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Ghostbusters Plasma Series: Venkman

Bill Murray is the greatest actor of all time. If you want to disagree with me, that’s fine, just know that you’re wrong. Because of my love of toys and Mr. Murray, I’ve always wanted a Bill Murray action figure. It might sound like a weird want to most people, but to a toy enthusiast it probably isn’t. If one were to aspire to own Bill Murray in plastic though, then the easy franchise to look to is Ghostbusters.

The Real Ghostbusters is the toyline that made me an action figure fan for life. I loved that series from Kenner as I had the firehouse, the Ghostbusters, numerous vehicles, and some ghosts. That franchise is based on the cartoon though, and the actual Ghostbusters did not resemble their real-life counterparts even in the slightest. That is almost certainly due to money, as if you’re going to make a cartoon that uses the likeness of actors like Murray and Harold Ramis then it stands to reason that those individuals need to be compensated.

Nostalgia has taken over the toy collecting world though, and actual toys based on the original 1984 hit Ghostbusters have been trickling out for years. There have been some high end ones, and some more mass market friendly releases. I’ve always intended to purchase a Peter Venkman from one of those many lines to satisfy my Murray obsession, but I just never did. For one reason or another, I just either wasn’t enthused with the product or I didn’t like the price. Well, today on a trip to Target for some essentials, I made an impulse buy when I stopped by the toy section as staring at me right in the face was a Peter Venkman from Hasbro’s new Plasma Series of toys.

Hasbro is the latest license holder to acquire Ghostbusters. Previously, Mattel held the license and I believe Diamond Select also had it at one point. Hasbro is a well known toy creator as it currently holds many of pop culture’s biggest licenses such as Marvel and Star Wars. Once upon a time, I was a Marvel enthusiast and was way deep into the Marvel Legends line, but when Hasbro acquired the license from Toy Biz I wasn’t impressed. I left that line around 2006 and I haven’t purchased a Hasbro toy since. For that reason, this purchase was a bit like a homecoming for me. I have nothing against Hasbro as a company, I just don’t have much interest in the licenses they hold. This was the first release that had appealed to me in quite some time, so I was curious to see how Hasbro’s action figures stand up in 2020.

The Ghostbusters Plasma Line all come packaged in an attractive window box display. One side panel features a bit of stylized art of the four Ghostbusters and the rear dispalys the rest of the line. There’s also a brief blurb on the character. For Venkman, the box reads: “The man with the mouth: Peter can convince (almost) anybody of (almost) anything.” Short and to the point, it described the character well enough. Each figure comes with a few accessories as well as a piece of Vince Clortho in demon-dog form. For Peter, it’s the left, front, leg. The other figures in the line include the other three Ghostbusters, Dana in her Zuul attire, and Gozer. The retail at Target was $19.99 so if you want to build your own demonic canine it will cost you around $140. Hopefully you don’t want two.

Peter Venkman comes clad in his traditional Ghostbusters outfit from the first film. It’s the khaki one with the logo on the right shoulder complete with black boots and gloves. He stands right around 6″ and possesses a great deal of articulation. His head sits on a ball joint with great range of motion. The shoulders are ball-jointed and there’s a hint of a butterfly joint in there as well for turning the shoulders into the body. It doesn’t do much though. He has a biceps swivel which is a little tight out of the box and double-jointed elbows. At the wrist he has a swivel and a hinge joint to tilt the hands up and down. His torso is on a ball-joint so he has some good motion there that doesn’t detract as much from the sculpt as an ab crunch would, though he lacks traditional waist articulation. The legs are attached via ball-joints with thigh swivels and double-jointed knees. The ankles are on swivels, but with an odd pitch to them so they sort of turn out and up instead of on a straight plane. The feet also rock side to side.

What I understand to be typical of Hasbro is fairly true here in that most of the figure is colored plastic. There’s not a ton of paint work aside from a yellow cable on his belt and the logo on his arm. The face is a solid likeness for Murray, as good as one would expect at this price point. I’ve seen more expensive Venkman figures with lesser face sculpts. He has a cocky smirk which is befitting of the character, though I wish he had a five-o-clock shadow. The uniform looks great and even features the screen accurate detail of Venkman’s pants not being tucked into his boots. He has his walkie talkie affixed to his belt, though it’s non-removable, and the belt itself is a floating piece of plastic which adds a little depth to the look of the figure. The hands are in trigger-finger positions as opposed to a more generic grip. I’m not sure this really adds anything to the figure as the proton pack doesn’t feature a trigger, but the plastic is soft enough that he can hold his accessories with only a little bit of fuss. The lack of paint means he’s fairly glossy to look at. A wash over the uniform might have done some good, and his eyes are particularly shiny, but it’s an attractive enough piece.

For accessories, Venkman comes with his proton pack and a ghost trap. The proton pack is a really nice sculpt with some paint highlights as well. It’s attached to a harness that features two shoulder straps, a belt, and a peg to fit into Peter’s back. The belt of the proton pack detaches on the left side and it was more than a little troublesome out of the box. It almost looks like it was glued in place which had me doubting myself if I was supposed to even go this route in order to get this thing onto Venkman. I did manage to unfasten it, but I was scared the whole time that the peg would come off with it. It definitely could have been done better and isn’t something that would probably hold up well to repeated removals. The actual blaster portion can be holstered on the side of the pack or held by the figure. It’s on a soft piece of plastic and seems reasonably durable. Venkman has enough articulation that he can hold the end of it in a casual manner, ready across his chest, or point it to bust some ghosts. The other accessory, the trap, looks the part, though it doesn’t do anything. Venkman can hold it, but there isn’t an easy way to clip it onto his belt or anything like that. It also doesn’t have the activation pedal. The only other accessory is the build-a-figure piece which I suppose looks fine, though I’m not about to judge that figure based on one leg.

Positioning and posing Venkman is pretty rewarding. There isn’t much he can’t do that you would want him to do based on what the character does in the film. His feet are a bit small, so he’s a little harder to stand than I expected he would be. The proton pack also adds some weight to the figure, but not enough to make standing him impossible. For the price, he’s as good as expected. The only real shortcoming with the figure is the lack of extra hands as he pretty much needs to be holding his proton blaster to not look stupid. A screaming second head would have also been cool, but not expected or really necessary. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hasbro does a slimed variant in the future.

The Plasma Series Venkman is an action figure that gets the job done. I wanted a Bill Murray toy, and was happy to take him in his Ghostbusters attire, and this fit the bill. It’s about what one would expect of a mass market action figure at the $20 price point, but it also doesn’t exactly leave me feeling like Hasbro went above and beyond like NECA often does with its products. It also didn’t leave me with a compulsion to buy the rest of the line, so Peter is going to have to get used to hanging out with the Lego versions of the other Ghostbusters. Maybe if they ever hit clearance I’d revisit it, but probably not. For Ghostbusters enthusiasts, I suspect they’re happy to have an improvement on what Mattel did in the past and at an affordable price point.


Lego Ghostbuster Firehouse

IMG_1125It’s been nearly two years since Lego unleashed its version of the famed Ecto-1 from the movie Ghostbusters. It’s been even longer since a concept for that vehicle,, as well as the firehouse appeared online. When Lego opted to only do the Ecto-1 set I thought that was it for the firehouse and Ghostbusters fans would have to make due with one very fine set. Imagine my surprise when an email showed up on my account from Lego advertising the new Ghostbuster Firehouse set. I don’t usually keep up to date with toy news so this came as a shock to me. I was quite delighted with what I saw, but a case of sticker shock tempered my enthusiasm some. I got past that though, and would end up making the most expensive toy purchase of my life.

How much is too much for a set of plastic building blocks? Especially when the purchaser is an adult. I don’t know, but it can’t be much more than the $349.99 MSRP for the Ghostbuster Firehouse. Set number 75827 is indeed a pricey one but it’s also an impressive one. Totaling over 4600 pieces, the iconic firehouse is a mighty 2 feet in height and just as long. Multiple hinges make it very accessible on the interior and the three-floor layout provides optimal space for the nine mini figures and three ghosts it comes with. The interior is surprisingly movie accurate, in particular the first floor with the placement of Janine and Venkman’s desks. Pretty much everything important from the films is present including the fire pole, “dancing” toaster, and containment unit. When compared with the layout of The Simpson house, it blows it away in terms of screen to brick accuracy, which is what many adult collectors care about most.

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A cut-away look at the completed house.

With such a large assortment of pieces, the build process is a slow one. Not being one who has extensive experience with Lego sets, it took me a solid week to complete the set basically spending a couple hours per night. I didn’t try to go too fast and wanted to savor the build as it’s what is most fun about these things. Lego sets are like puzzles but with way better results. Because the building is so large, some parts do get a bit tedious. In particular, the actual exterior of the building. Lego tries to break that process up as much as possible but it’s an unavoidable reality of such a set. Other limitations of the set include the lack of a basement, but Lego made the wise choice to tuck the containment unit in under the stairs. Ecto-1 fits inside, but not all the way without removing Janine’s desk, which is unfortunate, but understandable since the set is already pretty damn big. The bedroom layout is not exact to the film either, but sacrifices have to be made somewhere. Lego still managed to fit all three beds into the room without making it look ridiculous.

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Slimed Peter and possessed Dana.

The set includes nine mini figures and three ghosts, one of which is Slimer. Expectedly another set of Ghostbusters are included. For the most part, they’re the same as the four included with Ecto-1 but with a couple of differences. For one, each character now has the no ghosts logo on their sleeve which looks nice. Winston has a different, and better, hair piece so he looks less like Billy Dee Williams. Venkman is the only true variant though as he comes slimed from his first encounter with Slimer (he too sports a superior hair piece to the one that came with the Ecto-1 set). He looks great and I am particularly fond of his angry face. Janine is also included, as are possessed versions of Dana and Louis. Louis even comes with a second head that includes a chin-strap so he can wear a colander on his head to recreate the scene where Egon checks him out. The library ghost is featured and she has a second hair piece to go from calm book reader to screaming ghoul. The ghost from the taxi cab is also included. He looks good, but is kind of an odd choice since he doesn’t have his car and the set really misses Walter Peck. I suppose Peck is generic enough looking that one could find a decent substitute somewhere. Slimer looks great and has movable arms. The other two ghosts are suitable and kind of remind me of the generic ghosts that came with the old action figures. Three transparent stick-like pieces are included for each ghost to simulate flight. All in all, the set includes a nice assortment of mini figures.

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R.I.P. H.R.

The Ghostbusters come armed with proton packs that have to be assembled. They’re the same as the packs from the Ecto-1 set. They also have traps (which look better than the one that came with the Ecto-1 set) and walkie talkies and Egon has a PK Meter. Clutter abounds in the firehouse in the form of magazines, news papers, and cardboard boxes. They seem simple, but add a nice touch of authenticity. The best little nugget of the set though goes to the sticker on Venkman’s backboard which has a note on it that says “R.I.P. H.R.” for Harold Ramis. Way to make it dusty in here, Lego.

If you love the Ghostbusters and have the extra coin laying around, this is one hell of a set and a fun way to spend some free time. The end result makes for an impressive display and if you have kids that you trust, it’s probably pretty fun to play with too. It blows away that old firehouse toy I had when I was a kid (I love how the fire pole accessory here is basically the same concept as it feels like a callback to my old, beloved, toy) and it’s easily the finest Lego set I’ve ever purchased. I can’t think of another set that would make sense for Lego to produce based on the Ghostbusters. I suppose they could do a rooftop scene from the climax of the first film but I don’t think I’d be interested. A big Lego figure of Stay-Puft would be awesome though! I don’t know if this set is worth $350, but I did have fun with it and I don’t regret my purchase. A job well done, Lego!

 


The Ghostbusters Get the Lego Treatment

IMG_0052It’s been thirty years since Ghostbusters first hit the big screen ushering in a new era of special effects-laden blockbusters.The film made unlikely heroes out of middle-aged comedians Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Harold Ramis while lesser known Ernie Hudson got a taste of stardom. The film was immensely successful and soon a cartoon was spun-off from its success which lead to even more opportunities for merchandise. Lots and lots of merchandise.
Ghostbusters is one of those rare franchises that has a lot of appeal for both kids and adults. Many have tried to achieve the same thing, but aside from those that can lean heavily on nostalgia, most fail to achieve the same level of success. The adults had the films, which kids enjoyed as well, while the cartoon was aimed directly at adolescents. The personalities of the main characters were unique to whatever version was being watched with only the broader traits (such as Egon being the brainy Ghostbuster) carrying over.
I was introduced to the Ghostbusters via the cartoon, and as a child, probably assumed it came first. When Ghostbusters 2 arrived in theaters it was a pretty big deal. I liked the films, though my assortment of toys were obviously born from the cartoon. I can recall having at least three of the Ecto vehicles, the firehouse, and numerous action figures. I also remember a Transformers-inspired Volkswagon Beetle that turned into a grasshopper. Sadly, once the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arrived the Ghostbusters began to lose the battle for my attention, and my parents’ money. Most, if not all, of those old toys have been either sold, given away, or tossed, though my love for the original film (and to a lesser extant, its sequel) still exists.

The finished product.

The finished product.

This weekend, Ghostbusters is back in theaters for those who wish to see it on the big screen. If the lure of the theater isn’t your cup of tea, then might I suggest celebrating 30 years of ghost-busting goodness with Lego?
Earlier this year, as part of the 30 year anniversary celebration, Lego released the infamous Ecto-1 in Lego form along with mini figures of the four Ghostbusters: Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston. The set was the result of a fan vote on sets created by avid Lego builders. A firehouse was part of the original fan-set, but sadly Lego passed (with no indication the franchise would be revisited, but who knows?). The Ecto-1 is a solid overall set for Lego collectors and Ghostbusters fans. Its external likeness is nearly spot-on and likely only the most avid Ghostbusters fans can spot any shortcomings. This set is obviously of the Ecto-1 vehicle from the first film, and not the more flashy edition from Ghostbusters 2. It took me a full evening to assemble, and once completed I was more than satisfied with the end result.
The fours figures feature a reasonable likeness to the characters they’re meant to resemble. Lego figures are rather limited in what they can do, but little touches such as the lines on Venkman’s face and Egon’s hair do a solid job of giving these figures some character. I would have preferred to see Lego attempt a receding hairline on Pete, and Winston looks more like Billy Dee Williams than Ernie Hudson, but oh well. Their proton packs are a combination of several Lego pieces and have to be assembled. The end result looks pretty good and Lego’s approach proved accurate. The trap, on the other hand, is just so-so but clearly Lego didn’t want to spend extra cash on creating a unique piece of plastic for one lone set. There’s also a build-able stand to display the figures which is a nice touch considering the majority of those who purchase this will likely be adult collectors.

The fab four ready for some bustin'!

The fab four ready for some bustin’!

When it comes to the actual vehicle in the set, Lego surprises with numerous unique pieces. This means no stickers, which is always a welcomed trait for a Lego set. The doors for the Ecto-1 all have printed Ghostbuster logos on them and even the license plates are sticker-free. The general shape of the Ecto-1 is captured quite well, and the mass of junk on top seems accurate enough. There’s a hose piece that’s a little odd, but it was on the original so it’s here as well! There’s really very little to nitpick here as even the rear wheels are covered by the frame of the vehicle. The only real issue with the car is the scale. It’s slightly under scale to the figures and can only hold three figures, seated single file, at a time. Since most are likely to display the characters on their stand, this isn’t that big of an issue and probably the right move. A vehicle that could actually hold all four figures may have ended up being out of scale for the opposite reason.
All in all, this is a great little set. It will set you back around fifty bucks which is pretty much on par for similar Lego collections, though may be just a tad too pricey for impulse buyers. For those that want to see their beloved Ghostbusters in Lego form, this is damn near perfect. Hopefully Lego reconsiders and comes thru with a firehouse (that’s to scale with the Ecto-1) so I can finally replace the toy one I sold at a yard sale so long ago.


Scrooged

Scrooged (1988)

Scrooged (1988)

Richard Donner is known primarily for being the director who convinced you that a man could fly, but he also directed and produced the first Christmas movie I ever saw where the lead character was something more than despicable.  In a way, Scrooged is kind of a precursor to a film like Bad Santa where the audience isn’t supposed to like or even feel much empathy for the lead role.  And even though Scrooged is a take on A Christmas Carol, the leading male in the Scrooge-like role just seems far more unlikable than any Scrooge I ever bore witness to.

The Scrooge in this film is played by Bill Murray, an actor who has made an awful lot of money portraying selfish, sarcastic, and cynical characters that audiences are able to embrace because that character offers some redeeming qualities.  Murray’s Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters ultimately embraces his hero role and puts his life on the line for the city of New York.  Groundhog Day’s Phil Connors is quite the unlikable character at the film’s onset, but throughout the movie he’s redeemed and becomes a better person in the end.  In Scrooged Murray plays Frank Cross, a television executive whose ambition in life is entirely career oriented.  Unlike many depictions of Scrooge, he’s not necessarily out solely for financial gain (though that’s definitely a part of it, and he’s pretty cheap) as his main ambition appears to be to rise to the top of the career ladder.  He’s ruthless, self-centered, and shows no empathy for the people around him.  As a television executive, he approves a television spot for an upcoming live edition of A Christmas Carol that has an apocalyptic feel opting to lure in viewers through fear and intimidation rather than on the strength of the program he’s pushing.  He shows no regard for his loyal secretary, Grace (played by Alfre Woodard and the film’s Bob Cratchit), and makes her work late with no Christmas bonus, and when one of his subordinates (Bobcat Goldthwait’s Eliot Loudermilk) disagrees with his absurd TV spot he has him fired.  Usually we can laugh at a Bill Murray character even when he’s a jerk.  With Frank Cross, we can’t even laugh at him because he’s too good at being mean.

Carol Kane's character is likely to draw the most laughs.

Carol Kane’s character is likely to draw the most laughs.

I am an unabashed Bill Murray fan.  I love him in pretty much any role.  I don’t know exactly what it is about Murray that appeals to me so much.  He’s obviously a great actor whose range still seems to surprise people whenever he takes on a more dramatic role.  He’s best known for comedies and I certainly have a nostalgic affinity for Ghostbusters.  He also reminds me of my own father so that can’t hurt.  With that said, even I find it hard to watch the first half hour of Scrooged.  Frank Cross is a terrible person and he gets away with so much.  His brother James (John Murray, Bill’s real-life brother) is willing to forgive his short-comings to a fault, while ex-girlfriend Claire (Karen Allen) almost seems to ignore his numerous flaws.  We never quite see how the two characters broke-up, just a hurt Claire proposing they take a break when Frank once again chooses his career over her, and we get the sense that Frank just shrugged his shoulders and forgot to ever follow-up on that break.  I watched the film recently with my fiancé who remarked that she kind of hated the movie while we were in its early stages and I couldn’t blame her.  I do wonder if perhaps Murray and Donner felt like Murray was too likable as an actor at this stage in his career and that they needed to over-do just how awful Frank is to counteract that.  The film does benefit some from this overly cruel Scrooge as the character is redeemed by the film’s conclusion, but I still get the sense the Cross character was overdone.  Not only is he too cruel, he’s not always believable in his cruelty.  And it’s somewhat surprising that this character even could be redeemed.

The film's makeup effects are still impressive today.

The film’s makeup effects are still impressive today.

The film was initially hyped as a special effects bonanza.  Given that the film was released in 1988, these effects are not impressive by today’s standards.  The effects are mostly put to use with the film’s ghosts.  Just like in A Christmas Carol, Frank is visited by three spirits, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.  All take on an appearance and character to better suit this film’s setting of 1980’s New York.  The first ghost, played by David Johansen, is a cab driver who takes Frank on a tour of his past giving the audience insight into his childhood and past relationship with Claire.  Christmas Present is played by Carol Kane and she is portrayed as a violent fairy-type.  She repeatedly strikes Frank and is likely to be the character who induces the most laughs.  The Ghost of Christmas Future is depicted as a Grim Reaper-like figure whose main twist is a television screen for a face (and his “body” is revealed as a mass of screaming souls that looked revolting in the 80’s but kind of cheesy now).  A lot of makeup effects are in use with the ghosts, and the best is probably reserved for the Marley character played by John Forsythe.  His decomposing body is grossly, and convincingly, portrayed on-screen with lots of gray and a dusty, flaky, texture.

Eliot doesn't respond well to being fired.

Eliot doesn’t respond well to being fired.

For the film’s comedy, it tends to rely on a grab bag of tricks as opposed to resorting to one style.  A lot of the “humor” in the film’s early scenes are of the dark variety as the audience is asked to laugh at the misfortune of others.  It’s horribly mean-spirited, and some won’t find any laughs at all.  As the film moves along the humor becomes more dialogue and situation specific with less of a mean tone.  There’s also physical comedy, notably from the Ghost of Christmas Present and later in the film when Goldthwait’s Eliot goes off the deep-end.  It’s not a rip-roaringly funny film, but the laughs are spread around well once it gets past the early parts.  The score is done by Danny Elfman and it’s a pretty typical Elfman type of score.  People seem to either love or loathe Elfman but I’ve never had anything against him and find his score suitable here.

Since this is a take on A Christmas Carol, Frank is shown the error of his ways and comes around by the film’s conclusion.  Just like how his cruelty felt overdone, the big redemption scene feels similar as Frank hi-jacks the live television production of A Christmas Carol to share his new-found appreciation for Christmas with the world. It’s uncomfortably funny and drawn out, but does provide the happy ending most were probably hoping for.  The film’s beginning and its end make it feel like the film is a lot longer than its 101 minutes running-time, but by the time it did end my fiancé had come around and proclaimed it “cute.”  I suspect most viewers will have the same experience.  Scrooged is too flawed a film to be a true Christmas classic, but it is well acted and differs enough from other clones of the source material to make it a worth-while viewing experience.  Those looking for something a little less saccharine in their Christmas movies will probably get the most out of Scrooged.


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