Scene Analysis: Ghostbusters

Director: Ivan Reitman

Writers: Dank Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Actors: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver

Context: Drs. Venkman, Spengler and Stantz are called to a library where a librarian has been terrified by what she claims is a supernatural specter. The trio of paranormal investigators try to locate the apparition.

Shot 1:

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The scene begins with a tracking shot, showing the men walk down stairs, highlighting how they are leaving the realm of the normal and descending into something wholly unknown to them. We follow along with them, part of the journey. The use of narrow tunnels around them illustrates that they are in a maze, seeking a minotaur more or less of which to combat (or in this case, discover).

Shot 2:

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The row of books at the center of the frame is unnatural since an audience is used to action happening just the right or left of center. The entire scene also emphasizes shadow to show how the characters are navigating into something mysterious, the light barely illuminating the mystery they are searching through.

Shot 3:

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The highlight of the slime shows that they are truly entering an unknown realm, something perverse around them. The motion of the slime dripping down further draws attention to its unnaturalness.

Shot 4:

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The characters are entering the new realm, drawn further into the mystery.

Shot 5:

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The characters examine the slime, unsure quite what to make of it, further being drawn in.

Shot 6:

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The medium shot brings the slime from the previous shot directly into contact with Venkman, eliminating any distance there had been before between the men and the unknown.

Shot 7:

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As the characters continue on their path, the tone is kept in check by Venkman, who treats the slime with disgust and humor. This keeps the story balanced between horror and comedy.

Shot 8:

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A staircase nearly falling down on the men as they continue highlights how much closer they are coming to danger. They are now near the minotaur in the maze and it is challenging them. (As a side note, this was not part of the original script and was a result of the bookcase actually falling down on its own during a take. The filmmakers wisely kept it in to add tension.)

Shot 9:

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The closer angle on Venkman and Stantz highlights how the characters realize they are very close now, and the stakes are higher.

Shot 10:

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This shot directly tracks with the men, following Spengler’s PKE meter, leading down the last leg of the path. We are now firmly with the trio, heading into danger, the PKE serving as a torch of sorts through the halls. By moving the camera so quickly, the viewer can sense the action ramping up.

Shot 11:

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The men come face to face with the minotaur, but the shot keeps the anticipation lingering for just a moment longer, showing that they’ve found it, but preventing us from seeing what it is, only their reactions. This makes whatever it is seem that much more terrifying just for a split second more.

Shot 12:

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We now glimpse the specter, a benign old woman. This counteracts our expectations which had been building, the audience assuming some sort of terrifying force. By portraying her so small in frame, her power seems diminished.

Shot 13:

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Spengler and Stantz stare on in amazement. They are positioned symmetrical in line with the bookcases behind them. It is also worth noting that there is a quiet gust of wind blowing across all three men at this time from some unknown source adding further to the unnatural nature of the encounter.

Shot 14:

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We move in closer to the ghost, admiring it as the scientists do. The wider hall indicates that we have indeed entered the center of the maze. This is what we were meant to find.

Shot 15:

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Stantz and Spengler continue to stand in wide-eyed disbelief. They are so completely taken in by what they see that they cannot even speak. This contradicts their earlier know-it-all attitude and leaves the audience wondering exactly the next shot.

Shot 16:

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Venkman finally asks the two men, “So, what do we do?”

Shot 17:

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Stantz and Spengler turn to each other, both with the same expression that the audience knows is, “I have no idea.” This shows the audience that despite their professionalism and enthusiasm, they are very much in the dark about what to do.

Shot 18:

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Venkman decides to take action, moving in the frame while the other two had remained frozen, indicating a need of action.

Shot 19:

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Venkman pulls Stantz towards him, drawing the other two into a need for action with him.

Shot 20:

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As the characters move behind a bookcase and out of frame, the viewer can see the library ghost turn and look at them. She is no longer just an object to them or the audience anymore, but an active participant in what is about to occur. The slowness of her movement is also eerie, and the fact that she does not participate further suggests that she is lurking, waiting for the right opportunity.

Shot 21:

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With Venkman’s back to the camera, the audience is placed in his shoes as he questions Stantz and Spengler on what to do. We, as an audience, watch the two squirm under pressure, trying to decide on a proper course of action. As they decide to make contact, their eyes turn to Venkman, the initiator of the action to come up with a plan, to break the barrier. This shows that not only are the men unsure what to do since they’ve found a ghost, they’re afraid to confront it, revealing a bit about their character (though this will be remedied later throughout the film as their characters are put through trials).

Shot 22:

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Venkman reacts to being singled out as the breaker-of-contact. He sighs in just the right way to show his disappointment in a humorous manner.

Shot 23:

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The characters go back to face the ghost.

Shot 24:

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We now stare at Venkman’s actions as he attempts to make contact. The shot is framed from the opposite point of view, our attention focused on Venkman, not the ghost, but we get a closer sense of the ghost whilst earlier we had stayed away. She appears as more a normal woman who just happens to be a ghost, diluting our expectations further as to what kind of power she possesses.

Shot 25:

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Spengler and Stantz busily take photographs and do readings, retreating into their happy place of research, not contact.

Shot 26:

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The close-up of Venkman asking where the ghost is from brings us back away from the ghost to the scientists. We are Venkman once again, not observing him.

Shot 27:

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Since we are back with the trio of scientists, the librarian ghost appears small again, but her actions of shushing Venkman quietly carry a great effect of creepiness. The sound reverberates longer than it should and her lack of personal connection with any of Venkman’s contact speaks to her otherworldliness.

Shot 28:

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Venkman’s face drops at the response, or lack thereof. The omnipresent strange glow and low wind continue to stay on him. This series of shots reflect a confrontation of sorts between the scientists and the ghost, setting them up as adversaries, the scientists trying to prod her and the ghost refusing to even contact.

Shot 29:

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The scientists go back in the corner again to discuss their strategy. Stantz takes charge, stating that he has a plan and leads the men back out and towards the ghost.

Shot 30:

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This is in contrast to the earlier shots showing the distance between the scientists and the ghost. That distance is now being closed as they move forward. The music growing louder shows how the confrontation is coming to a head.

Shot 31:

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The men present a unified front, arcing forward as if ready to pounce. Stantz talks with greater and greater anticipation, building suspense. As we move with them towards the ghost, all the previous buildup of the scene comes to light, the wandering through the halls, the discovering of clues of stacked books and slime, the discovery of the ghost and her utter disregard of them, all building to this moment of actual hero meeting beast. Stantz finally reveals his plan, which is strangely enough to shout, “Get her!” The lack of subtlety produces a burst of humor.

Shot 32:

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The utter terrifying transformation of the librarian ghost into a demon mixes that humor with horror, both feelings intertwined with the surge of surprise and reaction to the anticipation. By previously confounding our expectations about the nature of the ghost, going from demon who terrified librarian to quiet ghost to terrifying demon again, the ebbs and flows of the scientist’s journey allow easy emotional access for the audience to follow. By moving in closer to the demon than any previous shot had allowed as well, we are placed firmly in its domain.

Shot 33:

Screen shot 2014-09-26 at 9.44.44 AM

Venkman, Stantz and Spengler scream in terror and retreat quickly, echoing the audience’s own reaction to the series of shots.

Conclusion:

The scene moves from the scientists trying to find paranormal activity to discovering it. Their experience in the library gives them greater knowledge that will be utilized when they confront other ghosts and ghouls throughout the film.

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