Who Ya Gonna Call Out?

Cynema is not a film review series.  Ghostbusters 2016 got a lot of shit before it was released. This article is a companion piece to my previousCritical Thinkingessay.

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Ghostbusters 2016 is not funny and as a result I will argue that it’s really not a movie. The trailer holds a record for most negative comments on YouTube. There is a reason for this, however, the venomous personal attacks against one of its stars, Leslie Jones, were unwarranted and inexcusable. All of that aside, I am going to use Cynema to explain with critical thinking, why this film was a failure and arguably not a true film.

Ghostbusters 2016, Answer the Call, whatever…is another studio bait and switch. This has nothing to do with a female cast. It’s not a racial thing. So let’s get the misogyny and race baiting out of the way. Ghostbusters 2016 wouldn’t have been funny even if the original actors starred. Does everyone forget just how bad Ghostbusters 2 was? That film was one of the reasons why there was never a third. Bill Murray fought reprising his Peter Venkman role because of part two’s shoddy quality. However, more on that in a bit.

To be clear, some people are just assholes and online anonymity allows them to be. The Internet allows a voice to some people who should not have one.

The backlash to the trailer had more than its share of sexist and racist trolls. There is no discounting the piss and vinegar that comes from “fans” toward film trailers and teasers. Why did this film receive a record amount of vitriol? The answer is more than “haters, racists or sexists.”

There was an undercurrent of Hollywood again pillaging memories and fucking with something that shouldn’t be fucked with. This is no excuse for any of the things said upon the trailer’s release.

The poison pen comments went for the lowest level in attacking the trailer. They went for the women angle and singled out Leslie Jones because they couldn’t intelligently express what exactly pissed them off. The Internet allows a voice to some people who should not have one.

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Big special effects comedies are tough. Large-scale effects and humor aren’t like a Reese’s Cup. A good script fuses the two elements. Howard the Duck and Ghostbusters 2 are solid examples. Before we go into the 2016 incarnation, let’s get Ghostbusters 2 out of the way. The sequel came four years after the surprising success of Ivan Reitman’s original film. Columbia Pictures feared they had a bomb on their hands. The 1984 film allegedly had a disastrous industry screening. A Columbia executive supposedly told Ivan Reitman something like “better luck next time.” Columbia prepared for a flop. The film went on to be one of the top grossing comedies of all time. It still holds some records.

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The success was a result of a number of factors. 1984 was the summer of Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Star Trek III, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Neverending Story and The Last Starfighter. Reagan was riding high in the saddle. The United States was emerging from a recession and it was “Morning Again in America” with the US returning to the world stage.

MTV was exploding along with the cable TV that carried it. Music videos were all the rage and even classic stars like David Bowie and The Stones were falling in line. Michael Jackson was at the height of his fame with Thriller and John Landis’ video put MTV on “The A-List.” Cyndi Lauper told us what girls just wanted to do. Culture Club redefined pop gender and Prince showered us with Purple Rain. Tina Turner told us what comebacks got to do with it. Madonna was our material girl and Huey Lewis gave us Sports.

John Hughes was stylizing teenage comedies and as a result, gave a voice to Generation X with 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club. Splash and Bachelor Party gave us Tom Hanks. The Terminator pumped out Arnie and “I’ll Be Back.” Eddie Murphy was our favorite cop after being our favorite ex-con. Steven Spielberg was putting the finishing touches on reinventing American cinema after E.T. and we liked what he saw.

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Bill Cosby was TV’s number one dad and comedy was king at the networks. David Letterman’s irony made him the anti-talk show host and he rivaled Carson. Wendy’s made a celebrity out of a little old woman screaming “Where’s the Beef?” Everyone wanted to laugh. The country was in a good mood and as a result, Ghostbusters tapped into it.

Holy shit, 1984 was a great fucking year for pop culture.

There were a lot of indirect factors that went into Ghostbusters‘ success. It was a product of its time. It could be argued the film rode the coat tails of a pop culture “Era of Good Feelings.”

Ghostbusters 1984, like its 2016 shadow, drew on Saturday Night Live, which was experiencing a resurgence thanks to Eddie Murphy.  There was a bit of nostalgia for the original SNL cast. The post-1980 cast didn’t connect with viewers and until Eddie Murphy resuscitated it, cancellation looked inevitable. The original cast did well with feature films because it was good to see them together again. John Belushi was to star alongside his partner Dan Aykroyd. Then Belushi suddenly died which further fueled nostalgia for the original cast. Bill Murray stepped in just as he stepped in for Chevy Chase on the show.

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All of this had every bit to do with the success of the 1984 film. This was a case of right place, right time. With all of that said, let’s  have a real look at the film.

The Script

We now know Bill Murray ad-libbed the majority of his lines. I watched this film a number of times with live theater audiences, and it was almost always Murray who got the laughs. The film’s biggest line, “He slimed me” was Murray’s work.

Dan Aykroyd was always smart enough to know he was a supporting guy. His strength was partnering with the right people. We saw him do this successfully with The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Ghostbusters, The Great Outdoors and Spies Like Us. Aykroyd’s films faltered when he played against straight man type in films like Doctor Detroit, Caddyshack II and Neighbors.

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So we have a smart cast rounded out by the perfect “80s Dick,” William Atherton. He was a stellar dick to Murray’s asshole.  Atherton was one of a handful of guys like Paul Gleason or Martin Kove that 80s casting agents could go to when the film needed a dickhead. Some of Ghostbusters’ best scenes involved Murray and Atherton. In fact, the film could have used Atherton a bit more. His EPA agent, Walter Peck was a better baddie than Zuul.

The film took on a cool premise: technology used to capture supernatural beings. It was a weird fusion of science and the supernatural. This concept fit in with the arcade game wave and as a result, Ghostbusters, in many ways, was like a live action video game.

The script also knew New York City. Ghostbusters has been called one of the best films about New York. It captured the city’s unique personality without being heavy-handed like its unfortunate sequel.  The Bernstein musical score also gave it a quirky NYC feel. The film had personality and made viewers feel that this could have only happened in New York City. Picture Ghostbusters taking place in Los Angeles, Miami or Seattle. It’s just not the same, is it? Only NYC could host both King Kong and Mr. Stay Puft.

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Are you starting to see where I am going?

The Cast

Dan Aykroyd came up with the concept and the original script. He was willing to be the straight man again and as a result, Ivan Reitman followed his lead. They allowed Bill Murray to lead the team. Harold Ramis, Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson knew their lanes and stayed in them. Reitman didn’t allow Rick Moranis to run away with the show. Sigourney Weaver brought a cool classiness to the film and Annie Potts shined in a supporting role. There was just enough of everyone, with the possible exception of William Atherton.

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This would not be the case with Ghostbusters 2. No one had the lead. Rick Moranis went from accountant to lawyer and then a Ghostbuster for some reason. Someone thought it would be funny to make Annie Potts and Moranis lovers and it wasn’t. Bill Murray seemed lost and bored. Ernie Hudson was given even less to do. They shoved Sigourney Weaver in for good measure. She served little purpose other than filling out the returning original cast. Harold Ramis showed up. Everyone was stepping on each other.

Peter McNichol’s art dealer was a wan substitute for Atherton’s EPA agent. Vigo the painting spirit was no Gozer let alone a Zuul. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was swapped out for a ridiculous walking Statue of Liberty to continue the “giant thing stomping the city” ending of the first film.

Ghostbusters 2 was a misfire and the major drop in box office after the first week of release backs up this statement. GB2 was the bad version of the original film. It has more in common with the remake than it does with GB84.  The film left a bad taste in most viewer’s mouths, especially Bill Murray. He publicly disavowed the film and stated a number of times it killed the franchise.

“We did a sequel, and it was sort of rather unsatisfying for me, because the first one to me was the goods,” Murray said. “It was the real thing. And the sequel, you know, was … it was a few years later. There was an idea pitched. And it was like, well, they got us all together in a room.

We just laughed for a couple of hours. And then they said, ‘What if we did another one? Here’s an idea.'” “So they had this idea, but it didn’t turn out to be the idea when I arrived on the set. They’d written a whole different movie than the one . And the special-effects guys got it and got their hands on it. And it was just not the same movie. There were a few great scenes in it, but it wasn’t the same movie. So there’s never been an interest in a third Ghostbusters because the second one was kind of disappointing … for me, anyway.”

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Murray made it clear there would be no Ghostbusters 3 with him involved. He did loan his voice to the video game, which Aykroyd posits as a quasi-third film. Bill Murray had standards, said Bill Murray. He wasn’t going to make something that wasn’t quality.

So Bill Murray wouldn’t do a third film, but he WOULD do the sitcom level cameo in the 2016 movie? With the effort he put into that; he and the remaining original busters could have passed the torch to the ladies and did a classy sign-off. This could have been done in the same amount of 2016 screen time. Instead Murray, Aykroyd and Hudson clock in to do their part to prop up a film that went into production when it should have started script revisions.

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Ghostbusters 2016 caught the brunt of remake backlash in a case of wrong place, wrong time in the zeitgeist.We now have “trailer reviews.” When this became a credible form of assessment escapes me. Had films like Jaws or Star Wars been reviewed based on their trailers, their success would have been impacted. Someone gave this form of review credence. Apply this silly application and give it a wide online platform, and the power of the Internet becomes quite formidable. Ghostbusters 2016 was not excoriated because women were the stars. It wasn’t racist. It wasn’t misogynist backlash.  It’s simple: the movie wasn’t funny and it had nothing to say.

There is no doubt of a bigoted and sexist front against the film before its release but it also received backlash from fans of the original that wanted their film to be left alone. My own film, Death House, got similar treatment, sans the sex and race-baiting. Horror “experts” reviewed a one minute trailer and made their decisions. The Internet plays a major role here and Ghostbusters 2016 was released into a whole new world than its predecessor. It was a sitting duck for online hatred and took the brunt of it for other cinematic sins.

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Just what is this film? Is it a remake? They feature some continuity from the original film. The trailer started off in setting the stage for the film as a sequel. Harold Ramis’s bust is a leaning toward Egon. The same firehouse is used. Is this movie a total do-over or does it have some continuity? It just doesn’t know what the hell it wants to be and like Ghostbusters 2, it’s a big, expensive mess and waste of talent.

The special effects are not special. Why was this remade? I will argue Richard Edlund’s 1984 visual effects are superior to the CGI comic book tone of the new film. Edlund’s effects had character. The new film has CGI copies of Slimer and Stay Puft. There is nothing fresh here.

Ghostbusters 2016 lacks a good villain. We have the occult nerd who wants revenge. This is all they could come up with for a villain? Where was William Atherton to make a cameo? What exactly was the villain’s plan? I can’t remember the guy’s character name let alone the actor who played him. I could Google or IMDb it, but why bother?

There is so much to parody in the supernatural world these days. Since 1984 we have seen an explosion of so-called ghost hunting shows. We have bullshit psychics rooking people for ratings. This is a wealth of material for a whole new team of Ghostbusters to take on. None of this is explored.

We have the sex role reversal gimmick and Chris Hemsworth will be the eye candy for the ladies. He will play against his Thor, hunk type. They will make him a nerd and male equivalent of a dumb blonde. I get it, but it’s not funny. Then, the script writers thought it would be funny to have not one, not two, but three dance scenes in the film. I guess seeing ghosts flash mob dance is supposed to be current and fun, but it all falls flat.

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Ghostbusters 2016 is lazy filmmaking. Someone thought it would be a good idea to make an all-female Ghostbusters. The problem is no one thought of giving them anything good to do. Whereas the original film embraced the cultural times around it, this film ignores. This mess of a “remake” is lost. It didn’t have to take place in New York City. This Ghostbusters would have been right at home in plastic Los Angeles.

The Cast

Four talented people are wasted. Not one of the four new Ghostbusters is the leader. Yes, Melissa McCarthy would technically be the founder of the group. Yet Kristin Wiig could also be called the leader. Wait, what about Kate McKinnon’s daffy performance? She seems to move to the front of the row. Wait, Leslie Jones is bucking for team leader as well. Just who is the one to guide us through? McCarthy has been typed as the loud one, the “oh no she didn’t” type gal. Suddenly she is the straight man.

The film feels forced and consequently is dull. Casting director Allison Jones manages to get a few former “The Office” cast members in this thing. The script seems built around accommodating cameos. Even Stay Puft’s cameo is forced. There is no context.  The post credit sequence also lacks important context. Unless you’re a fan of the original film, how do you get the Zuul gag? This diminishes the work by the new team. It’s a shame.

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The simplest remedy without cow-towing to “fans” would have been to get the three original Ghostbusters to pass the torch to the new team. Instead, the filmmakers do everything but that. They try so damned hard to link this to the original film. They want it to be seen with fresh eyes. Remake it or don’t remake it and if you remake it, don’t include cameos from the original cast. Go forth with something brave and daring.

That leads me to the final thoughts: comedy should be dangerous. It should have energy and daring. None of those descriptors apply here. This was middle of the road, offend no one entertainment. There was nothing risky here. It was vanilla to make sure plenty of Ghostbusters toys marketed to the twelve and under crowd. The original went as far to include a misplaced spiritual oral sex scene on Aykroyd. This one doesn’t even have a “And the flowers are still standing!” moment. Not a one. It’s simply an assembly of skits and moments, and not very good ones.

This was film product and nothing more. It was a cynical cash grab that subjected its talented leading cast to unwarranted anger. Ghostbusters 2016 is great if you’re seven. Other than that, this was a badly conceived, badly executed and badly timed film that in the end, was an expensive and wasted opportunity.

 

 

 

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