REVIEW: REAL GHOSTBUSTERS RETRO-STYLE EGON SPENGLER
Is there something strange -- in the neighborhood -- who ya gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!
Come on, you know you're hearing that song in your head. Those lyrics set the stage for one of the most enduring pop culture concepts to come out of the 1980's -- which is especially notable for a concept that, at the time, had all of two movies and a surprisingly long-running animated series to keep its name in the minds of fans.
But the Ghostbusters have endured. There have been video games, comic books, and of course -- action figures, of which Mattel is the primary licensee these days.
Mostly through their online store, MattyCollector.Com, Mattel has produced both 6" as well as cloth-costumed 12" action figures, based on the character likenesses from the movies. While these are really outstanding products, this review will take a look at something else from Mattel's Ghostbusters offerings.
The two Ghostbusters movies are not so serious that they'd likely be welcome in any other realm of science-fiction. They wouldn't work in the universes of Star Trek, or Star Wars, for example. Doctor Who might put up with them, but it would depend on which Doctor.
And yet, on two distinct occasions, they managed to save the world -- their world, anyway. And in between, in animation, they busted more ghosts than have ever been seen in every paranormal investigation show put together.
And it is that animated series that I'll want to focus on to a large degree. Because this review will take a look at the Retro-Style REAL GHOSTBUSTERS figure of one of the founders of the Ghostbusters -- EGON SPENGLER!
Now, why "Real Ghostbusters"? Well, not too long after the first movie came out, Filmation reminded certain people that, back in the 1970's, they'd had a short-lived live-action series on Saturday morning TV, also called "The Ghost-Busters". When plans were afoot to do an animated series based on the recent movie, that was sailing a little close to Filmation's territory, so the name was slightly changed. Filmation tried to capitalize on the popularity by doing their own animated series based on their original characters. Guess which one fared better?
As for "Retro-Style" -- it's no secret that the most popular action figure company in the 1970's was Mego. They produced a wide range of 8", cloth-costumed action figures. Admittedly, they never did the Ghostbusters, because by the time the Ghostbusters came along, Mego was pretty well defunct. But the format of their figures has endured, and several companies have, in more recent times, duplicated their original efforts, including Mattel, largely with a line based on the DC Comics Universe. But they decided to extend the format to include figures based on the animated versions of the Ghostbusters.
Let's consider a bit more of the history of the Ghostbusters movies, and animated series, and then have a look specifically at the character of Egon Spengler, and then his Retro-Action Animated-Style figure.
Ghostbusters is a supernatural comedy, multi-media franchise created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in 1984. Its first product was the movie Ghostbusters, released on June 8, 1984 by Columbia Pictures. It centers around a group of eccentric New York City parapsychologists who investigate and capture ghosts for a living.
The concept of the first film was inspired by Dan Aykroyd's own fascination with the paranormal, and it was conceived by Aykroyd as a vehicle for himself and friend and fellow Saturday Night Live alum John Belushi.
Aykroyd came up with Ghostbusters after reading an article about quantum physics and parapsychology in the American Society of Psychical Research Journal and then watching movies like Ghostchasers. Aykroyd thought, "Let's redo one of those old ghost comedies, but let's use the research that's being done today. Even at that time, there was plausible research that could point to a device that could capture ectoplasm or materialization; at least visually."
The original story as written by Aykroyd was much more ambitious—and unfocused—than what would be eventually filmed; in Aykroyd's original vision, a group of Ghostbusters would travel through time, space and other dimensions taking on huge ghosts (of which the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man was just one of many).
Aykroyd pitched his story to director and producer Ivan Reitman, who liked the basic idea but immediately saw the budgetary impossibilities demanded by Aykroyd's first draft. At Reitman's suggestion, the story was given a major overhaul, eventually evolving into the final screenplay which Aykroyd and Harold Ramis hammered out over the course of a few months in a Martha's Vineyard bomb shelter, according to Ramis.
Aykroyd and Ramis initially wrote the script with roles written especially for Belushi, Eddie Murphy and John Candy. However, Belushi died during the writing of the screenplay, and neither Murphy nor Candy could commit to the movie due to prior engagements, so Aykroyd and Ramis polished a basic, yet sci-fi oriented screenplay for their final draft.
In addition to Aykroyd's high-concept basic premise and Ramis' skill at grounding the fantasy elements with a realistic setting, the film benefits from Bill Murray's semi-improvisational performance as Peter Venkman, the character initially intended for Belushi.
Winston Zeddemore was written with Murphy in mind, but he had to decline the role as he was filming Beverly Hills Cop at the same time. When Murphy had the role, Zeddemore was going to be hired much earlier in the film, and would accompany the trio on their hunt for Slimer at the hotel and be slimed in place of Venkman. When Ernie Hudson took over, it was decided that he be brought in later to indicate how the Ghostbusters were struggling to keep up with the outbreak of ghosts.
A problem arose during filming when it was discovered that a show was produced in 1975 by Filmation for CBS called The Ghost Busters. Columbia Pictures prepared a list of alternative names in the event the rights could not be secured, but during the filming of the crowd for the final battle, the extras were all chanting "Ghostbusters", which inspired the producers to insist that the studio buy the rights to the name.
For the test screening of Ghostbusters, half of the ghost effects were missing, not yet having been completed by the production team. The audience response was still enthusiastic, and the ghost elements were completed for the official theatrical release shortly thereafter.
As to the animated version, the series ran from 1986 to 1991, and was produced by Columbia Pictures Television, DiC Enterprises, and Coca-Cola Telecommunications. "The Real" was added to the title after the dispute with Filmation and its Ghost Busters properties. The series continues the adventures of paranormal investigators Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Egon Spengler, Dr. Ray Stantz, Winston Zeddemore, their secretary Janine Melnitz and their mascot ghost Slimer.
A short pilot episode was produced, but never aired in full. The full four-minute promo was released on a DVD set in 2008. Scenes of the pilot can be seen in TV promos that aired prior to the beginning of the series. Among differences seen in the promo pilot, the Ghostbusters wore the beige jumpsuits they had worn in the film instead of the color-coded jumpsuits they would wear in the finished series, and the character design for Peter Venkman bore more of a resemblance to actor Bill Murray than the character design seen in the finished series.
When he auditioned for the voice of Egon Spengler, Maurice LaMarche noted that while he was asked not to impersonate Harold Ramis, he did so anyway and eventually got the part. LaMarche also noted that Bill Murray complained that Lorenzo Music's voice of Peter Venkman sounded more like Garfield (who was also voiced by Lorenzo Music at the time; ironically, Murray voiced Garfield in the 2004 and 2006 Garfield films). Ernie Hudson was the only actor from the films who auditioned to play his character (Winston Zeddemore) in the series; however, the role was given to Arsenio Hall.
Although the "Ghostbusters" concept was tinkered with, the finalized show does feature many tie-ins from the films. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man made numerous appearances. During the third season, Walter Peck, the Environmental Protection Agency antagonist from the original film, reappeared. The uniforms and containment unit were redesigned, and Slimer was changed from a bad ghost to a resident and friend, events which are explained in the episode "Citizen Ghost" that flashbacks to what happened to the Ghostbusters right after the movie's events. Gozer is also mentioned repeatedly throughout the series, usually in comparison to a ghost they are currently battling.
At the start of the series' third season in 1988, the series was retitled to Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters. The opening was completely redone to centre around Slimer. Eventually the episodes were expanded from their original half-hour format to last an hour, and the overall feel of the show was changed to be more youthful, with episodes having a lighter tone to be less frightening. When Ghostbusters II was released, the character of Louis Tully was introduced to the show, and later episodes referenced events from the film.
With the departure of story editor and writer J. Michael Straczynski, more changes were also made. The show was canceled in 1991, with Straczynski returning to the series to write a few of the episodes in the final season in 1990.
On May 27, 2008, Time-Life announced they would be responsible for the complete series' release on DVD in the fall of 2008. Released on November 25, 2008, the set spans 25 discs containing all 147 episodes of the series. Which is a heck of a run for any animated series.
As to the character of EGON SPENGLER -- Egon Spengler, Ph.D. is a founder and member of the Ghostbusters, appearing in the films Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, and in the animated television series The Real Ghostbusters, and one of the three doctors of parapsychology on the team. Spengler is portrayed by Harold Ramis in the films, and voiced by Maurice LaMarche in the cartoon series.
The character of Egon Spengler was named after Oswald Spengler and a classmate of Ramis' at Senn High School named Egon Donsbach who was a Hungarian refugee. Ramis has credited the character with boosting his acting career, since prior to taking on the role, Ramis had worked mostly behind the camera for some years.
Maurice LaMarche stated that when he auditioned for the part of Spengler in The Real Ghostbusters, he was asked not to do an impression of Ramis, a request he ignored because impressions were one of his strengths as a performer and there was no other way he could imagine properly portraying the character other than to follow Ramis's example, and got the part anyway. LaMarche said in an interview that he did two different takes, one where he impersonated Ramis, the other where he tried a more "Woody Allen" like approach, which he admitted did not suit the character's physicality.
Egon Spengler is a tall, laconic, bespectacled, awkward member of the team responsible for the main theoretical framework for their paranormal/quantum studies. Being addicted to science, he is the creator of the Ghostbusters' equipment along with Raymond Stantz, thus making him the brains of the Ghostbusters. Although book smart, Spengler does not have much social ability, as demonstrated by his stiff interactions with the Ghostbusters' secretary Janine Melnitz, and his reliance on Peter Venkman as spokesperson for the group.
Spengler is the most serious and rigid member of the team. Of his hobbies, Spengler states that he collects "spores, molds, and fungus", and claims that, as a child, the only toy he ever had was "part of a Slinky", which he straightened out. As implied in the first movie, Spengler apparently is a sugar junkie, due to his affection for sweets and candy. According to the 2009 Video Game, Spengler sleeps an average of 14 minutes per day, leaving him "a lot of time to work."
Spengler's hair was changed from brown in the films (Ramis' natural hair color) to a blond pompadour in the animated series. This was reportedly done due to legal issues concerning character/actor likenesses.
Despite his leanings toward science, Spengler has a family history of witchcraft (three ancestors, Zedekiah, Eli and Ezekiel, were wizards), of which he is not so much ashamed as "strongly" considers irrelevant, mainly because he sees science as relevant. Spengler's faith in science was also tested in one episode where the Ghostbusters get abducted to the ghost world by the ghost of Al Capone. Spengler's scientific equipment fails until he is told by former capos of Capone (who aid the Ghostbusters in revenge for Capone double-crossing them) that only magic can harm ghosts in the ghost world as opposed to science harming ghosts in the human world, thus forcing Spengler to accept the wizardry methods of his ancestors to defeat Capone.
He is the love interest of Janine Melnitz, the Ghostbusters' secretary, in the first film and both animated series (Ghostbusters II excluded their romance due to Ramis' dislike of the subplot, thus having Melnitz date Louis Tully instead). Spengler sometimes appears to be unaware of Melnitz's romantic interest in him, but at times he displays having similar feelings for her, such as when he gave her a geranium as a gift when she expressed an interest in plants (which backfired horribly when it was revealed that the geranium was possessed by a ghost and nearly destroyed her apartment, along with much of Brooklyn; though Spengler managed to thwart the ghost, Melnitz angrily told Spengler he would have to pay for the damages to her home) and when he rushed to her rescue in "Janine, You've Changed"; he also embraces her in "Ghost Busted" after she was kidnapped and held for ransom by a gangster, and became jealous when she was briefly involved with a slimy businessman named Paul Smart.
In the episode "Cry Uncle", Spengler's well-meaning but skeptical uncle Cyrus visits him and, since he does not believe that Spengler's work with the Ghostbusters is real scientific work and therefore a waste of Spengler's genius, tries to make him come back to Ohio (where Spengler grew up) to work at his uncle's lab, but fortunately, after his uncle accidentally releases the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from the containment unit, he realizes that ghosts are real and accepts Spengler's work.
Throughout the series, Spengler would have his soul switched with that of a demon, have his molecular structure destabilized to the point that it stranded him in the Netherworld (requiring him to be rescued by the others), experience a curse-induced age regression that nearly destroyed him, turn into a were-chicken, and have his intellect switched with Slimer's. He has however, ceased his sugar junkie ways, only to briefly be tempted by a candy store when in Slimer's body (a likely fact that Slimer was an overt glutton).
It is revealed in "The Boogieman Cometh" that, as a child, Spengler was stalked by the boogieman, a supernatural monster that fed on the fear of children and hid in their closets, and was particularly fond of Spengler's fear; it was these encounters with the creature that inspired Spengler to study the paranormal, and as an adult, he would battle the Boogieman twice and defeat him.
It is implied in one episode of the animated series that Spengler accidentally burned down his family's garage.
Spengler is the only original Ghostbuster to return for the Extreme Ghostbusters animated series of the late 1990's as a regular, acting as a mentor to the new Ghostbusters, but I'm not going to get into that here.
So, how's the figure? Very impressive. I have to admit that I've often thought that the animated versions of the Ghostbusters sometimes took a few too many liberties with the character likenesses, but there can often be issues regarding using exact likenesses, and the animated series managed to come up with its own distinctive style while remaining true to the concept. The designs weren't entirely realistic to begin with, as one might expect in an animated series like G.I. Joe, for example.
It's worth noting that the caricature style continues to this day. IDW's popular Ghostbusters concept uses a caricature style in its illustrations, although it is not based on the animated series, and in some respects is perhaps close to the live-action Ghostbusters, but it works. And it's a fun comic.
I find myself pondering how much of a challenge it must have been for Mattel's sculptors to come up with a series of figure heads for this line that achieved several purposes. First, they had to take a 2D animated image and render it in three dimensions. Although this sort of thing happens all the time in the toy world, I have to believe that it's not terribly easy. Secondly, they had to be a reasonable match for those animated likenesses, and in conjunction with that, thirdly, have a certain "retro" look to them, reminiscent of a toy company that had basically ceased operations by the time the Ghostbusters came along.
Not too much of a challenge, eh? And just to throw in one more challenge, they had to look good perched atop a far more realistically designed body.
In the animated series, Egon Spengler sounded and acted more like his live-action counterpart than some of the other characters might have. However, while his facial design might have been moderately reminiscent of Harold Ramis, the hair was another matter entirely.
In the animated series, Spengler went from having dark brown hair to having very bright yellow blonde hair, with this conical bouffant up front that looked as though Spengler had harnessed a small tornado and glued it horizontally to his head. It almost looked as though if you yelled at the back of Spengler's head, his hair would magnify your voice like a megaphone.
This cannot have been an easy sculpt for Mattel, especially trying to duplicate the one-piece head-molding efforts that Mego used back in the day. And yet somehow or other, they managed it. There's that freaky cylindrical hairstyle, just as it was in the animated series, painted bright yellow.
Spengler's face is long and somewhat angular, much as it was in the animated series, and reminiscent enough of Ramis. The somewhat softer angles of the intentionally Mego-esque headsculpt may make the figure look a bit more like Ramis -- hair notwithstanding, obviously -- than he did in the cartoon.
Spengler has a very slight smile on his face. This is in some contrast to the other figures in the line, who have much broader smiles. This was not unusual for Mego, who tended to give their figures pleasant, friendly expressions when possible. Granted there were exceptions. Mego had the Star Trek license, and Spock isn't grinning. Spengler is arguably the Ghostbusters' "Spock", so he doesn't have much of a smile.
Boy, there's an encounter I'd like to see. Spock and Spengler in a debate.
The various details on the head are very neatly painted, although I'm reasonably certain that the eyes were imprinted, not painted. They're just a little too neat to have been painted through a stencil, but I could be mistaken about this. The eyebrows are actually sculpted.
Spengler wears glasses, and these have been molded separately, and glued to the head. It was a good way to do it. I tried to think of how many Mego figures wore glasses, and off the top of my head, I couldn't come up with much of anybody. The Penguin had a monocle, and Mego very cleverly handled this by molding the monocle as part of the head, and painting a smaller eye inside its perimeter. It worked, and it made the monocle look as though it was de-magnifying the eye behind it. There was a Clark Kent set that included a pair of glasses for Superman, but that was sort of an afterthought after the Superman figure had been made.
Mattel has come up with a good basic body design for their Retro-Style figures. They couldn't duplicate Mego's body pattern precisely -- that design is being used by EmCe Toys for some of their figures -- but they came up with a reasonably close counterpart. The only really negative thing I can say about it is that the lower torso piece is a little small, which tends to make the hips look unusually large, and can give the legs rather loose articulation.
The visual result of this is less of an issue on the Ghostbusters than it tends to be on the DC Universe line, as Spengler and the rest are not wearing super-hero tights. Thank goodness, since they don't exactly have the builds for it in the animated series. Spengler, in the series, was tall and rather thin of build. All of the figures in this line use the same body, of course, but Spengler's rather long face -- and tall hair -- actually give him a very slight height advantage.
As has been noted, the animated series gave all of the Ghostbusters their own distinctive-colored uniforms, instead of the common beige that they all wore in the movies. The original uniforms were acknowledged in the occasional flashback, but I can understand wanting to make the animated series a little more colorful and eye-catching.
Spengler's uniform went further afield from the traditional colors than most. He is wearing a dark turquoise jumpsuit with -- of all color choices -- a pink collar, and pink cuffs at the sleeves and boots. Technically in the animated series, the Ghostbusters all wore gloves, but I'm not going to quibble that issue here. Spengler is wearing a black belt and black boots. The boots are akin to those worn by the number of the DC Retro-Action Super-Heroes, and they're very clearly based on a Mego design.
The belt is also based, at least structurally, on a Mego design. It's made from plastic, not fabric, and it has a plastic clasp in the back, a sort of "insert Tab A into Slot B" sort of thing. I remember Batman's utility belt having the same sort of design back then.
The uniform is nicely tailored, especially the collar. Additional stitching on the front gives evidence of pockets. I'm not sure what type of fabric was used, but I've seen it often enough on cloth-costumed action figures, from Mego to G.I. Joe. It's not elastic, it doesn't look like super-hero tights, but it certainly works well for the Ghostbusters' uniforms. And clearly it can be dyed in any color you want.
The uniform is secured in the back by a long strip of Velcro. Here we have a variance from a traditional Mego figure, which customarily used snaps. But, what the heck, the Velcro works just as well on these figures. Interestingly, the upper body of Spengler has been molded in black, giving the appearance of an undershirt beneath the uniform. I have no idea if any of the rest of the Spengler figure has been molded in black, and I don't intend to undress him to find out.
Completing the uniform are gray elbow pads, which have been made out of a slightly fuzzy fabric and secured on the arms by Velcro, and the Ghostbusters emblem, stamped onto the upper portion of the right sleeve, very neatly.
Notably missing is the nameplate on the front of the uniform that the Ghostbusters had in the movies. However, I don't recall that they used these in the animated series anyway. That's the sort of tiny, intricate little detail that would've driven animators nuts at the time, trying to keep last names like "Spengler" or "Zeddemore" neatly lettered from frame to frame. You could do it with computer animation today, but that wasn't the case back then.
For those inclined to provide them to Egon here or any of these action figures, may I recommend some good adhesive labels and a rather precise computer printer capable of printing some pretty tiny fonts.
Spengler is very nicely articulated, as were the Mego figures upon which this body design is based, of course. Egon is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles, although the ankles are hindered by the boots. Not a major issue in my opinion -- so were the Mego figures.
Egon comes with a Proton Pack, the device used by the Ghostbusters to capture ghosts. It's nicely detailed, and fits over Spengler's arms so it can be worn like a backpack.
Spengler also comes with a second accessory, as do most of the Ghostbusters figures (Venkman being the odd exception). In Egon's case, the second device he comes with is the PKE meter, the small, handheld device with the three little antennae protruding from it that the Ghostbusters use to detect the energy of ghosts. For those inclined to follow real-life paranormal investigations today, this is probably the equivalent -- albeit a more advanced version -- of the EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) devices that some groups like the Ghost Hunters use. It's nicely made, and well-detailed. A nice extra accessory to have.
So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely pleased to have this Egon Spengler figure from the Retro-Action Real Ghostbusters line -- and his friends. I remain dubious and rather skeptical that we'll ever get a third movie, and that's a shame -- a trilogy would've been nice. However, the Ghostbusters remain a significant part of pop culture. They currently have a great comic through IDW, and Mattel has done a really nice job with the entire figure line. I'd love to be able to bring in some of the movie-based Ghostbusters figures, but at the moment, finances forbid. Maybe someday. In the meantime, I'm glad to have these representing the Ghostbusters in my collection.
The animated series was a little more cartoony than some of its contemporaries, such as G.I. Joe, Transformers, or Masters of the Universe. But it still had a very healthy run, and it worked. I have no complaints about it, and I'm sure that it helped secure the popularity of the concept.
This Egon Spengler figure is almost a dual-retro in some respects -- looking back not only to the 1970's when Mego ruled the action figure world, but the 1980's when the Real Ghostbusters had a very prominent place in the animated world. It's a very cool figure, very well made, and if you're any sort of Ghostbusters fan, I'm sure you'll enjoy adding him to your collection.
The RETRO-ACTION REAL GHOSTBUSTERS figure of EGON SPENGLER definitely has my highest recommendation. And with him around -- I ain't afraid of no ghost!