Trailer Reaction: Ghostbusters (2016)

On principle I find the trend of reacting to and reviewing movie trailers to be a bit much. Normally I’d suggest that you can’t judge the quality of the movie on the trailer. Normally. Last week Sony released the first trailer for the Ghostbusters reboot. Pat and I are mega Ghostbusters fans, a fact which cemented our bond many years ago. Straight out the gate I will admit that we are opposed to this reboot. It shouldn’t have been made. Being a realist however, I know that money is on the table and corporations exist for profit. I understand why the movie is being made. I still object to it.

So what is my reaction to the trailer? A trailer which has received nearly half a million down votes. I’ll give you my thoughts but first I need to lay out some history. Ghostbusters (1984) was the most expensive and most profitable comedy ever made. It held these records for a long time. It is frequently cited as one of the greatest movies and comedy films ever made. It make these lists for both critics and pop culture fans alike. For a long time the final screenplay was considered “perfect” by industry insiders and used as a template for screenwriting. In 1986 the property was turned into a cartoon that became one of the longest run animated shows in television history. It ran until 1991 and only after something called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took over. In 1987 a new studio head came into power at Columbia Pictures and decided that Ghosbusters was a franchise. The hit movie, soundtrack, cartoon, toys, comic books, and other licensing backed this idea up. So after much conversation and a lot of money Ghostbusters II was green lit. The movie was met with critical derision and fan disappointment. The energy, tone, and magic of the original was lost. The screenplay was diluted by commercial interest, pressures to appeal to kids, and the disinterest of Bill Murray. Ghostbusters II was not the passion project the original was. It was made because little kids, like me, would go see it. It was made because a cartoon TV series was a ratings and toy juggernaut. Ghostbusters II made a lot of money but not as much as Ghostbusters. The lazy final product and a movie called Batman derailed that.

Here is where history matters. In the fall of 1989 Sony bought Columbia Pictures. Any notion of Ghostbusters 3 went out the window. Dan Aykroyd kept the dream alive and rumors of a return were constant among fans. I remember hearing about plans for a third film in 1994, 1995, 1999, and 2000. Each time the rumor would be squashed because either Sony and/or Murray had no interest. So what kept Ghostbusters alive? Why is it relevant 30+ years later? Other than Dan Aykroyd the force that kept the property alive was the fans. The people kept Ghostbusters relevant. Sony would lazily put out poor version of the movies on various home video mediums. Often a pan and scan with horrible ratios. When DVD allowed the addition of special features and deleted scenes, Sony was not only late in releasing a Ghostbusters DVD, they also included almost not additional content. I remember the early  internet fan forums starting campaigns for a proper release of one of the greatest movies of all time. For decades fans had to beg Sony for anything related to the IP. There were no box sets, no collectibles, no soundtracks, no knick-knacks, and certainly no movies.

Sony saw the franchise as a thing of the past. A niche property of a bygone era. Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s Sony Pictures was making money with several lucrative film properties. Meanwhile, Dan Aykroyd and the fans had the door shut in their face at the mere mention of a third film, or a remaster, or anything. The last 5 years has been a different story. You see newer copyright law is limited to 35 years. After that IP’s return to their creators. Ergo, if Sony doesn’t option Ghostbusters and produce a product the rights would revert back to Aykroyd, Ramis, Reitman, and other creators. Leaked Sony emails confirm that Sony began to panic. A string of major box office flops and failures has left Sony in a state of disarray. They need a recognizable and hit property to hit one more time. They need it bad. Which properties did they pick? Spiderman and Ghostbusters. Quite frankly they crapped the bed with Spiderman. Which means they are even more desperate for a global box office smash.

A few years ago Ramis and Aykroyd were tasked with writing a third film with the help of writers from The Office. The script would have been a proper sequel and spin off for a new generation of “busters”. Bill Murray refused to participate and Sony rejected the script. They wanted something younger, cooler, a hard reboot. New writers came and went. Aykroyd publicly said that if Sony didn’t want to make the movie he’d go elsewhere as the rights were coming back to him. Leaked emails confirm that Sony took notice and decided to do whatever they could to get Akyroyd and Reitman back on board. These emails even suggest a massive lawsuit against Bill Murray if he is unwilling to participate due to some old contract language from the previous films.

Reitman agreed to direct and produce a remake/reboot of the first film with younger actors. The films was supposed to be, “in the spirit” of the original. It was never clear if it was going to be a hard or soft reboot. Sadly, Harold Ramis died in 2014. Reitman felt uncomfortable directing after the funeral of his friend. Within days of Ramis’ death Sony announced the project was moving forward. The body wasn’t cold before the studio was robbing his grave. Shortly thereafter, Sony announced it would be hard reboot. Paul Feig was announced as was the concept of a Ghostbusters “cinematic universe” and an all female cast.

Let’s get to the point. Sony is up a creek. They sat on the property because they didn’t value it. Only after the loss of billions and the potential loss of the property did they decided to make another film. This terrible trailer is the result of people who fundamentally don’t understand what made the original special. The look is wrong. The tone is wrong. The humor is wrong. The story is wrong. When your comedy trailer opens with a vomit gag you are in for a world of unfunny. Vomit and gross out humor can be funny. They are not however “in the spirit” of Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters is a classic because of it’s mixture of realism, grit, fantasy, and horror. The humor comes from the characters and the collision of the mundane with the supernatural. There are very few traditional set ups or bits in the movie. The jokes come from the characters reactions to the unreal things happening to and around them. The biggest laughs are moments of dry wit. This reboot doesn’t understand that it isn’t about “bigger set pieces” or “more hi-tech gear”. The proton pack isn’t what makes Ghostbusters great. So a “cooler” one isn’t going to make a better movie.

The visual effects look like The Haunted Mansion meets Adam Sandler’s lesser works. The dread and horror are gone. The grit is gone. It feels like a cheap prostitution of an intellectual property by people hungry for money. Worst of all this movie has saddled talented women with c grade “jokes” in a remake of one of, if not THE,  most beloved comedies ever made. The humor is low brow, broad, and obnoxiously unfunny. The climax (read selling point) of the trailer is an embarrassingly witless scene of possession. A snot gag into an shrieking exorcist parody (40 years too late) topped off with, “that’ll leave a mark.” Not one of these things has been funny in this century. Terms like, “hack” and “fraud” come to mind. Potential spoilers on the overall film have come out and it amazingly sounds worse than the panned trailer. Dance scenes, fart jokes, and the No Ghost symbol coming to life, a la The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, to trample New York.

The most infuriating part is that this movie does what the worst reboots always do.  They market themselves off the love and fondness of former films while denying they ever happened. They plunder the best bits, familiar phrases, and story beats while demanding we forget the movies we loved. They want the hardcore dollars but not the hardcore fans and certainly not their preferences. “Give us your money. Keep the memories.” To watch this movie is to watch an echo of references, images, and ideas that no longer make sense. You can’t steal content and deny context with a wink.

To be a movie fan today is to realize that Hollywood will keep bringing back the things you love until you hate them. For years Sony Pictures has claimed that Ghostbusters was a dead property and we the fans denied it. It seems now that they were right and that all our begging for more has only unleashed a ghastly and distorted apparition of the thing we loved. Now Ghostbusters is back to haunt us all forever. As the saying goes, “sometimes dead is better.”

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