The Real Ghostbusters Episode 5: Troll Bridge (1986)

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Ah, ‘Troll Bridge’. Now this was one of my favourites when I was younger. This was one of those episodes that ITV used to butcher when screened, to the extent of entirely removing its epilogue so that we never found out what happened to the little troll, which is what the entire plot revolves around! Of course, in these days of Youtube and DVD releases, you can find the complete version of this episode with no problem. But as a child who only had a Betamax recorder that couldn’t tune in to ITV, the only times I ever got to watch this episode were when it was screened, and to have loads of it cut out was so frustrating. Woe was me.

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So yeah, this is the one with the trolls. And the fireflies. Even though the latter provide a significant threat to the streets of New York, this episode is definitely the most fun and upbeat of the five episodes so far – the first three were rather apocalyptic, intense and scary, and the fourth was a bit sad and a bit spooky. Plus it was set entirely at night. This one is just fun. Saying that, you may find our little troll friend upbeat to the point of irritating – I found myself tolerating him a lot less now than I did when I was a little one, especially when he keeps insisting on partying even in the midst of fiery destruction and chaos. This particular, nameless troll has abandoned his crew in order to see the bright lights of the big city, an act which does not go down at all well with his troll friends, who proceed to take over Queensboro Bridge and hold New York to ransom, demanding that he be found and returned, otherwise their friends the fireflies will lay waste to the city. I must say, the trolls are really, really harsh here – the little troll left entirely of his own free will, and yet the city and its human residents have to pay for his insubordinate attitude! Saying that, Egon does state that trolls really hate humans, hate the city and are very, very mean, so it’s simply in their nature to be complete gits.

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We begin with the big-nosed little troll fleeing the lair of the other trolls from underneath the Queensboro  Bridge and being swept through the sewers – butt naked, I must add- and into the city, and like every alien/troll/robot/non-English speaking character in a 1980’s production, he finds the big city and pop culture FUN-KAAAAAY and particularly loves the whole breakdancing thing (scored by Tahiti, of course), even though his attempts end up with him dazed and confused in a bin. He digs New York clothing, having acquired some togs that have been thrown away. He doesn’t really speak as such, rather mumbles, with the exception of the word ‘party’. That’s right – he’s a spring break troll. Spring break forever… So, the next morning, the other infinitely meaner and nastier trolls have begun terrorising the motorists on the Queensboro Bridge and essentially create a massive roadblock. Some of the trolls look pretty goofy. Some, like the one who rips the roof of some poor bloke’s truck cab, look rather threatening. This sequence ends with some panicky victim, arms flailing, running directly towards the camera – it looks like he’s going to run right into us, with the last thing we see being a pair of cartoon tonsils, but the shot cuts out prematurely (even the soundtrack transition feels like a jolt) before we get to see this potentially amazing shot.

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Cut to the GBHQ, and Slimer’s sleeping on Peter’s bed, making it all messy. Peter goes crazy, Ray says not to worry about it, and it’s obvious even at this early stage in the series that more or less every episode is going to have a scene like this. What we want is the one episode where Peter actually blasts Slimer and destroys him, like that rare episode of Itchy and Scratchy where Scratchy finally gets to kill Itchy. Though like in that Simpsons episode, the transmission will probably mess up before we get to see the act itself. Boo. News of the trolls hits the TV, and there’s a rather funny and to-the-point bulletin simply consisting of ‘Ghostbusters….HELP!!!!’ The guys arrive at the bridge (but not before Peter acts like a prat patronising Ray and Egon for their helpful knowledge of trolls, what a tool), where the trolls have created a makeshift lair made up of abandoned cars and have successfully evaded the National Guard’s somewhat brutal (for a kids cartoon anyway) tactic of using tear gas by blowing the stuff right back in their faces! What amuses me about this whole attempted attack is that it’s obvious that trolls and the supernatural are involved here, so why not call the Ghostbusters immediately? This is happening in New York! The one place in the world where, if there is a supernatural threat, then the Fab Four are just around the corner to deal with it! Fair enough, if the Troll Bridge incident had taken place in Slough, then yes, you could maybe try and deal with it yourself before asking the Ghostbusters to get on a plane and help you. But in New York? Don’t bother with the National Guard, just call the people who are obviously qualified! Okay, rant over.

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So, the first thing the guys do is drive Ecto-1 over to the lair, even though it’s been made obvious that the trolls ‘attack vehicles’. So what Ray’s thinking of when he suggests this is anyone’s guess. They drive Ecto-1. They become surrounded. For once, Peter’s sarcasm in this episode is thoroughly justified. This isn’t the worst plan Ray will devise, there are even worse ones to come later in the series. His Plan-B, to ‘blast them’, is shot down immediately by Egon, who quotes his plan back at him with a subtle hint of utter contempt. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Blasting the trolls won’t work you see – it might make them bigger. And meaner. Or it could turn them to stone. Is it worth the risk?

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Now the big leader troll is certainly big, but definitely the least scary of all the antagonists we’ve seen so far. He reminds me of The Humungus in Mad Max 2 – not looks wise, of course, but in that he’s big and imposing, but it’s more who he unleashes that’s scary, and not himself. In Mad Max 2’s case it’s his henchman, Wez. In this episode’s case, it’s the fireflies. Peter attempts to negotiate with the big troll but the latter is immovable in his demands. Return the troll, or New York will burn. To make clear the race-against-time element, he produces a sand timer. Actually, he doesn’t produce it himself – no, of all the trolls to carry the hourglass onto the scene, he picks the tiniest one of the whole lot. Hilarious, but cruel. So the fireflies make a preview appearance, torching the rear end of a garbage boat (I can only assume no one was killed during this demonstration, but I wouldn’t put it past the writers given previous evidence).

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Act 2 begins with the trolls observing the sand timer, with some of them clearly excited about the possibility of the guys not finding the troll and as a result, New York’s impending destruction. Sick monsters. The guys meanwhile are on the lookout, with Ray’s bonkers suggestion that in order to find a troll, they must think like a troll. Where would a troll go? Somewhere dark, somewhere flashy? Peter is really laying on the sarcasm in this episode, especially towards Ray, but the latter does get some deserved vengeance playing on Peter’s fear of giant ants. So, in true economic fashion, the guys split up, with Ray and Winston heading for Times Square and Peter and Egon searching the road tunnels. Now Peter and Egon are probably the most disparate of the four guys personality wise, so it’s nice for them to spend some quality time together. They find the troll juggling some fruit in the back of a truck and chase him on foot, having abandoned Ecto-1 because of some major traffic. However, the troll’s truck speeds off, which means that Peter and Egon have left their car behind to block all the traffic behind it. Does the end justify the means? No, because they fail to catch him (he hitches a ride on a passing ice cream van), the muppets, but not before Peter declares his hatred towards Egon, Egon’s family and Egon’s dog, which sounds extremely harsh, but Egon did rip into him about his poor health and shape. I guess this is why they don’t usually pair up, but personally I think Peter’s doing a remarkable sprinting job given he has an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back. Egon takes back his dig at New Jersey in the first episode by insisting that the place would make for a great vacation spot in the light of all this impending chaos, but since this is a mildly wry aside, it generates little more than a rather amusing backhanded compliment from Peter about how Egon has always been a ‘joy to me in these declining years’.  Declining years? Bless Peter, he really is old before his time.

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Meanwhile, Ray and Winston are getting all hot and bothered in their search for the troll, which makes me wonder why they don’t have summer-oriented uniforms for these hot days. They just happen to pick the same ice cream van that the troll stowed away on, and another fruitless chase ensues, which isn’t good news, as time is running out, fast. We cut to the trolls eyeing the hourglass and it’s weird that we don’t get any subtitles for their ramblings. Still, it lets us use our imaginations, I suppose. I guess there’s a reference to the fireflies, who are waiting patiently above New York (bizarrely, no one seems to have noticed them hanging around). The guys resort to looking for the troll via telescopes, except Peter, who is utterly knackered and just wants to rest. I do feel for him here, though maybe he shouldn’t have expended all his energy being such a sarcastic so-and-so earlier on. They trace him to a nearby nightclub, where Peter is forcibly made to take part in the capture, leading Peter to declare to Egon that ‘I’ll get you for this someday’ in true Scooby-Doo fashion. The club happens to be playing the exact same song that the troll was breakin’ to at the start of the episode – this song must have been huge at the time, it seems like Tahiti dominated the airwaves in animated Brooklyn circa 1986. This club sequence is probably the most 1980’s sequence in any Ghostbusters episode. The troll appears to be dominating the dancefloor, to the level that everybody else has made way for him (and remain completely static on the fringes – there’s textbook cut-price animation for you), and even the guys are stunned by the brilliance of the moves this little thing is busting. Still, it’s almost firefly o’ clock, so we have to catch the blighter before it gets too hot in town. Amazingly, the troll outwits them all, and even does a spectacular backflip over the mirrorball and ends up leading Peter on the floor. All the while saying ‘party’. This is all he ever says….and Peter has gone from being troll-hata to being troll-playa, rating this particular troll as ‘my kind of people’.

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All the while, the sand has run out of the hourglass. Bring on the fireflies! How this act of extreme destruction will bring their beloved troll back to them is anyone’s guess. The trolls ram through the police blockade with beautiful ease and the fireflies begin to lay waste to the city. However, before that, we get some seriously out-there blink-and-you’ll-miss-it madness on the animation front. Look at the guy buying a paper from the news stand – he’s sucking on a dummy! Madness, absolute madness! There’s also a couple of tourists who try and take snapshots of the fireflies, because, you know, isn’t New York just wild?

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The guys try to take out the fireflies with their blasters, but they don’t work in the slightest – it takes a quick excursion into the sewers to suss out that water is not a firefly’s friend. There’s a cool bit where the soon to be ex-firefly sticks his huge eye into the manhole opening and it looks pretty fearsome, but as soon as they take a bath they look hopelessly weedy, bless them! Thank goodness for a nearby water tower, which Egon destroys and wipes out the fireflies,  leading to an interesting moral dilemma – hand over the troll and save the city, or save the city and risk further destruction?

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Well, remember the whole blasting a troll dilemma earlier on, and that the blast might turn the lil’ un into stone or make them bigger and meaner? Well, in a case of extraordinary convenience, the guys trick the bad trolls into thinking the little troll has been stoned immaculate by producing them with a peerless forgery, one that has been created in record time by an antique dealer friend of Peter’s. Now I almost feel sorry for the trolls as they carry the body of their friend away, but then I remember – that’s not a real troll, and they were trigger-happy psychos earlier on with all that firefly business. So there. Now if you were watching the old cut ITV version, this episode would have ended right there, and that would not have been good. What happened to the troll? Well, obviously, he hitches a ride on a train to one of Peter’s old buddies for a lifetime of pure partying! Saying that, this friend owes Peter five dollars, so in effect, the delivery of the troll is closer to an act of revenge rather than generosity. The troll is in a mac ‘n’ hat disguise, the kind that the Ninja Turtles used when they went above ground. Why this is considered a clever disguise is beyond me, in both instances they look like a troll/turtle in a mac ‘n’ hat. Still, he says ‘Peter’, his second unique word of the episode, so we’ve had some character growth, which is always good.

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Things I noticed.

Egon uses a huge electric toothbrush. His pyjamas also boast a rather nifty molecule motif.

During the news bulletin, there is a hilarious photograph of one of the trolls using a bit of the bridge as a substitute guitar.

Egon uses huge binoculars.

Winston likes Strawberry Whirls.

Rating: 8/10: Lots of fun, this one. Big action, the troll teeters just on the right side of annoying and there’s some amusingly offbeat touches. Like the dummy.

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