The Great Character theme for the month: Bill Murray. Today: Dr. Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters, written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis.
On Friday June 8th 1984, North American movie theaters exploded with one of the most colossal summer blockbuster opening day face-offs of the decade: the release of both Gremlins and Ghostbusters. On one side you had the muppets from hell, Gremlins, a horror comedy. Then as it’s direct competition was Ghostbusters, staring Saturday Night Live alumni in a science fiction/fantasy comedy about poltergeist exterminators. The final tally of that opening weekend showdown was fairly close. The Steven Spielberg-produced Gremlins grabbed $12,511,634, while Ghostbusters from director Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Twins) and screenwriter Harold Ramis (Animal House, Caddyshack) collected $13,578,151. Even though the green scaly monsters and the green slimy apparitions both became formidable merchandising franchises, Ghostbusters had 1984’s second highest box office total: $229,242,989, a ubiquitous pop music quotable Ray Parker Jr. theme song and Bill Murray breaking through even bigger as a solidified star with the role of the wise-cracking, lady’s man ghost grabber Peter Venkman.
Ghostbusters from IMDB:
Three unemployed parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service.
The very instant that Dr. Peter Venkman enters Ghostbusters we witness his professional priorities: using his scientific career to impress women. Accurate research ends up taking the back seat if it means that an attractive blonde needs to remain in the positive passenger seat of Venkman’s flirtatious ego. We also realize Peter Venkman will lose his proverbial smirk quickly when a guy interferes with his procedures.
After getting kicked off of Columbia University’s campus, and forced to take their no longer funded research project with them, Venkman and his associates Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) hop right into their supernatural start-up company, Ghostbusters, putting the paranormal in their private prison.
Hired help is soon in the building: a fourth ghoul fighter, the down-to-Earth Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) and the spunky secretary Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts). Venkman’s playful jostling and random ridicule is not sidelined in the least bit when these new faces enter the initial three-amigo dynamic.
DR. PETER VENKMAN: Janine, someone with your qualifications would have no trouble finding a top-flight job in either the food service or housekeeping industries.
Tucked between the group’s heart-of-gold preternatural passion from Dr. Ray Stantz, the brainiac tunnel vision perfection of Dr. Egon Spengler, and the honest opinionated soul of the crew Winston Zeddemore, Dr. Peter Venkman is clearly the mouth, that spokesman willing to say what you may feel, but are way too afraid to utter out loud in the attempt to not burn bridges or ruin anyone’s self-esteem. There is no verbal filter to censor Venkman. All social interactions must cope with him on his own terms. He is the brightly jeweled wedding ring finger on a hand with otherwise normal digits – having the most fun in the bunch.
DR. PETER VENKMAN: Somebody blows their nose and you want to keep it?
Venkman may not be in-the-know when it comes to all of the mechanical circumstances surrounding their technologically advanced accessories, but he will raise the right questions when these tools seem to stand in the way of progress – or their ability to keep breathing.
DR. PETER VENKMAN: Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.
Venkman’s resistance to non-believers and saboteurs is later revisited when he stands up to the problematic nosey antagonizing of Walter Peck (William Atherton), a lawyer hired to represent the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
DR. PETER VENKMAN: Yes it’s true. This man has no dick.
Venkman’s seductive swooning of their female clientele soon threatens to put him in direct contact with the “possessive” side of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), not of the jealously sort, but possessed by a nasty demon, with the unsettling title of Zuul The Gatekeeper.
Even with Venkman’s desire to date and mate with Dana, her Zuul alter ego proves to be harsh enough to remind him that ghouls aren’t gals.
DR. PETER VENKMAN: Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown… THROW IT!
Even when doing battle with pesky loiterers from the afterlife literally multiplies in size by way of the King Kong revision known as the gigantic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, leave it to Peter Venkman to keep his humor on high, even when under duress and possible death.
For his spontaneous sarcastic quips, his effortless power of persuasion, his humor-heavy persistence in enticing women and his never-worried, cool-headed command of situations that seemingly have him outmatched – Dr. Peter Venkman is a classic, undeniably GREAT CHARACTER in Bill Murray’s well-curated collection.
Perhaps Bill Murray’s most memorable role.
Thank you, Jason, for this post. What’s your favorite bit from the movie? Please join us in comments to discuss Ghostbusters.
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