When Dan Aykroyd wrote the original script for the 1984 classic “Ghostbusters,” the main setting was outer space, and the story was set in the distant future — WAY far ahead in the distant future.
As in 2012.
This is but one of a constant parade of fascinating and insightful nuggets doled out in “Cleanin’ Up the Town,” a comprehensive and thorough if overlong deep dive into one of the most beloved and enduring blockbusters of the 1980s, which became a pop-culture phenomenon, set box-office records for a comedy and has spawned a number of TV spinoffs and feature film follow-ups, including the upcoming “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”
But it all began with that massive and sprawling script from Aykroyd, who tells us his own interest in the paranormal and the unexplained began with his great-grandfather, Dr. Samuel August Aykroyd, a dentist in Kingston, Ontario, in the early 20th century who was “also a psychic researcher in the tradition of the British Psychical Research Society and the American Society of Psychical Research,” and isn’t it great when Dan Aykroyd talks about stuff like this and kind of assumes we’re all familiar with the the traditions of the British Psychical Research Society and the American Society of Psychical Research?
Director Anthony Bueno and writer Claire Bueno clearly love “Ghostbusters” as much as, well, just about anyone who’s ever seen it, and “Cleanin’ Up the Town” allots as much interview time to the behind-the-scenes special effects wizards, the editor, the producers, as they give to Aykroyd, Harold Ramis (in interviews recorded before his death in 2014), Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, William Atherton and even such minor but valuable players as Jennifer Runyon and Steven Tash, who played the college students tested by Murray’s Dr. Peter Venkman, and Timothy Carhart, the violinist who was Venkman’s romantic competition for the attentions of Weaver’s Dana Barrett. I kid you not, we even hear from an extra who was the “Redheaded Man” in the climactic crowd scene in Manhattan.
Alas, the famously enigmatic and elusive Bill Murray doesn’t appear in the doc, though Annie Potts tells a great story about Murray showing up late and unprepared for a scene and trying to improvise his way out of it, and when Murray kept asking what was wrong, she finally exclaimed: “Stand on your f---ing mark and say your f---ing line, and I’ll be fine,” at which point the crew broke into applause.
Aykroyd and director Ivan Reitman share stories of the casting process, with Aykroyd saying the original Ghostbusters were to be himself, John Belushi and Eddie Murphy, while Reitman notes the late John Candy was first choice to play the role of the meek neighbor Louis Tully, but Reitman couldn’t go along with Candy’s suggestions for the character.
[“He said], ‘I’m thinking of doing him in a German accent, and he’s gotta have dogs — big German Shepherds,’ ” said Reitman. “And I told him he can’t have dogs at all, there’s these dogs on the roof [in the movie] … he just got adamant that he had to be a German person with German Shepherds.”
Enter Rick Moranis.
We also see how the production team combined practical effects, visual effects and just plain last-minute scrambling to get the job done. At one point, the “Slimer” ghost was represented by a peanut painted green as it “flew” around a chandelier. A peanut!
As is the case with virtually every iconic blockbuster ever made, “Ghostbusters” was born of multiple script rewrites, budget concerns, battles over permits, long nights of filming, casting decisions large and small that worked out perfectly and hundreds of dedicated and hardworking professionals working together in the hopes the final product would somehow translate into movie magic. As “Cleanin’ Up the Town” reminds us, sometimes you hit a home run for the ages.