When the original Ghostbusters was released in 1984, New York City's Times Square was still kind of sketchy. There were just as many Peep Show pallors as there were large scale movie houses, in the center of the high-tech media circus that now doubles for Main Street, USA in the heart of the marketing mayhem of our new millennium. The city traded one pimp for another.
After doubling down on hot fudge sundaes and dodging the street walkers (how could I ever have imagined they'd be replaced by furry street peddlers with less personality some three decades later) my father and I purchased tickets and caught an afternoon matinee of Ghostbusters which starred comedians Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. I thought it would be fun!
I wasn't much the enthusiast when it came to comedies, especially any starring Murry and Aykroyd who were of course known for their hijinks on Saturday Night Live and what I considered the silly, crash, overly-sexualized and under-intellectualized humor that my older brother always went for, but there was one thing about the flick that was attractive to me. It also featured Sigourney Weaver -- the badass from Aliens!
And of course ghosts!
So I figured it would be worth the ticket, and besides my dad and I always had a good time at the movies anyway. Instead for the nearly 2 hour run time of the film, I had discovered an entirely new genre and whole new team of heroes that I could root for! Ghostbusters completely won me over with its combination of action and adventure, and special effects! The other thing that was remarkable about the movie was how it served to included the backdrop of New York City incorporating it right into the story!
Ghostbusters didn't change my world like other films during my adolescence that left huge impressions on me, but it reminded that sometimes going to a movie and having fun is all that you need, and a very catchy theme song is helpful too. I must have played my 45 of the title track consecutively for hours on end, and only stopped to watch the video on MTV... when MTV played videos!
Watching the expert comedic camaraderie between this group of actors, the timing of all their prats falls just made watching their adventure evolve a joy. great credit must also go to the film's director.
The film was a hit that summer and gave rise to a phenomenon, which included a syndicated cartoon based on the film and eventually a sequel emerged. It took almost 5-years for the follow-up, but all the first film's favorites were there and though the story was subpar, they still had me at: Who Are You Gonna Call?
So you can imagine my enthusiasm when after years of will-they/won't-they it appeared that Hollywood was finally ready to bring back the franchise. Reignite those proton packs and bring back out most favorite paranormal investigators to the forefront. Over the years fans of the first two films anxiously awaited the next evolution of the Ghostbusters and eager to see what that might look like. It came as little surprise when the announcement came that the next Ghostbusters would feature an all-female cast!
I honestly had little to no reservation when I learned that the comedians inheriting the franchise would be lead by Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig undoubtedly time-tested and proven comedic geniuses that have more than once captivated audiences with their comedic diversity and timing, not to mention intense likability. To round out the quartet the "rebooted" Ghostbusters would also cast two more SNL main-playes including Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones each a marvel in her own right.
The movie would be directed by Paul Feig another well established comedy craftsman who has created magic before working with Wiig and McCarthy on 2011 hit Bridesmaids and the recent adventure-comedy Spy (which also starred McCarthy). Almost immediately the Internet went wild with critics bashing the all-female cast, disappointed that the new film would be structure as a reboot and not a proper sequel, therefore nullifying any narrative indication of its predecessor.
It seemed a shame really, but that's also been the way with Hollywood these days, and given that the last Ghostbusters was released more than 20 years ago, a fresh approach might serve the franchise better -- it all seemed a good idea, at least on paper. So Ghostbusters would join the deluge of summer blockbusters for 2016. It would come on the heels of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Marvel's Captain America: Civil War and before Star Trek Beyond the next installment in that franchise reboot.
The anticipation for the new Ghostbusters was HUGE (not really -- there were too many naysayers ready to see the film film -- but) there were the diehard fans that were eager to see these ladies resuscitate a bankable film favorite and rally the call...who you gonna call? So audiences lined up. I know I was one of those ready and looking forward to catching the film opening weekend. I didn't want to get distracted from what I knew would be a fun experience for me.
Circumstances as they were, I wasn't there opening weekend -- to be honest, it's been a really long time since I've worked up the energy to have to be at a film's opening. The last time I did it, was for the most recent release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and that was wrought with all kinds of complications (don't ask). So I patiently sat Ghostbusters out with every intention to see the movie in theaters while it was still in release. Only 4 weeks after its initial run, that became quite challenging...
Almost immediately and never a good sign, the major movie houses took the film out of its prime circulation, pinning it in early matinee time slots at discounted ticket prices, or only smaller auditoriums were playing the film. I finally bought two tickets for an midweek, early afternoon showing of the film and basically found that we were the only two people in the house. Never a good sign.
The film started off promising enough with a particularly creepy New York City landmark proving to be haunted and moving into the familiar soundtrack, and introduction of our heroines, but a lot of charm from the original -- the instant chemistry that was such a big part of the first film -- just wasn't there. The characters were portrayed as too "off beat" and quirky, which I think worked against them, especially in the case of Kristin Wiig who plays the slightly neurotic Erin Gilbert.
Melissa McCarthy is the group's lead investigator Abby Yates, but unfortunately lacks any of the newness she brought to her action-hero persona in Spy. Abby is a retread or amalgamation of her "ordinary" leading lady roles. With these two comic veterans sluggishly leading the team, when McKinnon's very weird Jillian Holtzmann is introduced -- an obvious reference character to the Harold Ramis' Egon from the first series -- the film starts to become a caricature of the original. Leslie Jones as Patty Tolan gets most of the movie's best one-line and steals the scenes, as the "ordinary Joe", but the cohesion that is needed to make the Ghostbusters work doesn't come, at least not right away.
Marvel's Thor Chris Hemsworth plays Kevin who becomes possessed by the film's "big bad" but as the big, dumb lunk, a very 2-dimensional portrayal by Hemsworth who brings so much depth to his God of Thunder in the Avengers films, the emotion is kinda lost when he becomes the menace toward the climax. And one very important member of the cast is obviously missing, and that's New York City itself. The first Ghostbusters benefitted from being shot right in the heart of city for many of its biggest moments. Too much of the reboot looks like it was shot on a backlot.
The pace of the new Ghostbusters is also lacking in an easy rhythm that should have been second nature to this very talented quartet, but the chemistry -- even between Wiig and McCarthy -- is clunky and uninteresting. There isn't the immediate gelling that would have made Ghostbusters the rollercoaster that it should have been.
One of the biggest deficiencies plaguing the film is its decision to cleanly "reboot" and disavow any connection to the first features. Although the original cast all make appearances (with the exception of Ramis who passed away, but an homage to the actor is in evidence) they don't play the same iconic roles, and with the exception of Bill Murray, don't have much of an impact on the narrative. Murray who plays a skeptic has the most screen time, and ends up getting thrown out of a window buy one of the group's first captured spirits.
Ghostbusters might have benefitted from keeping close to cannon and incorporating some of the already established mythology. It certainly would have taken the pressure off of the film's leads of having to live up to the pressure of reestablishing a franchise that really has come to mean so much to its fans. The film casually sets up a premise for its next installment, and I hope that they do come back for a sequel, perhaps this time around doing it right. Ghostbusters has great potential, but is that ever a flattering complement to make about anything? It just means that something isn't quite there yet.
So in the meantime, if you're gonna make that call, better keep the original 80s flick on memory, while version 2.0 works out some of the kinks in its new operating system.