For a Ghostbuster, Venkman sure doesn't know much about busting ghosts. The truth is that our protagonist is a bad scientist who seems to have only gotten a doctorate in parapsychology because it was an easy way to get a free ride at a university. (Academics everywhere have probably questioned that premise, but anyway...)
Early in the movie, Dr. Peter Venkman's free ride at Columbia is yanked away by Dean Yeager, who totally has Pete's number. Check out this quote where Yeager cuts Peter down to size:
DEAN YEAGER: Dr. Venkman, we believe that the purpose of science is to serve mankind. You, however, seem to regard science as some kind of dodge or hustle. Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe. Your methods are sloppy, and your conclusions are highly questionable. You, Dr. Venkman, are a poor scientist.
Yeager might be one of the first "bad guys" we meet in the movie, but he's absolutely right about Venkman. When the movie first kicks off, Peter doesn't even believe in ghosts and pokes fun at Ray and Egon's paranormal obsession.
Later, when the ghostbusting business is booming, Pete relies on his buddies' gadgets and scientific knowhow to get the ghosts busted. The real question is if Pete is a total know-nothing, why do Ray and Egon bother to keep around?
When it comes down to it, Ray and Egon need Peter as much as he needs them. While they're good at researching, inventing things, and all that good stuff, Pete is the guy that comes up with the ideas. Like... oh, say... the whole idea of ghostbusting as a business. He's the one that talks them into starting the Ghostbusters with pep talks like this:
PETER: Will you guys relax? We are on the threshold of establishing the indispensable defense science of the next decade. Professional paranormal investigations and eliminations. The franchise rights alone will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams.
So before anybody says that Dr. Venkman is a waste of space, just remember that there'd be no Ghostbusters without his crazy ideas. He might see science as a way to hustle for cash, but it's his way of looking things that actually proves to be the inspiration for the Ghostbusters. If Peter wasn't Peter, all of NYC might've turned into Gozer's permanent playground of destruction.
Venkman also works as the unelected spokesman of the Ghostbusters. In their first business negotiation with the hotel manager after they bag Slimer, it's Peter who sets the price for their services and threatens to release the slimy specter loose again if the manager doesn't pay up. (Ah, nothing like a little extortion to get what you want.) Venkman also has a good old time pumping up the crowd as the Ghostbusters get ready to take down Gozer.
Of course, Peter isn't exactly the most reliable spokesman out there; we probably wouldn't put him on PR team for Shmoop. His biggest failure probably comes when he antagonizes EPA agent Walter Peck for no good reason. In the span of like two minutes, Pete manages to enrage Peck so much that the EPA agent comes back with court orders to shut down the Ghostbusters' containment unit.
Knowing he's gone too far, Venkman tries to apologize, but Peck is so infuriated that he shuts down the unit, causing total chaos in NYC as specters spatter the city. Of course, we can't totally blame Pete for this—Peck is being a whiny wannabe tyrant—but still the whole thing might've been avoided if Venkman knew when to keep his mouth shut.
From the first scene where Pete uses a scam experiment to seduce a young co-ed, it's pretty clear that he's kind of a sleaze. As soon as the beautiful cellist Dana Barrett walks into Ghostbusters HQ for the first time, Dr. Venkman is up to his sleazy tricks again—even leaping over a low wooden wall to hasten the hitting-on-her process.
If he wasn't so oddly lovable, think how creepy some of his first dialogue with Dana would be. Imagine if some supposed professional came over to your house and this was how the conversation went down...
DANA: That's the bedroom, but nothing ever happened in there.
PETER: What a crime.
Cute, Pete. By the end of the "inspection," Dr. Venkman is begging for a kiss and declaring his love for Dana. But Ms. Barrett is an intelligent woman who isn't going to be easily won over by Venkman's... um... charms, and she gives him the boot.
Later, after the Ghostbusters are starting to get famous, Peter redeems himself a bit with Dana by bringing her some info on her Zuul problem (though we know Egon and Ray probably did the work). Somehow, Venkman's combination of weird charm and weirder professional accomplishments win Dana over, and she agrees to a date despite herself.
On date night, Peter manages to shed his sleazy reputation... mostly. He shows up to Dana's apartment and finds her possessed by a horny Zuul, and he actually manages to resist having sex with her. Check it:
DANA: Do you want this body?
PETER: Is this a trick question? I guess the roses worked, huh.
DANA: Take me now, subcreature.
PETER: [...] I make it a rule never to get involved with possessed people. Actually, it's more of a guideline than a rule. [...] No, I can't. Sounds like you've already got at least two people in there.
So even though Venkman does have to wrestle with the decision of whether or not to take advantage of a woman who's possessed by an evil Sumerian demi-god, he does make the right decision in the end. Of course, that doesn't mean he doesn't leave the apartment without giving her a long, weirdo kiss on the neck.
Dr. Peter Venkman: making that subtle creepy vibe fun for the whole family.
Okay, so Venkman is a sleazy sham of a scientist, who likes to run off at the mouth. Then why exactly do we love him so much? First off, despite all his flaws, Venkman does end up being a heroic guy.
When Zuul possesses Dana and Gozer threatens to destroy the city, Peter could make a break for it, but he stands beside the rest of the Ghostbusters in the face of what's more than likely certain death. And when the excrement hits the air conditioning in the final showdown, it's Pete Venkman who rallies the guys with battle cries like, "Let's show this prehistoric b**** how we do things downtown!"
Of course, Ghostbusters wouldn't have been the smash hit that is was if audiences weren't rooting for its man character from the very beginning. Venkman doesn't really turn into a full-fledged hero until the climax, so why do we care about him before then?
Easy. He's funny.
Above anything else, Ghostbusters is a comedy. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the best way to make an audience to care about a comic hero is for the hero to have them laughing the whole way through. With tragic heroes, we often root for them despite their flaws, but with comic heroes we often root for them because of their flaws.
Not only is Peter funny because all of the weird and witty things he says, he's funny because he keeps doing things that are a really bad idea again and again. Venkman is weirdo slacker with a highly questionable moral character—and we love him for it.
As Venkman shouts to the adoring crowds, Dr. Raymond Stantz is "the heart of the Ghostbusters." From the first moment we meet Stantz, he's pumped about the paranormal. When he bursts into Venkman's office, he's positively gushing;
RAY: Peter, at 1:40 PM at the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, ten people witnessed a free floating, full torso, vaporous apparition. It blew books off shelves from twenty feet away and scared the socks off some poor librarian!
There you have it. Probably more than any other character, Dr. Stantz shows an unbridled enthusiasm for anything that's spectral, vaporous, and dripping with ectoplasm. Mainly, it's this boyish enthusiasm that earns him his heart-of-the-Ghostbusters merit badge. Yeah, most of the time he's excited about something slimy, but he also gets excited over simple things, like... a fire pole...
RAY: Hey! Does this pole still work? Wow! This place is great! When can we move in? You've got to try this pole! I'm gonna get my stuff.
Hey, can you blame him? Not gonna lie: we've been lobbying for a fire pole at Shmoop HQ for years.
Later, we get even more evidence that Ray is a little boy inside when Gozer asks them to choose the form of the Destructor. Peter tells everybody to clear their minds, but Ray can't help but think of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and all his fun days at camp roasting marshmallows. As the giant Marshmallow Man stomps down the street, Ray reverts to childhood, and for a moment is too far gone to be any help.
Though he might act like a little boy sometimes, Ray is a real-deal scientist who knows his stuff when it comes to ghosts. He can easily spout enough science-y sounding jargon to convince anybody that he knows what he's talking about (anybody that's not a real scientist anyway).
It's Ray who leads the guys in catching their first ghost Slimer and Ray that figures out the architecture of Dana's apartment building makes it prime real estate for "Spook Central."
Another interesting thing about Ray is that, despite the fact that for years he's been totally willing to believe in the paranormal without any proof, he's skeptical about the existence of God. When Winston asks him if he believes in God, Ray tells him that he's "never met him." This again seems to show Dr. Stantz as a man of science, who wants to be able to prove the things he believes in.
Hmm… wonder how he feels about gods after he meets an ancient Sumerian one in the flesh.
Some of Ray's funniest moments come when he shows his sense of self-importance. In the Ghostbusters' commercial we can tell that Ray is taking it all very seriously, but the best example is when he tries to scare off Gozer with this gem of a speech:
RAY: Gozer the Gozerian! Good evening. As a duly designated representative of the state, county, and city of New York, I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension.
In the words of Peter Venkman,
PETER: That ought to do it. Thanks very much, Ray.
Sufficed to say, Gozer is not as impressed with Ray's newfound position as he seems to be and the god zaps the living daylights out of the Ghostbusters soon after this.
But we can't fault Ray too much: how exactly are you supposed to talk to an ancient evil god anyway?
(Answer: Very politely)
Dr. Egon Spengler's a guy who collects
EGON: Spores, mold, and fungus
for fun. That about says it all, right? Yeah, he's not as geeky as Louis Tully—who could be?—but Egon is still a nerd-deluxe. No joke; if Harold Ramis hadn't died (RIP, you magnificent man) we wouldn't be surprised if Dr. Spengler made a cameo on Big Bang Theory. He'd probably meet some of his biggest fans.
Complete with thick glasses, the nerdiest of the Ghostbusters seems like the main man behind most of the high-tech equipment that makes spectral extermination a viable profession. Ray is totally his right hand man, but Egon comes off as the real expert on the ecto containment unit, the ghost trap, the PKE meter, and the proton packs.
Whenever the movie wants to give us some technical-sounding details about a piece of equipment, it's Dr. Spengler who steps in to give us a lesson in weird science. A fan favorite is when Egon explains the dangers of crossing the proton pack streams...
EGON: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously, and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Yikes. There's also Egon's classic Twinkie analogy when he's worried about the containment grid holding up against the PKE disaster he's detected is on the way...
EGON: It's getting crowded in there. And all my recent data points to something big on the horizon. [...] Let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. According to this morning's sample, it would be a Twinkie thirty-five feet long weighing approximately six hundred pounds.
Whoa, don't you ever have any good news, Egon? Anyway, point proven. When it comes to the Ghostbusters, Dr. Spengler is kind of like the IT guy. Well, the IT guy that knows his way around a nuclear accelerator.
Like a lot other science-guy characters, Egon comes off as being almost robotically unemotional. He's so cerebral and in his head the whole time that he sometimes seems to not notice (or care) when other characters are getting emotional. When Janine is trying to flirt with him by talking about how many books she reads, his only response is to coldly say,
EGON: Print is dead.
Even when things get crazy with Gozer and Egon is seriously freaked out, the most emotion we get out of him is him flatly saying,
EGON: I'm terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.
Even this moment of emotional weakness doesn't last too long, as directly after this Egon's brilliant brain comes up with the risky idea of crossing the proton streams to banish Gozer.
Despite his hyper-intellectual personality, Egon does have a few Nutty Professor-style moments where he misses some pretty important details. Like, oh say, the fact the Ghostbusters go to their first gig without ever testing their proton packs and the fact that Egon didn't think to warn the other guys beforehand that they might be annihilated if they accidentally crossed the streams.
Then, of course, there's the fact that Egon and Ray designed a containment grid that could potentially cause a massive explosion in the middle of New York City if somebody flipped one little switch. Wow, Egon: for a great thinker, sometimes you really don't think things through.
Far from your usual damsel in distress, Dana Barrett is a love interest with a brain. According to Sigourney Weaver, the all-male screenwriter crew originally conceived Dana as a model, but when Sigourney was brought on board she had a few notes.
By the time Sigourney was done, the character went from a hot model to an intellectual cellist. The character change is great not only because it avoids a cliché, but also because it makes Dana a more formidable adversary for all of Venkman's weird attempts at flirting.
Like how about this classic interchange...
DANA: You know, you don't act like a scientist.
PETER: They're usually pretty stiff.
DANA: You're more like a game show host.
She's got that one right, right? Midway through the movie, Dana is finally charmed by Peter. Maybe it's because the Ghostbusters are famous and successful by this point, but Dana doesn't seem like the kind of person to be dazzled by fame.
It seems like Peter finally scores the date because (a) he brings Dana some helpful info on Zuul, and (b) she can't help but laugh at him. Here's the bit that finally gets her to hesitantly step onto Venkman bandwagon:
PETER: I'm making a special exception in your case. Because... I respect you. It's corny but I respect you as artist. And as a dresser, too! This is a magnificent coordination you have going here today.
DANA: All right; I'll see you Thursday.
Venkman might be delivering stuff about respecting her kind of facetiously, but the thing is that it's probably actually true. There does seem to be something about Dana that attracts Peter more than young co-eds he's usually chasing. We figure Dana detects that somewhere under all his sleaze-tinged quirkiness, there's actual sincerity.
Also, Peter's impulsiveness might just be a breath of fresh air for Dana. The only other guy we see her with is a stuck-up looking violinist with a penchant for nose spray.
P.S. It's a not-so-open secret that Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray absolutely loathed each other during filming. That might explain why their romance is so tension filled, and why Reitman, genius that he was, chose to focus on the comedic aspects of their dislike rather than a more conventional romance.
Even though Dana bucks a lot of damsel in distress clichés, after she's possessed by Zuul she does indeed end up being rescued by our knight in shining armor, Peter Venkman.
Still, the movie manages to give us a more interesting riff on this classic storyline. When Venkman shows up at Dana's apartment and finds her possessed, it's Zuul/Dana that tries to aggressively seduce him and not the other way around. The movie also throws in a twist when Peter finds Dana turned into a horned terror dog bent on his destruction when he comes to rescue her.
In the end, we get the classic knight in shining armor scenario, with Venkman rescuing Dana from the jaws of death and even carrying her off of the roof in a classic pose. And as Venkman's reward, the damsel gives him a great big kiss in front of the cheering crowd.
Oh, whatever. Whether it's classic or cliché, we still want these two to get together in the end.
For the fourth Ghostbuster, busting ghosts starts out as just a job. From the moment we first meet Winston Zeddemore during his interview with Janine, he doesn't try to hide this fact...
JANINE: Do you believe in UFOs, astral projection, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trans-mediums, the Loch Ness monster, and the theory of Atlantis?
WINSTON: If there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say.
Luckily (or unluckily?) for Winston, his lack of interview skills doesn't stand in his way of becoming a Ghostbuster. By the time he comes on the scene, the guys are so busy they can barely handle the workload, and Ray hires Winston without so much as checking Winston's resume.
His passion for the Ghostbusting profession doesn't grow too much as the movie progresses. When the boys are arrested after the big explosion, we find Winston yelling to the guard,
WINSTON: I just work with these guys! I wasn't even there!
We really can't blame Winston, though. If we just started working with a company that almost got us arrested and nearly incinerated within the first couple weeks, we might want start thinking about other employment too.
In the end, though, Winston's loyalty to the Ghostbusters, to NYC, and to the human race is proven when he stands with the guys against Gozer, although during the final showdown, he still can't help but quip,
WINSTON: This job is definitely not worth eleven-five a year!
The other thing to notice about Winston Zeddemore is that he's the only Ghostbuster without "Dr." in front of his name. Unlike the rest of the guys, he doesn't even pretend to be an intellectual; he's just an ordinary dude trying to make it in the world. The movie uses this in places to get across information, like when Ray explains how the containment unit works and Egon gives the famous Twinkie analogy.
Even though Winston isn't a science guy, he is a man of faith. This becomes clear in a scene in the Ecto One with Ray, when Winston asks...
WINSTON: Hey, Ray, do you believe in God?
RAY: Never met him.
WINSTON: Yeah, well I do. And I love Jesus's style, you know.
Ray brushes off Winston's faith, until Winston points out that the stuff they've been seeing recently is an awful lot like stuff predicted in the book of Revelations.
When Winston asks,
WINSTON: Ray, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason we've been so busy lately is because the dead have been rising from the grave?
Science guy Ray doesn't have any come kind of comeback, and Winston's wisdom suddenly seems spot on.
Louis Tully is the geek of geeks. A little guy with big glasses, Louis is a tax accountant who's completely obsessed with being frugal. His choice of party banter is, um, lacking:
LOUIS: Everybody, this is Ted and Annette Fleming. Ted has a small carpet-cleaning business in receivership, and that's drawing a salary from a deferred bonus from two years ago. They've got fifteen thousand left on the house at 8%; so they're okay!
Somebody needs to give this guy a lesson in partying. And also a lesson in dating. He's head-over-heels for his neighbor Dana Barrett, but tries to court her by talking about his healthy supply of mineral water and nutritious foods. Needless to say, Dana isn't all that impressed and tries to dodge him as soon as possible.
Hilariously, Louis has much better luck with Dana after he's possessed by the terror dog Vinz Clortho and she's possessed by Zuul. When the two are finally united, they immediately get it on—though, sadly for Louis and happily for Dana, neither one will ever remember it. In the end, the only reward Louis gets for his adventures is a new tax client in the Ghostbusters and the honor of having Egon take a sample of his brain tissue. It's hard out there for a geek.
From the moment he walks into Ghostbusters HQ, this EPA agent has a high-and-mighty attitude. After he condescendingly asks Venkman what the Ghostbusters do and mocks Pete's degrees, we're rooting for Venkman when he puts Walter Peck in his place. We have a sense of satisfaction when Peter gives Peck the boot, and we laugh with Venkman as Peck threatens to come back with a court order.
Okay, so we can all agree that Peck is a jerk, but did anybody ever stop to think that he's absolutely right to be concerned about the Ghostbusters? Even the Ghostbusters are worried about the Ghostbusters.
When they go on their first mission, they're freaking out about the fact that they haven't tested the nuclear accelerators they're about to unleash in a crowded hotel. Our boys are also worried about the containment unit blowing up. Sure, Peck re-earns our hatred when he causes the explosion and then tries to blame it on the Ghostbusters, but, for the most part, our heroes' main Earthly antagonist is just a guy trying to do his job.
A small, petty, mean guy but still.
P.S. Fun fact. William Atherton, who played Peck, claims that his life was ruined by playing such a loathsome character. (Okay, so that was a fun fact for us; not for him.)
Where would the Ghostbusters be without the ray of sunshine that is Janine Melnitz? We joke: for most of time this nasally New Yorker either seems bored by her job as the Ghostbusters' secretary or complains about being overworked.
You can't really blame her, though.
When she first gets there there's nothing to do because there's no business, and after that she's swamped with low pay and no time off. There's not much Janine can do about it, though, as Venkman reminds her,
PETER: Janine, someone with your qualifications would have no trouble finding a top-flight job in either the food service or housekeeping industries.
Janine may not be over the moon about her job with the Ghostbusters at first, but we do see her light up when the business first takes off, showing that she does care about they guys and their mission. Of course, the guy who she really seems to care about is Egon, who she shamelessly flirts with for the entire movie.
Unfortunately for Janine, Egon isn't interested and even at the end of the movie, the most she gets is a pat on the cheek from him. Janine will just have to wait for love until Ghostbusters II when (spoiler alert!) she'll date Louis Tully.