series that to this day I still love.

At first you might roll your eyes at the "Extreme" adjective in the title and heavier, darker tone, but Extreme Ghostbusters is actually far better than The Real Ghostbusters, in my opinion.

The series follows a new team of college kids led by Egon.  At the start of the series, all the ghosts in Manhattan are already captured by The Real Ghostbusters, who since disbanded, but after some construction workers hit some kind of seal, a whole new gang of super-ghosts burst out, prompting Egon to have the students in his college class on the paranormal take it to them.

They call them "ghosts", but it would be much more fitting to call the things demons of varying sorts.  Not all of them came out of the place the show initially showed them being sealed in either.  Some of the demons came from other sources, like a giant weather-controlling winged monster conjured by a scepter or an evil Leprechaun that got out of a broken magic circle.

Like the original Ghostbusters movie, the characters are well-established, the dialogue is excellent (the director has worked on Animaniacs) and, though about as silly as the original team, each character is believable.  They really act like people in their early 20s.  Obviously that excludes any talk of risque subjects and cursing, but even then they reference the threat of death very often.  Remember when kid's shows were allowed to do that?

It helps that each character is perfectly acted, especially Maurice LaMarche returning as Egon and Jason Marsden as the wheelchair-bound Garrett.  Jason Marsden has really been around western animated series, but I think Garret is his best role because it sounds so much more natural than the goofy characters he usually voices.
There's also Slimer, the team pet, who's rather impressively voiced by voice acting legend Billy West.  There's something about the flying slimeball's semi-coherent speech that's really fun to listen to.

Extreme Ghostbusters follows the forumula of having a different ghost/demon each episode, but it's the way they have to outsmart each of them that keeps it interesting.  That usually means spending some time looking them up in folklore (even if it's sometimes inaccurate to the actual folklore), discussing what they observed, or having Egon analyze something about them fr a lead.  Just going up to them and zapping them like any other ghost almost never works like it seems to in the movies, and if it does, it's never that easy.

And these demons are genuinely disturbing.  Extreme Ghostbusters has a similar tone to the Batman animated series and Gargoyles, both of which are also classics.  People are eaten whole, trapped in mystical objects and turned into evil goblin-like monsters.  I remember a few of them being a little too scary for my 7-year-old self.  They really outdid themselves with some of these designs.

Freakin' clowns, man.  It's always gotta be clowns.
But that's what made Ghostbusters so fun in the first place.  Extreme Ghostbusters has all the scares, action and casual wise-cracking that made the original so great, and on Halloween, it seems like the perfect time to do so.  To my knowledge, the series has never been released on DVD in America, but you can find episodes on Youtube.  If you have the time, see a few for yourself, and have a great Halloween.

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