The Proton Pack: A Reflection

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

Ray: (gasp) "Total protonic reversal."

Peter: "Alright, that's bad. Alright, okay. Important safety tip -- thanks, Egon."

-- Ghostbusters, referring to "crossing the streams"

Some might consider the Jedi lightsaber to be the pinnacle of movie weaponry, while others might conjure up thoughts of either Indiana Jones' whip or Dirty Harry's Magnum. Personally, I'm a big fan of the recent usage of a cattle gun in the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men. Never did I imagine that the piercing shrill of an exploded metallic doorlock would scare the nerves clean from my spine, but it has -- not once, but twice since I've watched Javier Bardem's scene-engulfing performance. Alas, even this freakish utilization of a common farm tool as a homocidal weapon doesn't hold a candle to the most unique weapon to grace the big screen: the Proton Pack.

Referenced as both a "positron collider" and "unlicensed nuclear accelerator", the proton pack has become a cultural icon of the mid '80s -- almost as much so as the Ghostbusters emblem itself. Ray Stanz tells his team of paranormal eliminators to "throw it" at one point in Ivan Reitman's classic comedy horror flick, which is a surprisingly accurate usage of terminology. Essentially, as referenced by the Wikipedia page, it uses a "particle throwing" mechanism to ensnare the spectral entities. It all sounds like a bunch of jibber-jabber, but roughly translated it all means "bitchin' laser-gun-lasso technology awesomeness". Yes, that's the technical term for it.

Since Richard Edlund assembled his Academy-award winning effects for Ghostbusters in 1984, we've seen digital gorillas and stop-motion Skellingtons, computer-generated TIE fighter spacecraft and motion-captured images of Smeagol ... even a tyrannosaurus rex trample down a dirt road after a brightly-colored Jeep. Even taking these masterworks into account, Ghostbusters' visual composition still holds ever so strong as a grand achievement in innovative, imaginative craftsmanship. His depth of field with rendering Slimer and the library ghost put the likes of 1995's The Haunting to shame. Still, my favorite effect of the entire film comes when a bizarre devilish, almost sperm-like squiggly ghost appears, lets out a shrill, and glides to the left side of the frame. He's there two seconds, maybe three, but those quick shots show a prowess in translucency, composition, and tangibility that they make him jump through the screen and make the audience laugh and jump at the same time.

Even more impressive, though, is the rendering of a tool that wraps around these specters, draws them close to a vacuum foot-operated trap, and opens up a window for the capture of an intangible monster. Plain and simple, the Proton Pack harnesses the capacity to project particle energy towards an object and either a) destroy anything in its path, or b) wrangle "negatively charged ectoplastic entities". It's lightning in a backpack, concentrated force made malleable, and an infinitely more potent tool than some whip or some silly little laser knife. (For the record, yes, I do enjoy some quality time with Indiana Jones and the quaint folk in the Star Wars universe).

With a flick of a switch that causes a radiating, buzzing hum to pour from the core of the device, a smirking grin creeps onto just about each and every face of Ghostbusters fanatics -- young, old, jaded, whimsical, what have you. If you've seen the film, you know the sound; if you know the sound, then you know that feeling it sparks when it turns on. Whether it's Egon's initial retreat into a corner with a spooked look across his scientifically frightened face, or the boys singing in harmony once each proton "gun" readies for throwin', there's fond, fond memories surround that brainchild from the Aykroyd / Reitman amalgamation.

Now a third installment to the Ghostbusters franchise can be seen on the horizon, which is currently under development under the pen from the guys that scribe "The Office". With the new film will come a new concept of ghost rendering and of the stalwart Proton pack's stream. There's faith to be found in the masses of CG-wizards of Hollywood, so a fear of botched Ghostbusters effects isn't all that scary. Even moreso, after the 20+ years since Ghostbusters yelled out "Who Ya Gonna Call?", these effects build more and more charm as the years pass. When someone mentions to me a "proton pack", thoughts will never gravitate to anything except the atmospheric scene in the dining room when Egon and Ray match beams for the first time and bring Slimer down from the rafters. They're careful not to "cross the streams" every time we watch, though it never loses the bustling, streaming excitement as the quirky trio of nerds see their technology come to fruition in the form of a trapped ball of ectoplasmic chaos.


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