Ghostbusters (2016)

aka Ghostbusters: Answer the Call

2017 #41
Paul Feig | 117 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 + 1.78:1 | USA & Australia / English | 12 / PG-13

Ghostbusters

I doubt you need me to recap the controversy that dogged co-writer/director Paul Feig’s remake of the beloved ’80s classic Ghostbusters from its inception right through to its release (and, I guess, beyond). For one thing I think it would do us all good to be able to forget that ever happened, though I guess we won’t anytime soon. That said, one of the headline aspects of the campaign of negativity directed at the remake purely because it had an all-female lead cast (it’s unfathomably sad that that’s what it was all about, isn’t it?) was the reaction that greeted the film’s trailer — it’s officially the most disliked movie trailer in the history of YouTube. Obviously a lot of that was thanks to empty-headed hate, but it didn’t help that the trailer was legitimately weak: for a comedy it seemed short on humour, and what supposed gags were present either weren’t funny or were unimaginative and overused.

Fortunately this complete dearth of laughter doesn’t extend to the film itself, though it’s not all good news: while parts are pretty funny, others are just as lazy as the trailer implied. Considering the volume of alternate lines included in the film’s special features, you have to wonder how some glaring duds, overfamiliar ‘jokes’, and flat-out clichés were left in. Of the lead cast, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones are all equally affected by this sometimes good / sometimes bad oscillation, though Chris Hemsworth as their pretty-but-dim receptionist manages to escape unscathed in a bubble of, if not hilarity, then definite amusement. However, while even people who dislike the film on the whole seem to reserve praise for Kate McKinnon, I thought she was by far the worst of the main cast. I don’t think her kerazy antics made me laugh once.

The Ghostbusters

Although Feig opted to fully reboot the Ghostbusters universe rather than continue where the previous films left off, there are variety of fan-pleasing fun nods to the original film, which I won’t spoil be detailing here. The same goes for the scattering of cameos from most of the original cast, which some have read as pace-breakingly fan-service-y but I thought mostly worked (though I don’t know if there’s any truth to the rumours that Bill Murray only appears due to a contractual obligation he couldn’t get out of). Similarly, there are at least four different recordings of Ray Parker Jr’s famous theme song, not to mention that it’s often mixed into Theodore Shapiro’s score too. Maybe that’s overkill, but it is a helluva catchy tune (though there’s nothing in-film quite as good as this remix of the trailer music). Thankfully, the risible version by Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott (which was at one point promoted as the main song) is relegated to a brief snippet in the middle of the film.

For a comedy director, Feig has a decent handle on the genre side of the movie. The climax is like an attempt at a big action scene by someone unfamiliar with filming action, but although it lacks a degree of polish it’s not bad — indeed, while McKinnon may not have made me laugh, she does get a fairly badass fight sequence. On the other hand, the special effects are excellent — some people seem to really hate them, but I think the colourful, fluorescent ghosts (and associated supernatural thingamajigs) look great. Even better is the way the apparitions regularly break out of the 2.35:1 frame. I mean, it’s pretty pointless (unless you’re watching in 3D, where such larks will enhance the 3D effect’s effectiveness), but it’s a kind of cinematic playfulness I like.

I ain't afraid of no fluorescent ghosts

However, one place the director’s hand really shows is in the story structure, because it’s really obvious that some stuff has been cut. Primarily, Wiig’s character rejoins the team in time for the climax, but we never actually saw her leave it. Later, villain Rowan makes the crowd pose in a dance move for no apparent reason, though the end credits reveal there was a whole dance routine that’s been relegated to under-the-crawl status. I guess these things were a victim of necessity: Feig has said the first cut was 4¼ hours long. The Blu-ray includes an extended cut that’s 17 minutes longer, though apparently it’s effectively more than that because it features many alternate takes as well as plain extensions. For that reason I decided to watch the theatrical cut now and I’ll check out the extended version at a later date.

That’s not all, though: there’s also 138 minutes (aka just over 2¼ hours) of deleted, extended, and alternate scenes on the UK & European Blu-ray (over an hour more than on the US release). If you’re a serious fan of the film then I guess that’s a treasure trove, but it also says something about how comedy movies are produced nowadays, doesn’t it? (Or possibly how they always have been, I dunno.) I suppose you can spin that as both a positive and a negative. In the latter camp, it’s a “throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks” approach, rather than a “write something good in the first place” one. In the former, why not try everything you can think of on set and then hone it to the stuff that works best in the edit? Though, as discussed earlier, it doesn’t feel like we got all grade-A material in the final cut.

Bustin' makes me feel badass

For all the dumbass criticisms online about it starring women (which there’s at least a couple of jokes about in the film, as it goes), it can only be a positive to see a genre movie starring women in the central roles. It’s not wholly positive in this field (the male characters are all degraded in one way or another, which is a full-180 role reversal that might feel just but isn’t helpful in the grand scheme), but every little helps, right? Leaving such political aspects aside, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (as the closing title card would have it) is mostly entertaining while it lasts, though it’s kind of lightweight with it, and therefore not something that’s likely to endure as the original has. Well, there have been worse remakes.

3 out of 5

Ghostbusters is available on Sky Cinema from today.

Ghostbusters (1984)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #37

They’re here to save the world.

Also Known As: Ghost Busters, technically.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 105 minutes
BBFC: PG (1984) | 12A (2011)
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 8th June 1984
UK Release: 7th December 1984
First Seen: VHS, c.1990

Stars
Bill Murray (Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation)
Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Trading Places)
Harold Ramis (Stripes, The Last Kiss)
Ernie Hudson (The Crow, Congo)
Sigourney Weaver (The Year of Living Dangerously, Gorillas in the Mist)
Rick Moranis (Little Shop of Horrors, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids)

Director
Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Kindergarten Cop)

Screenwriters
Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Dragnet)
Harold Ramis (Animal House, Groundhog Day)

The Story
After losing their university jobs, a trio of paranormal researchers set up a ghost extermination business. They’re soon hired by Dana Barrett, who believes her apartment is haunted. Turns out it is, by an evil demigod who posses Dana and sets about bringing the world to an end…

Our Heroes
They ain’t afraid of no ghosts! Discredited parapsychologists Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler set up the Ghostbusters to combat the increasing problem of paranormal activity in New York City, and later recruit Winston Zeddemore to cope with demand.

Our Villain
Gozer the Gozerian, a Sumerian god of destruction. Likes to turn his servants into supernatural hounds and allow the good guys to choose the form of their ‘destructor’ — which is how you end up having to fight a 112½-foot marshmallow man.

Best Supporting Character
Among a strong cast of memorable characters, one has to feel for William Atherton as antagonistic EPA agent Walter Peck. Peck is so unlikeable that, according to director Ivan Reitman, it “ruined” Atherton’s life: people confronted him as if he were the character, including starting fights in bars. He’s just too good at being a slimy little so-and-so, I guess.

Memorable Quote
“Don’t cross the streams.” — Dr. Egon Spengler

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Dogs and cats, living together!” — Dr. Peter Venkman (well, we used it a lot…)

Memorable Scene
The Ghostbusters fail to stop the coming of Gozer, who shortly declares that the destructor will follow, in a physical form chosen by the team. Although three of them manage to clear their minds, something pops into Ray’s head — “the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood. Something that could never, ever possibly destroy us.” Unless it was eleven storeys tall and motivated by evil, of course.

Sing the Theme Tune…
“If there’s something strange in you neighbourhood, who you gonna call?” Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song is as iconic as the movie itself. It lost the Oscar to Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You. Won the BAFTA, though.

Truly Special Effect
The film is full of excellent effects work — all done practically, of course, in those pre-CGI days. That also means an abundance of techniques were used, from simple stuff like hanging things on wires or using wind blowers to make library cards fly around, to miniatures with a Godzilla-style man in a suit, to full animation for things like the proton packs’ streams. And it was all produced on such a tight schedule that, according to the film’s effects mastermind, 70-80% of the work was achieved in the first take.

Making of
Dan Aykroyd wrote the part of Winston with Eddie Murphy in mind, having just worked with him on Trading Places. When Murphy was unavailable due to working on Beverly Hills Cop, Ernie Hudson was cast. He was so excited by the part that he agreed to do it for half his usual salary, only to then receive a revised script in which Winston had a greatly reduced role. In 2015, Hudson commented, “I love the character and he’s got some great lines, but I felt the guy was just kind of there. I love the movie, I love the guys. I’m very thankful to Ivan for casting me. I’m very thankful that fans appreciate the Winston character. But it’s always been very frustrating — kind of a love/hate thing, I guess.”

Next time…
First came The Real Ghostbusters, an animated series that ran from 1986 to 1991 and produced 140 episodes (the addition of The Real to the title being due to another series from the ’70s). Due to its success, the cast and crew were cajoled into making a film sequel, Ghostbusters II, which scared the life out of me when I was about 4. In 2009, Ghostbusters: The Video Game used the likenesses and voices of many of the original cast, and Dan Aykroyd described it as “essentially the third movie.” Rumours and/or plans for a genuine second sequel persisted for a very, very long time (there’s a mass of details here, if you’re interested), though finally seem to have been abandoned in favour of this summer’s all-female reboot.

Awards
2 Oscar nominations (Visual Effects, Original Song)
1 BAFTA (Original Song)
1 BAFTA nomination (Visual Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Fantasy Film)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
“The cast could not be better. Although his role is too small, Aykroyd is endearingly serious as a diehard, but easily scared, ghost-hunter. Harold Ramis, the co-writer of the script, is extremely funny as a hopeless egghead […] But Ghostbusters is primarily a showcase for Murray, who slinks through the movie muttering his lines in his usual cheeky fashion and getting off an occasionally hilarious crack that proves he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.” — Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News

Score: 97%

What the Public Say
“the use of special effects, specifically practical effect, shines as well. The ghosts may not be perfectly rendered, but they are so interesting in design and they have so much energy onscreen that you don’t mind it. The practical effects, like having the ground open up or drawers being opened by unseen ghosts are done very well. In a time where many effects-heavy films rely solely on CGI, it’s nice to look back to a time when practical effects were still commonplace in movies and done well in movies.” — Joey Sack, Reel Reactions

Verdict

Along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and ThunderCats, I loved Ghostbusters when I was a kid — I had a dressing up set, with a jumpsuit and a proton pack with a yellow foam whatsit for the stream, and one of the traps, and an Ecto-1, and the firehouse playset, and one time I got my fingers caught in the grill on the roof (which was there to pour goo through, because toys) and I’m sure I panicked until liberal application of butter freed me… Good times. I guess back then my love for it was more to do with the animated series than the movie, but the film itself is a work of blockbuster comedy art. The characters are a joy to be around, the dialogue is hilarious and quotable, multiple sequences lodge themselves indelibly in the memory, the special effects are exemplary, and the dramatic stakes can be surprisingly effective for what’s primarily a comedy.

All together now: “bustin’ makes me feel good!

#38 will have its revenge… in this post or the next.