Monday, May 23, 2016

So, Uh... Did You Guys Hear There's a New Ghostbusters Coming Out?

The internet is firing on all cylinders lately as the Ghostbusters reboot looms ever-closer. Shouting matches between Paul Feig apologists and 80s-purists are reaching a fever pitch and accusations of sexism and bar-lowering fly back and forth because it's the internet, and on the internet you can get away with calling people pretty much whatever you want with zero proof.

I'll go on the record and say that I don't think this reboot is a good idea, but when pressed, it's been hard for me to articulate why. Something about it just doesn't sit well with me. Do I hate women? Do I think they're innately less funny than men? Am I secretly one of those guys that the cartoon character Tumblr-ites demonize? I don't think so. I don't want to be. That's not something I'd be proud to be known for. So what is it? If there's no good reason for it to not exist, shouldn't it have the right to exist? After all, it doesn't erase the 1984 classic. That movie has so permeated pop culture that it could never be undone. So what is it? I think I know.

Before we get to the heart of this, there are a few arguments, good and bad, that I've seen people lob around about the new Ghostbusters movie. The first one is that there shouldn't be a reboot because the original movie is “perfect” the way it is.

I guess?

I mean, Ghostbusters is a fantastic movie. One of my favorites. I've been a Ghostbuster for Halloween pretty consistently since college. I've owned toys, video games, comics, DVDs... all of it. I'm a little more than a casual fan. I think it's great. That said, it hasn't aged as well as you might think. And some of that is simply a product of the time and what was expected of movies in the 80s.

I have a cousin who hadn't seen Ghostbusters. They've missed out on a few classics, somehow. This wasn't the first time we've done this, either. They hadn't seen Back to the Future until we sat down and watched the trilogy together. I think that they enjoyed BttF. I never heard otherwise. But their dislike for Ghostbusters was made apparent throughout. The biggest complaint was the Bill Murray/Sigourney Weaver relationship. Watch the movie without those rose-tinted glasses. It's completely shoehorned in. Venkman is horribly obnoxious to Dana through the whole movie. They have zero moments where they actively try to get to know each other and form any kind of bond. Venkman is a creeper who wants to bone Dana, and she sees right through it and rolls her eyes. Sure, it's a classic comedy-romance setup, but it's trite now, and wasn't ever really that believable in the first place. I mean, Bill Murray may be the funniest man on the planet, but he's not great looking. He's no Oscar Isaac. Sigourney wouldn't put up with that. Especially not in her prime. And yet, after Stay Puft's demise, they share a kiss, and presumably go off to make a baby.

Totally not a page from my diary

But it's an 80s comedy. A love interest was expected. And as the lead, Bill was going to get her. Standard movie fare. But to modern audiences, it doesn't hold up. And that's ok. That wasn't what the movie set out to do. When Ghostbusters does sci-fi and comedy, the genres it set out to do, it pulls them off  spectacularly. When it does a secondary genre, it's kind of meh. It's still a great, funny movie. It doesn't have to be a perfect one on all counts. Do I, personally, think the shallow romance is a strike against the movie? Not really.  Nobody dislikes Casablanca because the fight scenes are boring. That's fine. Ghostbusters still stands on its own despite that, and I'd argue that most people who see it for the first time understand or ignore it. The rest of the film is so good that you forgive the things that don't quite work.

My point is, this is an emotional argument. It's nostalgia. It's not a great one to sway people. Just because you grew up with the franchise doesn't mean others did. They don't have the emotional connection to it that you do. They see the cracks in the movie. And that's fine. It has flaws, and seeing those flaws in their context helps those flaws make sense.

The second argument, and the one I found myself making on Twitter, was that the reboot is a cynical cash grab. People have been asking for a third Ghostbusters movie for about 30 years. Something always got in the way. Usually Bill Murray and his hatred of how the second one turned out. He famously hated it because the film had more focus on the special effects than on the character interaction that made the original so great. I don't think he's completely right there, as the second one has great moments, but he made the thing, and there were probably behind the scenes fights about this argument that tarnished his view.

Good thing the new movie doesn't seem to be falling into the same trap. Right?


At any rate, the idea of the Ghostbuster is still in the public consciousness. The brand never went away. People still know who they are. The jumpsuits, the proton pack, the laser gun, etc. People know it. Hollywood knows this. They exploit this. It's what they do. So since the original group can't get together to make a new one (or have died since then, RIP Harold Ramis), they look for someone who will.

Enter the Feig.

Paul Feig stepped up and decided to push forward with his own version. Based on what I've read, it hasn't been a quest for this man to undo the Ghostbusters and replace it with his all-female version because the other one sucked. Based on interviews, he genuinely thinks the original is brilliant, but couldn't rationalize a 30-year gap in the movie canon's timeline. Some of us may say that that's where a “writer” would step in and fill in some gaps, but who knows where Hollywood could find one of those?

So it's a cash grab. Yes. All movies are. We all implicitly know this. It's Hollywood's job to pitch it to us. A “Yeah, we know, but look!” attempt to get asses in seats. Which brings us to the next point I often hear.

Movie trailers can make or break a film. That's the whole reason they exist. I thought the idea for The Peanuts movie was a complete disregard for Charles Schulz's wishes for the franchise to stop after his death. And it kind of was. But when the trailer came out, it swayed me. Schulz's family was involved, the studio knew what they characters meant to the general audience, and they made a pitch to let people know that the Peanuts were in good hands. And it worked. Audiences loved the movie. The studio proved that not everything has to be a cynical cash grab. Sometimes a movie is made from the heart. Made from a place that respects the property and wants to see a property live on and find a home with future generations.

I'd argue that Ghostbusters 2016's trailer didn't do that. To me, a lot of the clever writing and interplay from the 1984 original was gone and replaced with one-liners that didn't work, visual gags that failed, and under-written, flat characters all mugging for focus. The pitch to the built-in fanbase wasn't there. It seems like the studio took those fans for granted and tried to made jokes more catered toward a mass audience, not realizing that A) Those fans like the original because it made the audience bend to the movie, not vice-versa, and B) Ghostbusters was the highest-grossing comedy of all time when it came out (Until Beverly Hills Cop beat it a couple weeks later). That proves that the movie doesn't have to talk down. It just has to be good. The audience is clearly there.

But maybe I'm wrong. Let's look at the trailers.

Even if you think it's good, you have to know there's a major difference in tone there.

So how could this miss the mark by so far? Why do people seem so hell-bent on seeing Ghostbusters 2016 fail?

I think Paul Feig, well-intentioned or not, is completely missing the point of Ghostbusters as a franchise. Sure, everyone knows the car and the packs and the jumpsuits, but that's not why that movie became such a cultural touchstone. Ghostbusters is Ghostbusters because of the Ghostbusters. You can emulate that formula as much as you want, but you're never going to duplicate what made that first movie work.

Ghostbusters was a passion project for Dan Aykroyd. He's obsessed with the supernatural. Ghosts, aliens, everything. And he channeled that obsession and breadth of knowledge into a script that he cared about. Harold Ramis, one of the greatest comedic writers and directors of all time, helped take what was, by all accounts, a mess of a script, and hone it into a brilliant story. Bill Murray, one of the sharpest wits around, ad-libbed much of the way his character interacted with the world around him. The actors informed those characters. Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, etc. all brought important and unique brands of comedy to the table. Bill Murray was right. Ghostbusters is about those characters. Not about that world. The two can't be separated.

Even when Ghostbusters was continued in different media, the people at the helm knew that the characters created for that movie were the glue that held that world together. They were all adapted to cartoons, video games, and recently, a comic book series. The actors and original creators aren't involved, but those characters live on because that world is nothing without them.

When the Extreme Ghostbusters premiered on television, they linked it to the originals by having them in the same world. And people accepted it as part of the canon. That's all it takes.  As long as the old characters are there to welcome the new ones into the fold, people generally accept the new characters with no problem. Just be respectful of the property. Don't wipe away the efforts of the people who did the real work for you.

When people call the reboot unnecessary, dissenters often point to other franchises that are rebooted all the time: James Bond, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider-Man. The main difference here is that all of these are adapted works. Sean Connery may have been film's Bond, but he existed as a book before that. Fans lamented the new Turtles movie for sexing up April, but she's just another version of the character who has seen different interpretations in page, cartoon, and previous films. Even Spidey has had three silver screen actors portray him, but he's had countless comic and television incarnations as well (and alternate universes, but now's not the time). The Ghostbusters had no predecessor. This was it. These characters and this world was constructed for the screen.  

Instead, Feig opted for a reboot. Don't let the intro to the 2016 trailer fool you. It implies that the new movie takes place in the same universe as the old one, but every interview (and the structure of the trailer) tells you that it doesn't. He took a world that was molded for a specific group of characters to inhabit, and he's retro-fitting it for his own means. And it just isn't working. Those characters aren't meant for that world. The fact that he's rebooting and cutting all canon ties with the original drives home the idea that he just doesn't grasp what makes this franchise work on a fundamental level. If he had built upon what had been established by the owners of the coattails he's riding, I think fans would have been more accepting of his idea. Even if this group was on the west coast and never had any contact with the originals, just that fact that Feig was bringing back that world would have sat better with fans.

Instead, the new Ghostbusters inhabits a strange plane of existence where it stands on the shoulders of its predecessors, all the while trying to convince you that it got there by its own merit. It's an ouroboros, existing only on the sustainability of the franchise, all the while distancing itself from the very benefits it used to get here. It'll continue to eat itself to hide its shame until it busts wide open.

And Bustin' makes me feel good.

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