The Ghostbusters Are Horrible People

Who’s the real monster here?

Ghostbusters Week on Overthinking It

[Editor’s note: Do you want some more Ghostbusters overthinking? Check out our Ghostbusters Overview Set, with downloadable commentary on the first two movies and Bridesmaids! Get it now!]

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Ghostbusters. We celebrate, as we sometimes do here, with Ghostbusters Week, dedicated to overthinking various aspects of the beloved film.

Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

—Egon Spengler, Ghostbusters

Okay, Egon, let’s imagine it. Everybody you’ve ever loved, gone. Everybody you’ve ever met, gone. All the cute girls you’ve ever had a crush on, vaporized. All the cute little babies, exploded. Say so long to your favorite celebrities: George Clooney, Barack Obama, Thom Yorke, all gone. And not just humans. You like pandas? Too bad.

Now tell me, is this an outcome any sane person would risk in order to run a small business?

Of course, it’s possible that Egon is lying about total protonic reversal. Maybe he has no idea what will happen if they cross the streams, so he’s playing it safe. Or maybe what will actually happen is that the proton packs will short out, necessitating a trip to Radio Shack and a long night of repairs. But Egon’s a gadget freak–he wants people to treat his creations with respect. So when Venkman snidely asks him to “define bad,” Egon thinks of the most over-the-top bad thing he can. Sort of like telling a kid that if she keeps making that face, it’ll stay that way.


Weapon of extremely mass destruction.

I like this theory. But for purposes of this post, let’s assume that Egon’s telling the truth. In that case, it seems to me that capturing ghosts, no matter how careful you are, carries far too great a risk. The odds of accidentally crossing streams seems pretty high–the process basically requires the Ghostbusters to all be aiming at the same spot. If Venkman and Stanz were responsible adults, the second Egon told them how dangerous the proton packs are, they would have turned around, gone back to the station, and smashed their equipment to bits with a sledgehammer (although that might be dangerous too).

But what about the moment that they decide to cross the streams on purpose? It’s nothing short of a crime against humanity.

closing_gateYes, I realize they were doing it to stop Gozer. But Egon only gives them a “very slim chance” of survival. How small is “very slim,” anyway? 5%? 1%? Doesn’t matter. Even if the odds were flipped, and there was only a 1% chance all life would end, I’d still say the Ghostbusters had no goddamn right to roll the dice like that. They simply can’t gamble all life on Earth on some spur of the moment, back of the envelope hunch. Not unless they were certain that the consequences of not acting were every bit as dire.

It seems to me that it’s only morally permissible to cross the streams if you know, for a fact, that every living thing on earth is about to perish. In that case, your actions at best give people a chance at survival, and at worst offer them a painless death. So if, let’s say, the asteroid from Armageddon is heading towards Earth (“Not even plankton would survive”) and crossing the streams somehow gives you a “very slim” chance of preventing it, in that case it might be the ethical thing to do.

Is the Gozer situation that dire? Not even close.

First of all, we don’t know what kind of “end of the world” we’re dealing with here. “End of the world” could mean ending all life as we know it, in which case you might as well cross the streams and cross your fingers. But Gozer might also intend to only kill the humans, in which case a majority of life on earth would be just fine (maybe better off). “End of the world” could also mean killing only most of the humans, perhaps via armies of Marshmallow Men stomping through major metropolitan areas. Maybe leaving some shattered remnant of civilization around to worship Gozer and tell the story of her terrible wrath is a crucial part of the process. The Ghostbusters just don’t have a clue what Gozer’s long term plans are.

Really, is this all that bad?

Really, is this all that bad?

And the thing that makes them decide to cross the streams, Mr. Stay Puft, doesn’t seem like that big a threat. We have no evidence he kills anybody during his rampage; he’s just after the Ghostbusters. That makes it all the more infuriating that they take the obscene risk of crossing the streams; no one besides them is in immediate danger. And maybe Mr. Stay Puft is easy to kill. The thing may already be half dead after they light it on fire with their proton packs. If they can just survive for 30 more seconds, it’ll be nothing be carbonized goo. Honestly, crossing the streams to get rid of that thing seems like shooting yourself in the arm to kill a mosquito.

The ease with which they damage Stay Puft makes me wonder whether Gozer herself is a match for modern Earth technology. She was worshipped thousands of years ago, and back then I’m sure that she seemed completely unstoppable. But in 1984, the human race has a lot more tools at its disposal. In the second season of Buffy, there was bad guy called The Judge. He was repeatedly touted as being completely invincible.

“No weapon forged can stop me,” he snarls.

“That was then,” replies Buffy, picking up a rocket launcher. “This is now.” Kablowie.

There’s a good possibility that all the armies of the world couldn’t hurt Gozer. But I’d still like to hit her with some napalm, just to be sure.

Completely inaccessible to Marshmallow Man.

Completely inaccessible to Marshmallow Man.

But let’s assume that a) Gozer is completely impervious to conventional weapons, and b) she really is going to reduce the Earth to space gravel. I’m still not convinced the Ghostbusters had exhausted all their options. Egon has a theory that a certain type of energy will close the gate that Gozer came from. Now, he just needs a way to do that without risking total protonic reversal. So why not try to escape the Marshmallow Man and get back to the lab? If they had bolted for the stairwell, what was Mr. Stay Puft going to do? He’d have to wait outside the building, on fire, keeping an eye on all the exits. And the four Ghostbusters could have split up and gone in different directions. The Marshmallow Man, while terrifying, is not the speediest of monsters.

Then, all the scientific resources of the world would be at their disposal. Anyone who knows anything about particle physics could be trying to figure out a way to close that gate without crossing the streams. Sure, maybe the planet has only a matter of minutes, not enough time to design some sort of gate-closing particle accelerator. But Gozer obviously likes rituals – maybe she’s going to wait until the Ghostbusters are dead before ending the world, so as long as they continue to outrun the Marshmallow Man, everyone else is safe (albeit sticky).

Worse than Hitler?

Worse than Hitler?

My point is, they just don’t know what they’re dealing with. So considering the “cure is worse than the disease” nature of crossing the streams, the only rational decision is to try and escape and regroup for Round 2. But this kind of decision is seldom made rationally. If the Ghostbusters run, the Marshmallow Man is going to destroy the city. Every minute they spend tinkering with the proton packs, people could die. So there’s incredible altruistic pressure on them to act quickly, given the consequences of even a tiny delay.

But there’s also a darker, selfish reason why they would rather risk destroying the world than retreat. Their route to the building was lined with screaming fans. The entire city was cheering for them. Think about how the panicked crowd would react to the Ghostbusters stumbling out of 55 Central Park West and explaining they needed to get back to the lab and run some tests, and everybody should just hold tight. They’d probably be beaten to death with their own proton packs.

So what the Ghostbusters have on that roof is a choice between disappointing millions of people, or risking the lives of billions of people. The heroic choice is actually to run away. But the Ghostbusters are cowards. They hardly think twice about the consequences of their actions. They may not be afraid of no ghost… but they are afraid of failure.


Update (June 16, 2009): Growing up with this movie, I always assumed that crossing the streams destroyed the world. Clearly, the guy who made this YouTube video agrees.

But it did occur to me that “all life as you know it” is ambiguous–maybe only the stream-crosser has his protons reversed. (Although keep in mind that Venkman says crossing the streams would endanger “the nice lady, who paid us in advance, before she became a dog.” So it’s not just the people with the packs in jeopardy.)

Before I wrote this, I  asked a bunch of friends for their opinions, and the large majority thought Egon was talking about all life as you know it. But maybe I just have morbid friends.

You decide: What will crossing the streams do?

View Results

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But even if you think the consequences aren’t apocalyptic, I still question the wisdom of Egon’s plan. The Ghostbusters may be the only people with any experience successfully fighting ghosts on the whole planet. That makes them the most important people on Earth at that moment. So do they all have to cross the streams? Maybe Venkman and Zeddemore can do it, while Egon and Ray keep a safe distance, protecting their valuable brains from what is likely to be a noble, desperate sacrifice. If that plan fails, as it almost certainly will, Egon and Ray try and escape and pass on the science of ghost-catching before they get stomped.

My point still stands: Was it really time to resort to the “we will almost certainly all die” plan?

Update (June 17, 2009): It seems that I owe the Ghostbusters an apology.

According to the poll above, most people feel that crossing the streams will only end the lives of the people doing it, not everyone on Earth. I still think that “try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously” implies something more dire than the deaths of one or two people. It’s certainly an over-the-top and misleading way to say “you die.”

On the other hand, the possibility of killing every living creature on Earth is so horrible that it’s hard to imagine these guys risking it. In a movie this silly, I hate to talk about something being “more plausible.” But the Ghostbusters’ actions are more plausible if you assume that crossing the streams is merely suicide, not genocide. Besides, as numerous commenters point out, how exactly would the proton packs manage to wipe out bacteria on the other side of the planet?

So I don’t know what crossing the streams does anymore. And until someone manages to ask Dan Ackroyd about this, I guess I can’t say for sure that the Ghostbusters are horrible people. Sorry boys.

60 Comments on “The Ghostbusters Are Horrible People”

  1. mlawski OTI Staff #



  2. Tom P #

    I always interpreted Egon’s claim as it would just destroy the people holding the proton packs, not all of creation. Hence the “every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

    My personal favorite OTI for this movie is whether or not it’s a violation of ghost’s rights to be incarcerated for eternity in the storage facility. The Constitution says that the rights guaranteed apply to those born or naturalized in the United States — it doesn’t claim those rights to expire at death.


  3. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Tom P – I feel like “imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously” is pretty unambiguous. Sure, he then goes on to talk about “every molecule in YOUR body,” but that doesn’t preclude the end of everyone else, does it? To me, “all life as you know it” means exactly that. It doesn’t mean “all life as you know it, in a 20 foot zone.”

    Your observation about whether ghosts have rights is very interesting. But I’d say no – ghosts are not people, and I think any court would probably agree. It’s up to Congress to decide whether ghosts have any rights, in the same way it decides whether animals have rights.


  4. Tom #

    Is this any worse than Marty McFly and Doc Brown risking the destruction of the space-time continuum (and, therefore, not only all present and future life, but the existence of those who have already shuffled off this mortal coil, and, further, those on other planets) just to “fix” a few people’s lives? Similar motivations and subsequent foolish risk-taking seem to be in play.

    God may not play dice with the universe, but ’80s sci-fi comedies sure do.


  5. Mike from L.A. #

    I want to defend the GBs by saying that Egon admitted to being “terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.”

    But then I think about how Dick Cheney could defend post-9/11 torture the same way, and I realize it doesn’t hold up.

    I think it’s safe to say that A) it seemed like Stay Puft was not only still coming strong despite being on fire, but had found a way to use it to his advantage, and B) Ray and Egon had been hitting the Tobin’s Spirit Guide prior to the showdown and probably had a pretty good idea of what the “End of the World” meant.

    Furthermore, keep in mind Egon’s uncertainty when first defining “bad” in the hotel and how much montaged time passed between then and the finale–potentially time enough to get a better understanding of its streaming door-closing capabilities.


  6. Mike P #

    80s movies were full of protagonists shrugging off the potential destruction of the world, it’s just how they ran. Ghostbusters, BTTF, hell even Weird Science. Here’s two kids that bring a being into this world that treats the laws of physics as casual suggestions, with [probably] limitless destructive power, just to find out what it’s like to touch a boob?

    Of course, that didn’t stop all of us from wanting a reality-bending hot girlfriend, a proton pack in case they went rogue, and a time-traveling DeLorean to cruise around in with her. :)


  7. Mads Ejstrup #

    Well yes, they are horrible persons. Venkman tries to take advantage of Dana Barrett’s situation to get in her pants and in the first scene he is electrocuting a poor guy just to impress a young female student. He also more or less tricks Stanz’ into selling his family house to use the money to invest in the very risky business of ghost busting. Stanz is probably the least horrible person because he obviously is subject to peer-pressure from Egon and Venkman. All this on top of risking the destruction of all life. Those Ghostbusters are real A-Holes!


  8. stokes OTI Staff #

    Not just to impress a young female student, but ostensibly to seduce her! Venkman is… kind of evil, really.

    But Stanz and Zeddemore seem like good eggs.


  9. David #

    I’m going to echo some prior comments, most likely –

    1) All life as you know it refers to your body only, not the entire planet (or universe). It means every cell in your body, every microorganism, etc. This is confirmed by the fact that it’s your body exploding, not the earth, in the next phrase.

    2) Lots of time happens in the movie between the early prototype model and the cross-the-streams scene. Egon’s worked out a lot more of the theory and run many new tests. He doesn’t make recommendations like this without considering the likely outcome.

    Taking 1 & 2 above into account – the ghostbusters are risking only themselves. It’s a selfless scene, and you are doing them a disservice.

    There are quite a few details that deserve to be picked apart here… but in my opinion, neither of these qualify.


  10. Dan #

    Gotta agree with Tom. It’s “all life as YOU know it.” YOU know you are alive and that sensation will end. How? When you EXPLODE.

    Later in the film Egon states that there is a very slim chance that they will survive. Not that the earth will survive, just them. Because the only people in danger are the two/four holding the sticks close enough together that the full streams mingle.


  11. stokes OTI Staff #

    If “all life as you know it” means just your own life, it’s a very poorly written line. Why not say “Imagine the end of your life as you know it” or, better yet, “Imagine that you will die?” Life as (we/you) know it pretty much always refers to ALL life. “It’s life Jim, but not as we know it” does not mean “This is neither you, Jim Kirk, nor me, Leonard McCoy, but rather some third person.”


  12. Steve #

    I’m with Tom P here. When all your molecules explode, I’m sure it seems like the entire world just stops, for you. Everyone has a self interested perspective on things. It’s Ego.


  13. Kit #

    I think you’re missing the subtlety of Egon’s phrasing here.

    “Try to imagine life as YOU know it”, not life as everybody knows it. When the life you know is over, everyone else’s still goes on.

    So boo-urns on your whole article here, you’ve really managed to turn a selfless act of heroism into a ridculously irresponsible guessing game.

    Personally, I’d like to echo Tom P’s post, by stating that the imprisonment of ghosts without a fair trial is a bit ethically iffy. I mean, is that what we’ve to look forward to when life as WE know it is over?


  14. babba booey #

    This writer is retarded, because for one thing – Egon meant the ones holding the packs would die, and two – how the fuck are 4 proton packs going to destroy the entire world, even in simple Ghostbuster context.

    The dude who said the better article would be the rights of ghosts should take his job, his car and his girlfriend because it is true – he has no penis.


  15. castewar #

    The irresponsibility supposition – the idea that carrying around these highly dangerous packs and just hoping you won’t cross the streams accidentally is a good point that covers the entire movie, but if we move ahead in the article’s arguement, and supppose that they can manage to not accidentally kill the universe while busting a random ghost, then the truly horrible person is Walter Peck.

    Which is a bit of a no-brainer, as that’s his whole character in the movie. Cruel, mean, and petty, his vendetta against Venkman leads to one single, crucial point – shutting off the containment grid. Warned by the creators of the equipment, and then backed up by an electrical engineer who explains his reluctance to cut the power to something he doesn’t know how it works, Peck orders it shut off anyhow, resulting in the giant ghost surge, resulting in the penthouse powering up, resulting in Rick Moranis boning Sigourney Weaver, resulting in Gozer returning, and so on.

    Shame on you, dickless!


  16. Julie #

    I think the answer lies in the jail scene, where Egon gives them all a history of the rituals that went on in that building. “[They were trying to] bring about the end of the world, and now it looks like it may actually happen.” So when Egon sees that everything that twisted society was trying to accomplish was coming true, he sees the end of the world is at hand, and their only hope is crossing the streams.

    I didn’t get the impression they could “accidentally” cross the streams either. It looked like it was a different setting on the packs rather than, say, just shooting at something too long.


  17. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Kit – No, Egon DOESN’T say “Try to imagine life as you know it…” He ACTUALLY says “Try to imagine ALL life as you know it.” Big difference.


  18. Winston A Cely #

    It’s the end of existence, not just the Ghostbusters when he says “Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously…” And he’s giving an example of what it would do with the next line, “and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.” Is everyone forgetting that you can be singular AND plural? It’s like one small step for man, he doesn’t mean himself only, he means all of mankind. Same with “…all life as you know it…” If he had meant just the ones with the proton packs dying he would have stated it that way, he’s a very no-nonsense kind of character that doesn’t mince words.


  19. Gab #

    Here, watch the clip, from 0:58-1:25

    The quoted text above is 100% accurate, folks. The rest is left up to interpretation, influenced by tone, character, context, and anything else used in high school/ college literary analysis. I personally think Egon was taking a broad result (“all life”) and personalizing it (“your body”) for impact and comprehension. He’s a scientist, and, alas, probably used to people not understanding what he’s talking about most of the time, so he would most likely have experience in generalizing OR specifying where necessary to get his point across to the laymen he interacts with outside the realm of his research.

    Then the comparison of “all life” and “the world” (what Zul will destroy) comes up to determine whether they’re horrible people or not. But that has been covered.


  20. heinz #

    the real question is, had the ghostbusters not gone to the top of the building, who would have chosen the form of the destructor? and why didn’t J. Edgard Hoover show up when Venkman said it aloud, though the marshmallow man showed up just by Ray thinking it?


    • Nick #

      Because Ray *had already chosen* Mr. Stay-Puft by the time Peter ever brought up J. Edgar Hoover.


  21. Thomas H. #

    Wow! Truly….WOW! I thought I had a lot of free time on my hands (LOL!). I bow to the king of all time-burning movie fiends. Mr. Belinkie — I am impressed!


  22. Josh Mc #

    A little math to back up Mr. Belinkie:

    Let’s look at our options.

    1: Fight the Traveler in the form of the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

    The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, while a giant capable of stomping on a cathedral, came to Ray‘s mind because it was something incapable of harming us. Doing the math shows us that Ray chose pretty well.

    In its single minute of screen time, we see the Traveler destroy a few cars and step on a cathedral while hundreds of New Yorkers successfully run away from the tasty beast. To be generous, let’s assume that he destroys an entire New York City block in that time.

    A New York City block contains 278,784 square feet. The sum total of dry land on Earth is 1,603,000,000,000,000 square feet. At a block per minute, the Marshmallow Man will be able to destroy every foot of the world in 1121 years.

    In the meantime, we know that the proton packs can set fire to the Marshmallow Man, meaning (to anyone who has ever made a s’more) that the Traveler could eventually be destroyed through conventional means. With more than a millennium to work with, kids with matches could eventually take this bitch down.

    2: Cross the streams

    Even assuming that “instantaneously” is an exaggeration, “at the speed of light” is still pretty damn fast.

    Let the speed of light = c = 299,800,000 miles per hour
    The diameter of the earth = 7,926 miles
    Therefore, had crossing the streams resulted in total protonic reversal, as predicted by Egon himself, life as we know it across the entire world would have been destroyed in 0.095 seconds.

    So Egon has a choice, let Zuul and the Traveler destroy the world over the course of 1121 years, or destroy it himself in less than 1/10 of a second. Clearly Mr. Peck and Mr. Belinkie were right about these guys.


  23. Liz #

    :::80s movies were full of protagonists shrugging off the potential destruction of the world, it’s just how they ran.:::

    It was also the time of the Cold War (what does one do when the Russians have nukes pointed at you? Why not confront it metaphorically?)


  24. Matt Theo #

    I think we need to move this discussion toward explaining the symmetrical book stacking in the NY public library. How is this similar to the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947?


  25. CNCGB, Boyer #

    Wow, I’m glad I can respond to this wonderful article! :-)

    This may or may not have been mentioned since I don’t have time to read the comments, but…

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Ghostbusters fired INTO the portal to Gozer’s dimension, right? So doesn’t that mean that..

    1. The particle streams crossed and exploded in a glorious display of the creation of a black hole WITHIN GOZER’S OWN DIMENSION, and NOT OURS.

    2. The Black Hole and the explosion causes a vacuum suction effect which PULLS BACK ALL PARTICLES from the Earth and back into Gozer’s dimension. The movie confuses me in that this should mean that everything is pulled in, but somehow Gozer (WHO IS THE STAYPUFT MARSHMALLOW MAN) is somehow pulled back inside. I guess the goo left over is her hollow staypuft shell and the Terror dogs either died (are they ghosts or monsters? How do they possess if not ghosts?) or their spirit forms were sucked back inside as well.

    3. Going back to HQ would ruin the movie’s tempo and slow it down considerably, ha ha ha…


  26. agentrh84 #

    Hey, I don’t know if anyone mentioned this but The Judge from Buffy is still alive. They blew him up but all that did was make his body parts seperate, if they come back together he’s back to normal.


  27. Epistemic Error #

    If we take this comment into account when discussing total protonic reversal I believe the result is quite clear. “the nice lady, who paid us in advance, before she became a dog.”

    This sentence is obviously referring to Dana Barrett, who at that moment in time is in the immediate vicinity. She is no more than a couple yards away, albeit in the form of a terror dog, but she is there. This would seem to imply that the effect is local and not global. I believe that if the Ghostbusters were to believe that total protonic reversal would cause destruction on a global scale that they would opt for a different solution. But I could be wrong.

    While I was writing the previous comment I had this thought. What if by crossing the streams while firing into an alternate dimension they caused a total protonic reversal in that realm? The only way for this to be possible is if in Gohzer’s realm the same laws of physics apply and that protonic reversal takes place within the proton beam and not the nuclear accelerator. If total protonic reversal (TPR) does destroy “all life as [we] know it” then, if the former statement applies, it would end Gohzer’s life as it knows it, and the resulting explosion is a mere shockwave of a demolished dimension. Might there be other living peacefully in that realm, maybe, but most likely not. It would be safe to assume, and to give the GBs the benefit of the doubt, that Gohzer created this alternate universe as a holding place until it was able to return and destroy the world.

    No matter which one may be closer to the truth, what we do know is that the Ghostbusters saved New York City twice and possibly the world. “WHO YOU GONNA CALL!”


  28. CNCGB, Boyer #

    I also want to note that Gozer had the power to transition from the form of a woman to become a pure, invisible spirit entity of some sort (she just vanished and then had a booming voice from the heavens) and then become a gigantic sailor made of marshmallow. Who’s to say that if she/he/it, you know Gozer the Traveler, realized she was about to burn up as Staypuft – why not just immediately change into another form? She could simply go from gigant, “can’t miss it” marshmallow horror to invisible. With that kind of god-power the Ghostbusters are doomed.

    Of course, then again, Rick Moranis’ promise to the horse and his saying that a Slorr or some nonsense was the last form chosen in ancient Sumeria or wherever tells us that this thing has happened before and that Gozer isn’t going to end all life on earth. Maybe all human life as Moranis’ character tells the horse that it shall be free of its human oppressors, but maybe Gozer isn’t going to kill off the humans? Maybe she’s just an animal nut like the PETA people? And if this has happened before – and yes, the Slorr killed people, so your fine article’s statement that Staypuft won’t is therefore debunked as Gozer has done that before and would certainly kill humans again – but if it happened before, and we assume for some reason Gozer just left earth and was like, “Don’t forget me; I’ll be back to collect the rent in a millenia,” then obviously she didn’t end the world permanently. Rather, it seems that she simply wants people to worship her – and if she killed all those people, who would worship her? Dogs? I don’t think so. Maybe as pets, but they sure can’t build her temples or perform rituals.


  29. CNCGB, Boyer #

    I just realized – the terror dogs were on earth BEFORE the door was opened… huh.


  30. Josh P #

    Since the crossing of the streams was aimed at the doorway to another dimension, couldn’t it have just obliterated the other dimension while leaving ours intact?

    If that’s the case, then Egon wins for Greatest Genocidal Maniac of the Universe.


  31. Kit #

    @Kit – No, Egon DOESN’T say “Try to imagine life as you know it…” He ACTUALLY says “Try to imagine ALL life as you know it.” Big difference.

    Matt – ALL life as you know it, is still all life as YOU know it. Not really that big a difference.

    It’s Peter’s subjective understanding and awareness of all life that will stop instantaneously as every molecule in his body explodes at the speed of light.

    Was Egon being a tad over-the-top in his explanation? Sure, but Venkman was fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing, and Egon had to make absolutely sure there was no careless crossing of streams.

    Could you interpret Egon’s statement to mean the entire univerese? I guess so, but as you so thoroughly explained in your article, that would be ridiculous.

    How could enough energy to destroy the entire universe be contained in those proton packs anyhow? It’s a wonder the ghostbusters don’t all die of some rare form of back cancer by the second movie.

    It’s much more reasonable to think that the ghostbusters are onoly risking their own lives. Remember when they’re crossing the streams in the penultimate moment, and Stantz turns to Venkman, and says: “Nice working with you Venkman”, and Venkman responds: “See you on the other side Ray”? Clearly they’re preparing themselves for their own deaths, which seem almost inevitable. They believe they are about to die. It’s a selfless act, which saves everyone, or at least everyone in New York.

    Good for them.

    Nuts to you. Peck.


  32. Dapper Swindler #

    I’m totally fine with what The Ghostbuster’s did, and I would do it myself in that situation. Ethics, schmethics.


  33. Anthroman78 #

    I gotta agree with everyone else who said that the ghostbuster were only putting their own lives at risk, not all life everywhere. I think the “all life as YOU know it” is pretty key to this, otherwise he would have just said “imagine all life”.


  34. mlawski OTI Staff #

    See, I always thought he said “all life as you know it” instead of just “all life”

    1) to make it sound more ominous, thus hitting home the point that THEY SHOULD NEVER NEVER NEVER CROSS THE STREAMS


    2) to allow the possibility that SOME life in the Universe would survive the protonic whatever. As in, “all right, the humans, dogs, birds, fish, etc. are going to die, but maybe some super-bacteria at the bottom of the ocean will make it through okay.”


  35. Patrick #

    They cross the streams within Gozer’s dimension, destroying everything there.

    I’ve only just realized this in the past few years.


  36. ProtoEva00 #

    Your placing all the blame on Egon. Egon is the man of abstract thought, and really is a sheep that just blurts out ideas. He follows Ray, and Ray is totally snowed by Venkman.
    After Egon explains his plan you see on his face, he’s not convinced by his own idea, Winston is completely bemused, Ray immediately understands the implications, but has no idea what the right answer is, so he looks at Venkman, who is the one who makes the call, “I love this plan!”
    I don’t believe Venkman had any concept of what was being said to him, other than he may live till tomorrow, and selfish is almost Venkman’s defining quality. The kind of evil being heaped out on the Ghostbusters shoulders, would require full comprehension of the consequences by the decision maker.
    The fact Egon and the rest trust Venkman is simply poor judge of character on their part, not evil.


  37. Gab #

    Well, since so many people have pointed out that Gozer’s dimension must be what gets destroyed, maybe *that* is why they defeat him/her/it in the first place- there seems to be discrepancy over whether he/she/it was actually defeated or not. Perhaps *that* is why Marshmallow Man gets obliterated in a relatively easy fashion.

    And yes, I still think it was time to do something. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Perhaps it *would* have been better if only half of them crossed the streams, but that wouldn’t have been as dramatic for a film’s sake.


  38. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @ProtoEva00: Ah, you’re referring to Hanlon’s Razor. “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Except in this case, replace stupidity with “stupidity and selfishness.” I like it!

    More info:


  39. Lance #

    As many others have already pointed out, Matthew, your entire article stems from a false assumption.

    “all life as you know it” does not mean all life in the universe or even life on Earth. It’s YOUR life, as you know it. Every molecule in YOUR body. If the results were more catastrophic, why didn’t he say “every molecule in the universe” or “every molecule on the planet?” Obviously, because that’s not what would happen.

    Egon says “there’s definitely a slim chance WE’LL survive,” again, keeping it personal, not universal. You’re just wrong on this one.

    People do “dangerous” jobs every day with equipment that could kill them if they were careless – from cops to carpenters. Yes, the packs are dangerous, but really only to those using them and those in their immediate vicinity.


  40. Matt #

    I think the situation is that dire. Gozer constructed a 40ft marshmellow man just from Ray’s thoughts… What if the ghostbusters ran away and she did that to the next person that came along and that person thought about a giant asteroid or nuclear explosions.


  41. Jon #

    It seems unlikely that in an effort to make a laser beam that catches ghosts, Egon accidentally stumbled upon a weapon of Ultimate destruction. If he did, I’m pretty sure the movie would have been about Iranian terrorists (ah, the 80s) trying to co-opt it for their own purposes.

    Egon’s statement does suggest Ultimate destruction. I think he was lying to keep the irresponsible idiots in his squad from frying each other.


  42. Charles #

    Hey, does anyone remember The 20 Minute Workout?


  43. stokes OTI Staff #

    You know what, let’s just ignore the “all life as you know it” part for a minute and focus on the second half of the quote: “every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

    That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? Not too many things can move at the speed of light… that’s kind of the point, right? So what this is telling us is that crossing the streams converts your entire mass – every molecule! – into energy. The simplest way for that to happen is in a matter-antimatter reaction, and didn’t Egon say something about “total protonic reversal,” almost as if the matter involved was being “reversed” into antimatter? So here’s what happens when the ghostbusters cross the streams (assuming they don’t luck into that “slim chance” of survival):

    1) they are converted into antimatter

    2) they come into contact with the roof below them and the surrounding air

    3) BOOM!

    A single pound of antimatter has the same destructive potential as 19 megatons of TNT. The biggest H-Bomb test of all time was somewhere between 50 and 100 megatons. The Krakatoa blast was 200 megatons. The “Ghostbusters incident,” as we’ll call it, was… well let’s see, we’ve got four ghostbusters (two of them on the chunky side), plus their clothes and those heavy backpacks… call it eight hundred pounds of antimatter, which translates to roughly fifteen thousand megatons of TNT.

    The ash from one Krakatoa lowered the global temperature by two degrees… here we are dealing with eighty-five simultaneous Krakatoae. I don’t know if an antimatter blast of this magnitude would create a dust cloud similar to a volcanic eruption, but I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t want to find out.

    Would it destroy all life? Probably not. The meteor blast that took out the dinosaurs is estimated to have been larger by several orders of magnitude. But New York City? Is gone. New York State is probably gone. Things are not looking good for New Jersey. And any part of the Eastern Seabord that is not destroyed outright will be devestated by tsunamis.

    So even if we accept the idea that “all life as you know it” just means “your life” – which I still don’t agree with at all – crossing the streams remains an ASTONISHINGLY bad idea in any non-apocalyptic situation.


  44. stokes OTI Staff #

    Excuse me, 75 simultaneous Krakatoae. The larger figure was from an earlier draft of the comment where I assumed a less flattering weight.

    Oh, and in case anyone wants to claim that Egon was referring only to the molecules in Venkman’s body specifically, and not the whole team plus their equipment? First of all, come on. Second, that would still yield more than three thousand megatons, more than enough to wipe New York City off the face of the earth.


  45. Foamy Squirrel #

    Just a quick note – apparently the line was originally not “exploding at the speed of light” (which makes no sense at all) but something along the lines of “instantaneously transported to another dimension” (I forget the exact phrasing as it’s some years since I read the alternate version). This would make more sense – by shooting the temple with the crossed streams they are intending to “reverse the polarity” (or somesuch pseudoscience) and send it back to where it came from (probably along with themselves). Why anyone (even Egon) would want molecules to explode at the speed of light is beyond me.

    While the “exploding” line is canonical in that it’s the one that actually appeared in the movie, it lends weight to the theory that Egon was “dumbing it down” for Venkmann.


  46. Gab #

    For the record, I don’t think there *is* a right or wrong answer when it comes to “what Egon meant”- it’s about how you interpret it. I imagine the characters within the movie itself had different ways of interpreting what Egon said. One may have assumed he meant just they themselves would die in the explosion (thereby leaving the rest of the world to deal with Stay Puft), another may have thought he meant NYC (which would probably still leave Gozer capable of doing bad things), and the last could have interpreted it as the whole world (which is just what Gozer wants). What Egon meant isn’t really the issue, it’s the fact that these guys took it upon themselves to decide for the rest of humanity (and every other living entity on the planet) what would happen (because if they’re the last line of defense and they die, even if they’re the only ones that do, it would leave everything and everyone else vulnerable), and they picked the risky path with a fraction of a percentage of positive outcome. Risking a blast as big as 75xKrakatoa? Are you *kidding* me? If you’re going to take a risk *that* big, you had better be *damn* sure there is absolutely no *other* option apart from death to all those at risk of dying in that potential blast.


  47. Captain Jack Spareribs #

    When this movie first came out, I was a kid. This ending creeped me out. Because Venkman (who was the comic relief) got a bit frustrated and at a loss for words during this dire time (save for the Marshmellow Man/Sailor line). Anywho…

    I always thought the Ghostbusters THEMSELVES would just zap out of existence. Not the whole city.


  48. Lash Lightning #

    You know how when they were testing for first atomic bomb, there was a betting pool as what was going to happen? And one of the options, half-jokingly added, was that it was going to cause a continuing chain of exploding atoms, destroying the whole world? I think that’s what the whole “crossing the streams”-thing is.
    The worst case scenario, not the most likely scenario, and Egon, what with not being able to truly test the proton packs from day-one, is too worried to try it out. Obviously, he was wrong about it destroying the World.


  49. Vigo #

    I have to respond to this since I know way too much about Ghostbusters and can set this straight.

    Crossing the streams only endangers the people in the immediate area of the proton packs. You forget Peter’s line at the end when he says “Cross the streams? You’re going to endanger us, you’re going to endanger this nice lady who paid us in advance before she became a dog”. Therefore it’s clearly just the people on the rooftop that would get hurt.

    But then we find out crossing the streams doesn’t actually do anything other than send extra energy in the direction they’re shooting it. From a clip I’ve seen of the game, I hear Ray just say it “stings like the dickens”.

    Oh and as for your Stay Puft comment – Stay Puft IS Gozer! It’s the same being, not something else that can be easily defeated – as in “Gozer the Traveller – he’ll come in one of the pre-chosen forms”. The pre-chosen form this time was of a cute marshmallow man mascot.


    • Nick #

      “From a clip I’ve seen of the game, I hear Ray just say it “stings like the dickens.””

      In the game, Egon put something on the pack called “the Stream-Cross Governor.” This device acts as a damper on the “total protonic reversal” thing, so that it only KO’s the ones who are crossing said streams…at least until he switches it off in the final boss battle.

      Never mind, of course, it could still result in a “game over” in the middle of a pitched battle if there aren’t any ‘Busters to revive you.


  50. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Vigo – I don’t think Venkman’s line proves anything. He’s an egomaniac – of course he only cares about himself and the woman he wants to sleep with.

    And if Stay Puft is Gozer, then I’m not impressed. I still say that even before they crossed the streams, Stay Puft was well on his way to being reduced to goo.


  51. B.Lily #

    When using the term “Earth” to describe the planet it is a proper noun and, thus, should be capitalized. So capitalize that E mo-fo!

    Just spreading the word for Earth-Mama. Dig that funky chick . . .


  52. Adam Bestler #

    Oh, don’t you realize? It was a catch-22. Gozer, in his/her destruct or form came to lay waste to the world, wipe out humanity, and rebuild the world as it saw fit. Crossing the streams was their only way to end the apocalypse. It was an all or nothing situation, and they made the right choice. Would you rather die in an instant? Painlessly, and unaware? Or would you rather have a giant man made of marshmallow crush you under his foot like some fucking insect? I rest my case.

    And Egon was smart enough to realize the dangers behind his equipment. Indeed, he simply described the worst-case scenario if one were to use the proton packs irresponsibly. That was enough to get his point across. After all, the Ghostbusters aren’t stupid. After hearing Egon describe the repercussions of a total proton reversal, do you really think Ray, or Peter, or even Winston would dare fire their proton stream irresponsibly? No.


  53. Malcolm B #

    I think, perhaps, a heroic thing to do would have been to have gone right up to the doors, or gone through the doors before crossing the streams. Therefore the damage would be limited to the “other side” of the door and the gate would close. This might just result in the loss of 2 or more Ghostbusters and, of course, Gozer would try and prevent them but it would’ve been a good, heroic attempt.
    Another option is if they got back to the lab they could have modified two proton packs to automatically charge up and fire after a set time. They could then make a bracket or something to rig the two wands so the streams would collide with each other. Then back at the ol’ gateway to the other dimension they could set the countdown and throw this “time-bomb” through the doors and run for cover!


  54. wicKedShaydes #

    Interesting article and thought process. Comments are a fun battle of opinion too (the half I read anyway cuz daamn theres a lot).
    As for the Stream Crossing, they had the marshmellow guy on the ropes when they decided to cross them against the Source, being our lil minx Gozer, versus the manifestation, Mr StayPuft. Thereby closing the door and neutralising the ancient power that is was previously described as ‘Old Testament, real wrath of god’ type terrible stuff (in the Mayors office). This also answers the other comment about if the risk was of a high enough standard to meet the acceptable range in action taken. I think so.
    I also always thought of the end of days explosion being like a blast that would at least leave a crater type blast radius going further than the 4 guys but not world ending, or even city ending.

    On an interesting side note: Now that I’m all gown up..I’ve found myself wondering – Well Dr Venkman, wasn’t that handy that you just happened to have had over 3000 ccs of Thorazine (or whatever heavy sedative it was) to knock the possessed Dana out like that .. on a night when your there to um, pick her up for your first date. That she didn’t really want to go on in the first place? Lol


  55. BigShadow #

    Gozer was gonna destroy their world and desperate times call for desperate measures


  56. Akiosama #

    Odd to comment on this so long after the article, but if these kinds of decisions bug you, I’d stay away from “Weathering With You”. Shinkai Makoto’s (of “Your Name” fame) latest film, the ending of the movie gave cause to a split fanbase, due to the nature of the decision (individual consequences vs. global consequences) made by the protagonist. While I agreed with the story, I was surprised to see that many people didn’t.

    Then again, I have read about Japanese reviews of Ghibli’s “Grave of the Fireflies” where the reviewers thought it was too “obvious in its heartstring manipulation” and that the message that the movie was conveying was “Listen to your elders or you will die”. Go figure.

    Enjoyed the article. Thanks!


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