Ghostbusters: Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts
I can’t remember the first time I saw Ghostbusters.
The first film in the franchise hit theaters in June of 1984, which means that I was three years old and far too young to understand the magnitude of what I was seeing. My first real viewing was probably an edited-for-content-and-time version on non-premium cable, I have vague recollections of the big tickets from the classic: The cards flying out of the catalog drawers in the library, the eggs frying on the counter, Venkman and Slimer in the hotel, “we came, we saw, we kicked it’s ass!”, shutting down the containment unit and Mick Smiley’s “Magic”, Gozer’s dogs, the fight against Gozer, and, of course, the march of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. I didn’t really get the full context of some of the jokes (including the late night ghost dream “encounter” for Ray) until I bought the DVD and immersed myself in it.
Most of my memories from the franchise are from Saturday mornings spent with The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series, and that’s really where my Ghostbusters fandom percolated and grew. It’s heretical to say after thirty-ish years, but the Ghostbusters film wasn’t an instant hit with me.
Three decades on, the jokes and quotable lines are the stuff of legends, but looking at the film itself, it’s definitely a slow build production with a ton of the dry and often risqué humor that Aykroyd, Ramis, and Murray specialized in. It’s the story of three down on their luck parapsychologists and a blue-collar dude who investigate the rise of the paranormal against the grain of the normal world around them, and the story really takes a long time to get moving as the guys build their support base. In fact, the gears on the main plot don’t really start turning until after about an hour of origin story. It’s full of technobabble, but also filled with the rich culture of immense world-building, from Tobin’s Spirit Guide to a massive pantheon of powerful spirits in the planes beyond.
One thing I respect about the film was how it let the characters be themselves. Egon was an unabashed nerd, Ray was a goofball idiot, Peter was a manipulative sexist pig, and Winston was a hard-working religious man. Even if I don’t love the elements of particular characters – Egon is a bit too much of the stereotypical nerd for me, and Peter’s sexism grates on me from time to time – I still love how sincere and fleshed out they are. This extends to the supporting cast as well, especially Janine, Louis, and Dana.
My enjoyment of the original film comes from watching it multiple times and reveling in how it embraced the 1980s metropolitan culture and comedic style. It’s an experience locked in time, and is just off-the-wall fun.
It’s the fun aspect of the franchise that helps me enjoy Ghostbusters II. Again, that’s heresy in the fandom, but I don’t share the venom and hatred that most people do for the 1989 sequel.
My big problem with Ghostbusters II is how the cynics won the battle even after the team saved the world five years earlier. The first movie was full of cynics and skeptics, but at the end they were all celebrating. It doesn’t ring true when real-world events like 9/11 are considered since, nearly fifteen years later, we still celebrate the people who put everything on the line to save innocent lives that day. Was the giant marshmallow man just a group delusion invoked by sewer gas?
Ghostbusters II also loses the more risqué humor elements, mostly because of the audiences they were trying to attract. The franchise’s popularity skyrocketed with The Real Ghostbusters, and the studio wanted to capitalize on that. I don’t necessarily miss the dirty jokes, but I do miss the reality that it adds to the characters. But, it also helped to make Ghostbusters II the film that hooked me in one viewing as a kid.
One of the elements that I loved was Louis Tully’s character. He stood up for his friends at the trial, and he did exactly what I wanted to and became a Ghostbuster. I wasn’t too keen on the Janine/Louis relationship, but I loved his initiative. Another element I loved was the expression of hope in humanity. Sure, the Statue of Liberty sequence was pretty hokey, but the message that we can still put aside our differences and come together under a common cause spoke to me.
I also adored how Sigourney Weaver’s Dana was essentially elevated to a main character. She’s a strong actress and I have enjoyed her performances throughout her career. I would have liked a bit more resolution on the baby storyline – Who’s your daddy, Oscar? – but giving her more power in the film was a nice addition.
I also occasionally break into an impression of Janosz Poha: “Why am I dripping with goo?” Peter MacNicol’s acting was silly but fun.
As I said before, I was a big fan of The Real Ghostbusters, enjoyed the 1988 Ghostbusters game for the Nintendo, and even tried Ghostbusters: The Video Game on both Wii and Xbox 360. The last one was especially fun since it reunited the core actors, but I still can’t get past the library level. The one series that I haven’t watched yet is Extreme Ghostbusters, but based on recommendations, it’s on my list of things.
For years I had heard rumors that something new was on the horizon for the franchise, but when Dan Aykroyd started talking about delays and then when Harold Ramis died in 2014, I figured that those dreams were done. I was pleased and excited when the Ghostbusters reboot was announced, and doubly so when they decided to shift gears and headline an all-female team.
Even with the whining in fandom about a female Ghostbusters team ruining everyone’s childhoods, or even the vocal sexist minority that is hell-bent on derailing the movie, my excitement has not diminished. In fact, it has only grown after watching the new film.
The 2016 Ghostbusters shares quite a few things with the 1984 Ghostbusters, but it is definitely not a remake. To me, a remake takes the same characters, settings, and plots and tells a similar story to the source material. A reboot takes a basic premise – even with the same characters like Star Trek from 2009 – and heads in a different direction. This Ghostbusters is the story of a successful scientist who, due to spoilery circumstances, joins two down on their luck scientists and a New York metro worker to investigate the rise of the paranormal against the grain of the normal world around them. Just like the 1984 version, this film is pretty slow in the beginning, but the plot has plenty of the spirit world mythology helping it ramp up to a somewhat cheesy and heart-warming conclusion, and it also uses contemporary humor to soften the scares. The special effects are just as awesome, even if they are less practical and more computer generated.
It also has cameos from most of the original cast, including all of the big four. One of them is definitely a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it was very touching.
But this version also has plenty of originality to bring to the table. The main four have elements of the original cast scattered throughout their characters, but they all bring a unique take to the ensemble. Kristen Wiig is more of the comedic straight woman, Melissa McCarthy shares Egon’s nerdiness without going deep into stereotype, Leslie Jones embodies the blue collar to a tee, and Kate McKinnon has mad scientist down to an art. McKinnon is worth the price of admission alone, especially with her character’s barely restrained enthusiasm over the ghost busting tech.
The end credits have a ton of extras built into them, including a fun sequence that involves the scrolling credits in the hijinks, and cap the film with a final hook that might lead into a sequel.
There were a few of things I wasn’t entirely happy with. The main villain is the stock rejected oddball character, and the receptionist (played by Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) is fun for a little while but rapidly becomes superfluous. In fact, I honestly wonder if they should have merged these two characters. The humor was rough at first, including a couple of toilet humor gags, but it evened out later on and certainly never reached the risqué levels of the original film. The other negative was in the setting: The 1984 film went to great lengths to showcase New York City, effectively making it a silent character in the film, but the 2016 film takes the setting for granted.
I went into this one with an open mind and zero expectations, spent the first twenty minutes wondering where they were going, and finally kicked back as I realized that this was the ideal update to a classic. It matches up well with the 1984 film, and will probably take a few watches to really grow on me.
All told, the ladies and their director, Paul Feig, captured the original spirit quite nicely.
The strong spirit of today’s Ghostbusters gives me hope for the future.
We’ll all see a lot of buzz in coming days about how the film is a failure because it didn’t make back the $144 million budget on opening weekend, but that honestly doesn’t matter. Ghostbusters is the highest-grossing premiere for the Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy team, and that’s success enough for Sony to consider future installments. In fact, the 1984 film opened to almost $14 million, which is about $35 million when adjusted for inflation. The 2016 film has already beat that, even though it came in second place to The Secret Life of Pets.
(By the way, if we want to play the box office game in an attempt to take down the 2016 film, even Ghostbusters II debuted higher than the first film. So maybe, just maybe, box office performance is more nuanced and relative rather than being a stark win/loss dichotomy.)
We’ve already seen the fallout from original generation fans that can’t get over change, ranging from unfounded pre-release ratings on IMDb – the lowest I saw the star rating on opening weekend was 4.1 – to so many angry rants on YouTube. I honestly get the aversion to change with as much as those fans love the classic film, but I’ve also seen the Ghostbusters fan-base at Dragon Con who have accepted all fans into their ranks with variations on the uniforms, vehicles, and gear. They truly understand that Ghostbusters is for everyone, and I’m looking forward to seeing the new fans because of the movie.
The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it’s a passing of the torch between generations. Violet Ramis Stiel, daughter of Harold Ramis, recently wrote about that and acceptance of change. The new film keeps the franchise alive, and it keeps the memory alive as well. I’m excited about seeing these women in another adventure, as well as the potential multiverse that Sony is possibly building. We may yet see the passing of the torch by the 1984 team to a new one. We may yet see Ghostbusters movies (live action and/or animated) or television shows set in Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, or Salt Lake City. We may yet see any degree of imagination because the sky is the limit. The potential alone is amazing.
The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it’s a paradigm shift in Hollywood. It’s a high-budget action film showcasing four women over 30 in an industry where they’re normally considered over the hill. These four women are in starring comedic roles in an industry that doesn’t consider women to be funny. Every shot in the film highlights the action and their roles, not their bodies and their sexuality like Megan Fox from Transformers. These women go into business for themselves and grow beyond the need for validation and approval by the institutional systems of academia and government.
The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it is a signal that the tide may be changing. In an era with Rey (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Jyn (Star Wars: Rogue One), and Anna and Elsa (Frozen), the Hollywood dynamic is evolving, and it’s about time.
The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it is the future.
Ignore the negative buzz and go see it. Even better, take someone along who is young and excited by science, technology, engineering, and math. Answer the call.
Ghostbusters (1984): 7.5
Ghostbusters II (1989): 7.0
Ghostbusters (2016): 7.0