The Best, the Beautiful, the Only…Ghostbusters

It’s been just over three months since Sony Pictures Entertainment released the first North American trailer of Ghostbusters (2016) on YouTube. Since then the preview has garnered more than 33.6 million views, 250,608 “likes,” and 872, 947 “dislikes.”*

To put this in perspective, 20th Century Fox’s teaser trailer for the 2015 reboot of the Fantastic Four received 17.5 million views, 71,285 “likes,” and 20,239″dislikes.” That means roughly 78 percent of viewers responded favorably to Fantastic Four while the same percentage responded negatively to the new Ghostbusters trailer.

The reason I bring this up is because Fantastic Four is considered by several prominent critics and aggregate review websites as one of, if not the, worst movies of 2015.

Now at the end of the day these are just previews, and one could argue that perhaps 20th Century Fox was just better at making a good trailer that ultimately failed audience’s expectations. Or it could mean that Sony’s new Ghostbusters movie is going to be an unequivocal ammonia-wrenched bowl of donkey piss so reviled that it will go down in history as a film that failed before it even got off the ground all the while puking on the grave of one of the great comedy screenwriters of all time.

Ghostbusters_cover

Original artwork from 1984

It could be that. And in fact, it will almost certainly be that. Based on the 4 minutes and 51 seconds of official North American preview of Ghostbusters (2016) there can be no doubt Hollywood has finally gone too far. Sony Pictures, and Paul Feig and Katie Dippold, and everyone involved in this dumpster fire have begun plucking at the last of a handful of unsoiled cinematic masterpieces all in the name of profit. What’s most disheartening about this entry is it doesn’t even bother to honor the original; it rides on the coattails of what came before and aggrandizes itself for getting a pig in a dress and calling it the prom queen.

Now before anyone goes off, I am going to state it for the record: my negative attitude for this film has nothing to do with the all-female reprisal. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t get it. Is it supposed to be a political statement? If you’re going for a philosophical point, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a gender-mixed team? Maybe a homosexual Ghostbuster? The LGBT-community is woefully lacking in prominent film roles; wouldn’t that be more reflective of the makeup of our society?

But I digress, they’re all women. Who cares?

Well, apparently a lot of people. As it turns out I’m not the only one who is sick of seeing Hollywood bilk every last cultural milestone of my generation into a bloodless shell of itself. Take it from a guy who is an even bigger Ghostbusters fan than I am.

For those of you who don’t know who James Rolfe is, he is a filmmaker and critic better known as The Angry Video Game Nerd of the popular eponymous web series. If his rhetoric seems a little similar to the writing on Retrobacktive, it’s not coincidence. Rolfe was a huge influence on the tone and direction of this blog; the idea being to create a literary version of his website, Cinemassacre. Rolfe is a wunderkind when it comes to interpreting allegory and was an early practitioner of celebrating films indelible to Gen X’ers.

Recently, however, he was skewered online by opponents who called his “non-review” of Ghostbusters (2016) as “sexist.”

Watch the video again if you need to, but at no point does Rolfe make any reference to the female cast of Ghostbusters (2016) other than to say it’s the only way to differentiate this version from the 1984 original. There isn’t a shred of sexism in that review, but there is plenty of defiance and somehow this has been interpreted as misogyny.

And this is what’s sinking Ghostbusters (2016) into an even deeper level of cinematic excrement. Based on the “polarized” reactions (i.e. wanton hatred) from online reviewers, Sony is aware they are sitting on a potential time bomb. So the filmmakers and cast have sunk to the lowest denominator and conjured up a preemptive excuse for the movie’s likely failure: blame it all on misogyny.

That’s right, if you don’t like Ghostbusters (2016) then you must hate women. That’s the only reason to dislike this film. Well, I’ll admit any picture starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones is a strong reason to dislike it. Wiig and McCarthy have made careers out of one-dimensional characters who lost any semblance of charisma years ago. And Jones is in the process of dismantling Saturday Night Live one awkwardly unfunny sketch at a time. So yes, I’ll will stand out on a limb and say the cast has something to do with it. But being a women doesn’t mean you get a pass from criticism. Funnier women could have been cast; it wouldn’t have saved the film because a Ghostbusters remake is already a bad idea, but it couldn’t make it any worse.

Still not convinced this isn’t misogyny talking? Let’s look at another Internet icon’s take on the trailer:

Danika Massey, better known as Comic Book Girl 19, preceded Rolfe’s video by a couple of months, but to much quieter fanfare. Is that because she’s a woman? Sort of, in so much as there’s nothing for anyone to attack. She made an apt video that summarized what most Ghostbusters fans were thinking. She even goes so far as to tell us not to go see the new movie. All Rolfe said was he wasn’t going to see the new movie. Well, take from that what you want, but both reviews share the sentiment most moviegoers are feeling: Ghostbusters (2016) is going to suck. And if you want to know who I most directly blame for this upcoming pile of bear shit, I’ll tell you. It’s Bill Murray.

Okay, so not really Bill Murray. It’s impossible to be angry at Bill Murray. But in a way Murray, and the rest of the original Ghostbusters creative team, converged to create a media vacuum that brought Paul Feig’s imminent disaster to life. In order to grasp its origins we need to go back almost 30 years.

The success of the original Ghostbusters film led to the creation of a spinoff animated series for ABC called The Real Ghostbusters. The Real Ghostbusters aired for seven seasons beginning in 1986, and was an instant hit. Based on continued interest in the franchise, Columbia Pictures pressured Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis to come up with a script for a second movie. Aykroyd and Ramis had gone on record stating that the intention was to create a conclusive film with the first Ghostbusters, and that a second shouldn’t be made. Murray, likewise, was against a follow-up as he has been plainly dismissive of sequels throughout his career, stating in a 1988 New York Times story, “The reason most people do sequels is greed. But if you do it for business reasons, you should be put to death.”

In a rare act of concession, Murray, as well as Ramis, Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver, and director/producer Ivan Reitman, returned to make Ghostbusters II.

Released 27 years ago today, the film was a commercial success, but fell short among critics. Even the actors involved seemed to be aware that the original spark had fizzled. Murray noted in a 2012 interview with David Letterman, “It’s hard. Even the second ‘Ghostbusters‘ wasn’t as much fun for me as the first one. It’s hard to make a sequel.”

It was clear to everyone that the original Ghostbusters was lightning in a bottle. They tried again; it didn’t work. All was forgiven. Best to leave well enough alone, and move on.

Somewhere around 1995 Aykroyd gets this idea for a new Ghostbusters movie. It’s called Ghostbusters: Hellbent and it centers around the team entering a parallel New York that resembles a hellish version of their own. There’s no telling what inspired Aykroyd to come up with this new Ghostbusters story after the critical disappointment of Ghostbusters II, but the plot seems to share some elements with the very first Ghostbusters script Aykroyd wrote in the early 80s.

By this point Murray was a well established comedic star. Harold Ramis moved behind the camera and became a successful director. Aykroyd, however, had hit a slump. Failed big budget vehicles like Nothing but Trouble and Coneheads virtually sidelined Aykroyd into smaller, character roles. Some were commendable (My Girl; Feeling Minnesota), but his bankability was depleted. It’s all speculation, but in this case it may have been Aykroyd chasing down Hollywood.

One laudable story arc in Ghostbusters: Hellbent was a proverbial passing of the torch. The script called for an older, haggled Ghostbuster team (Aykroyd, Murray, Ramis, and Hudson) to train and hand down the mantle to a group of young cadets. Ramis stated in a 1999 Entertainment Weekly article, “dream plan is that Danny and I would produce it, I would direct it, and we would recruit some newer, younger, popular Ghostbusters to star.”Alas, the studios weren’t buying it (literally) as production costs for such an elaborate film were seen as too high.

Despite the transitional plot point in Ghostbusters 3, Murray remained disinterested, and by 2004 rumors of a third film petered out. Ramis revived interest a year later when he suggest in an InFocus magazine interview that he would like to cast Ben Stiller in Ghostbusters 3, but little came of his comment. Four more years passed before an interview in the Guardian Guide found Aykroyd speaking emphatically about the new Ghostbusters film.

By this time the big joke had become that Murray would only reprise his role as Peter Venkman if the writers “kill me off in the first reel.” Well evidently this only drove Aykroyd’s, Ramis’, the studio’s, whomever’s fervency because Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, writers and producers for The Office brought in to work on a GB3 treatment, actually came up with a story line where Murray’s character is killed off and comes back as a ghost. Even Murray remarked “well, that’s clever anyway” in a ComingSoon.net interview.

But nothing came of it. Murray held out. And for years the back and forth went on. Aykroyd told reporters in almost every interview he did that the new movie would go into production…soon. And Murray consistently declared disapproval. Eventually Aykroyd and Ramis decided it would be best to move on without Murray. Said Aykroyd in a 2011 interview with Dennis Miller, “The concept is much larger than any individual role and the promise of Ghostbusters III is that we get to hand the equipment and the franchise down to new blood.”

Well it turns out a big draw to the concept is one individual. In a 2012 interview with IGN Aykroyd said Ghostbusters 3 was in “suspended animation,” production had stalled, and that they couldn’t recreate the Venkman character without Murray’s approval. It seemed without Murray’s star power, there was no interest in a third Ghostbusters movie.

This should have put it all to rest. But here’s where my frustration with Murray kicks in. Just two months later at a Cubs game, a reporter for a local news affiliate, WGN, asks Murray about involvement in a second Ghostbusters sequel. Murray’s response: “Well, it’s a possibility…”

Really? After years of lambasting Aykroyd and Ramis for pushing the project, steadfast in his objection to a third film, Murray tells the world “It’s a possibility.” It’s by no means committal, but it appears it was enough to reignite the flames. Aykroyd seemed spurred on in suggesting the door was always open for Murray to return to the role.

Shortly after his Cubs-game comment, Murray appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. Pressed about his interest in GB3, Murray said, “Well, I think… we’ll try again. I always drag my feet on it.” I’m sorry, over 15 years of saying “no” is dragging your feet? I’d hate to see how long it takes Bill Murray to buy a car.

Perhaps Murray was just tired of answering the question: will he or won’t he? Maybe Aykroyd had finally warn him down. Or still yet it could he was in perennial jest with the world, ambivalent to his professional direction but happy to puppeteer his fans and colleagues emotions because they made it so easy for him.

By the end of 2013 only two things were certain about Ghostbusters 3: it involved a passing of the torch to a new generation, and Aykroyd really wanted to make this picture. Sadly it would not be Bill Murray who would have final say. On February 24, 2014, Harold Ramis died from complications with vaculitis at his home in Chicago. Any hope of a full Ghostbusters reunion was gone. And though Ramis’ involvement in any future Ghostbusters entry would have been downplayed in light of his illness, fans the world over realized the gravity of the situation. It was time to let it go.

Of course when there’s money to be made, who cares about things like desecration, exploitation, and greed? Certainly not Hollywood. Hence Ghostbusters (2016), a film that in four minutes and 51 seconds of preview pays no homage to the genius that came before it. Nope. We’re just gonna slap together some slick CGI, toss in a few caricatures, throw in a cheap cameo for blanket nostalgia (seriously, Murray, you came back for this?!), and bam, you have the definition of modern cinema: a gutless, vapid cesspool of timidity and impossibly low standards that intrigues audiences only by how low it can sink.

At the end of the day, I’m not really mad at Murray for stalling so long, or anyone else from the original production, even Aykoryd who championed the idea long after it should have crumbled. But I’m with James on this one. This movie is going to be a 35-foot-long, 600-pound pile of shit. I won’t see it. Instead of buying a ticket I’m going to use my money to buy a new copy of the original on Amazon, and encourage discerning fans – and from the looks of it there are many – to throw their own Ghostbusters (1984) viewing parties on July 15.

 

*As of this writing.

Somewhere in Time

Predator is a great movie. The writing is fluid and memorable. The acting is layered in machismo, but earnest during necessary poignancy. Even if you’re not a fan of sci-fi, it’s hard to argue the impact of the special effects. There’s catchphrases galore. “I ain’t got time to bleed.” “Get to the choppa!” Also, it’s rated R, so it’s accessible on an adult level. Yes, Predator is a fun-filled, rock-em-sock-em action bonanza.

Predator_Movie

(c) 20th Century Fox

Another noteworthy component: no one has attempted to re-boot it into an impotent, degraded Hollywood vehicle for consumer extortion. Yes, there are sequels and spin-offs, but that’s not really new in the film world. Still, given the major film studios are either unable or unwilling to do anything other than cull new movies from well-known source material, it’s surprising, if not refreshing, to see at least one gem escape tarnish.

About one month after Predator‘s release in theaters, audiences were treated to another sci-fi action treat. Orion Pictures released RoboCop to commercial success and widespread critical acclaim in the summer of 1987.

Content notwithstanding, there’s a big difference between these two films. That difference is any reference to RoboCop today has to be prefaced with “the original,” to discern it from the soulless bag of garbage MGM and Sony remade in 2014.

Now if you maintain a rather nihilistic view of the current Hollywood trend to “re-image” every story ever told then you will likely brush off the barrage of limp blockbusters churned out every summer. What’s unfortunate is that while the common moviegoer is force fed cinematic gentrification, “classics” like Predator and RoboCop – yes, the original – are gradually fading from the cultural radar screen.

It’s unfortunate that assisting Hollywood in it’s dissolution of novel film making is a generation that seems to be inherently opposed to anything remotely antique. Its position on media seems to echo technology; if it’s not the latest and greatest then it must be outdated and unworthy of attention. This is a disservice to not only modern audiences but dedicated film fans who would love to see the next Predator or RoboCop, and not just some hollow copy of the original. But Hollywood’s priority is butts in seats, and if mediocrity is what people want…

On December 25, 2015, Quentin Tarantino’s highly anticipated The H8ful Eight came out in theaters, but only a select few retrofitted with 70mm film projectors. As arguably cinema’s purist advocate, Tarantino shot his latest movie in 70mm film. At this point virtually every studio the world over has switched to the cheaper, faster digital format. And if you feel the pictures have lost grandeur over the last ten years, you’re not crazy. That’s what digitizing everything does. Like the studios, most movie theaters have switched to digital projection, so even if you can’t see the movie as Tarantino intended it is still available as a worldwide release.

Regardless of the quality, The H8ful Eight embodies posterity if nothing else. People should appreciate that which came before, and understand that newer is not always better. In fact rarely is it better. The only instance that comes to mind is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. And even then these films only slightly edge out Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns.

And let’s be clear as to quell any notions of absent-mindedness: Mad Max: Fury Road is at best on par with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – it is not as good as Mad Max 2. And Star Wars: The Force Awakens just plain sucks.

What audiences (and to some degree artists themselves) seem to forget is that certain media milestones exist in a vacuum. No matter how hard you try it is impossible to recreate the circumstances that lead to brilliance. Franchises like Batman and Superman can be constantly updated as they have deeply ingrained themselves into our social fabric. We’re talking like 80- years-spread-over-multiple-media-outlets deep! Even if George Lucas himself returned to helm the latest Star Wars entry it still wouldn’t live up to expectations. He’s a different director than he was almost 40 years ago. Case in point: George Miller returning to the Mad Max series. And while Fury Road was not a bad movie, it lacked a certain recklessness the originals had – in all fairness, so did Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Despite this staunch stance, however, let it be stated for the record that the occasional remake isn’t a bad thing. Remakes are nothing new in the movie and T.V. world (how come musicians never try to remake albums? does anyone remember what an “album” is?). But there is a big difference in paying homage to something and blatantly ripping it off for money’s sake. David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly and John Carpenter’s The Thing are great examples of remakes that are superior to the originals. What did they do that was so different? For starters several years had passed since the originals were at the forefront of anyone’s mind. But most importantly these directors put new spins on the source material. The fact is these remakes would have been great even if no one had ever heard of the originals. No one was trying to cash in on a recognizable name.

Could someone remake Predator? Possibly. You’d need the right cast (who can replace Schwarzenegger in anything?), a solid R rating so it isn’t dumbed-down for mass appeal, and a director eager to put his or her own angle on what is a rather simple story. Then you might have something. But here’s a thought: why bother? Predator is easy enough to find on DVD or Amazon. It’s not that old. It holds up. There’s no need for an update.

And if it really is that you have run out of ideas, Hollywood, drop a line here at Retrobacktive because guess what? I don’t just write blogs.