RogerBW's Blog

Ghostbusters (2016) 24 December 2020

2016 action comedy, dir. Paul Feig, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon: IMDb / allmovie.

Two paranormal enthusiasts, a nuclear engineer and a subway worker band together to save New York from paranormal threat.

The announcement that this film would be female-led brought all the usual scared men out of their hiding places, because let's face it just one film about women that wasn't in a safe category like romance or cancer was clearly going to bring on the end of civilisation if it were allowed to succeed. This conveniently deflected criticism from the fact that nobody except the accountants was asking for a remake, reimagining, or anything else, of Ghostbusters, female-led or not.

To my mind, where the film fails it's because it's trying too hard to pander to fans of the original, which was over 30 years old at this point. Nobody who saw that as a child and saw this as an adult was ever going to say that this one was better than their memories from when the world was young. And yet there are constant efforts to remind people of it, including cameos from Murray and Aykroyd as people who refuse to help and contribute nothing to the plot. (The years have really not been kind to them, particularly Aykroyd who seems to have lost everything that made his appearance distinctive.) The worst of all of them is the use of "Slimer", who is now given a female counterpart. You can tell she's female because she's the same computer model but with lipstick, long hair and a bow. Yeah, we've come so far since Ms. Pac-Man.

Strip all that freight out, and what's left is actually a pretty decent stand-alone comedy. I've liked Wiig in clips I've seen elsewhere but McKinnon as Holtzmann is absolutely the main reason to watch this, doing a great acting job and clearly having fun. This is an ensemble piece, though without simply recycling the earlier characters (and this time the black one actually has skills to contribute to the team), and has a sense of camaraderie that frankly I don't remember being anything like as noticeable in the earlier film.

But that enjoyment is driven by the acting and the improvisation; the script thinks it's worth making a running joke out of one of the characters not getting enough wontons in her soup, while the actor does the hard work of raising that almost to the level of being funny. All right, there's a bit to be said about how when a man feels dumped on by the world and not given the things he deserves he tries to turn New York into a ghostpocalypse (or blows up a public building), while a woman says "ah, must be Tuesday", but that and a fine opening sequence with a tour guide ("At the time of its construction, it was one of the most elegant homes in existence, featuring every luxury including a face bidet and an anti-Irish security fence") are really the high points.

Naturally, when it failed, Hollywood took this to mean "female-led films are a bad idea" rather than "endless remakes are a bad idea". What do you want, creativity? But at least we got Holtzmann.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 03:58pm on 25 December 2020

    We watched this with our god children's family and thought it was okay.

    Not sure I would agree with the remake comment this time, though in general I would, because 30 years is a long time ago, and film styles change change.

    By that I mean films of the past have different pacing and story structure, which a younger generation may find dated.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 04:24pm on 25 December 2020

    I think that might be part of the problem – its pacing and story structure seem to me to be very close kin to the 1984 film. So someone who didn't have any memory of film of that era would find many of the stylistic decisions quite odd, while someone who did would be likely to favour the 1984 simply because of nostalgia.

    If someone had told me to make a Ghostbusters cash-in, I'd have gone for a completely different structure, starting perhaps with "well, everyone remembers those guys from 30 years ago, so we all know ghosts are a real thing, but they got fat and rich and retired to Florida, and somebody needs to step up and do the job" – rather than copying the setup of the original.

  3. Posted by Nicola Zealey at 10:22am on 26 December 2020

    Happy Xmas Roger

    I agree they should have done it as a sequel to the originals. To make it a bit more topical, I've have it not only did they get fat, lazy and rich but they became completely disgraced ane discredited. The money stopped coming in when they found a way to stop any more ghosts. They came to rely on Government funding. The villain (a politician with a twitter obsession) cut their funding. One of them (probably Bill Murray's) decided to fake a ghost attack using CGI, smoke and mirrors. When he got caught they were discredited and (due to the villain) everyone thinks ghosts are fake news. The villain plans to save public money by shutting down the building containing the containment tanks.

    What makes this funny is all the audience knows ghosts are real but there is a ton of evidence they existed but the villain is able to twitter the truth away and the more things go to hell the more he denies the truth.

  4. Posted by Chris at 11:54am on 26 December 2020

    My initial feeling about remakes of films is always "Do I really want to go and watch a film by someone who didn't have the imagination to produce an original idea?"

    On the whole the answer is going to be "no" unless everyone I know tells me that it is exceptionally good, just as (with the exception of reductions of long and moralising Victorian stories by cutting out the goddy bits) I am not going to read someone's modernised re-telling of a Nobel prize winning book, or hang needlework renditions of old masters' paintings on my wall. And I don't want the Swingle Singers performing songs whose originals I know, either.

    Would you go to a remake of Some Like It Hot without the original stars? I think I wouldn't bother.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 12:10pm on 26 December 2020

    It doesn't help that there are many filmmakers who do have original ideas, who don't get to make them because the producers and studio bosses would rather say "ooh, existing intellectual property, that was valuable 30 years ago therefore it will be valuable now". (Which is actually mostly an accounting fiddle, as I've written here before: if the thing has been lying dormant it's often still carried on the books at its old value from back when people cared about it.) Filmmakers outside Hollywood know that you don't need to spend hundreds of millions to make a film people will enjoy… the problem is that it's hard to get the attention of an audience already drowning in film and TV if you don't have the distribution muscle.

    Though one should not forget that the version of The Maltese Falcon people now remember fondly was a remake. Technically the third attempt to film the book, if you count Satan Met a Lady.

    There are bits here which are very good, but what I enjoyed was almost entirely the acting; you could have given these same actors a different concept and script (please!) and they'd still have been great. I'm not an expert in film analysis and it's rare that I notice such a clear separation of parts, like a failed mayonnaise; a film that works well can cover up deficiencies in one element with strengths in another.

  6. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 03:33pm on 26 December 2020

    Funnily enough, the Ghosterbusters: Afterlife movie trailer shows promise, as it seems to be a 'do you remember' those guys etc. as its premise.

  7. Posted by Nicola Zealey at 05:20pm on 26 December 2020

    I've had a quick look at the trailer of Ghosterbusters: Afterlife and it sounds good but i'm not sure I'm convinced folks would have forgotten the Statue of Liberty taking a walk. I know the twitter generation have the attention span of goldfish but for me that is a stretch too far.

    With my premise, there is a reason why the original ghost-busters have been forgotten. The public love turning heroes into zeroes and then forgetting about them.

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