by: Steve Sullivan
Filmmaking is a medium still in its infancy, and as a uniquely expensive popular art form it has spent the entirety of its formative years shackled to industry. Economic and creative interests rarely coincide, but Hollywood has spent a century seeking harmony between great storytelling and larger profits. The studios’ batting average has climbed and dropped throughout the seasons, and from time to time they’ve stepped up to smash one over the fences. Ghostbusters was a grand slam when it was released in 1984, one of the most beloved films that Hollywood has ever produced.
For twenty-five years, hopes for a third entry in the series were at lifted upon waves of Dan Ackroyd’s enthusiasm only to be smashed each time upon the rocks of Bill Murray’s inhospitable shores. The former has more invested in the property; the concept was his brainchild and Ghostbusters represents a distant high point in his career. While Peter Venkman may be Bill Murray’s most famous role, the eccentric actor has found new success and late-career validation in offbeat indies and dramatic parts. Together with director Ivan Reitman and their co-star/writer Harold Ramis, the two were said to exercise veto power over the Ghostbusters franchise and seemed eternally out of sync on its future. Sony Pictures, who inherited Ghostbusters by purchasing Columbia Pictures while the second film was still in theaters, remained hesitant throughout to revive Ghostbusters without Murray’s involvement. It wasn’t until Ramis passed away in February of 2014 that the studio began to consider the viability of new directions.
In October, Sony announced that they’d chosen Bridesmaids’ Paul Feig to write and direct the next installment of Ghostbusters. Feig revealed that the new film would be a hard reboot set in a world without Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz, Peter Venkman, and Winston Zeddemore, and that the new ghostbusting team would be comprised entirely of women. The director found himself facing intense and immediate backlash, and has responded to the criticisms with public statements about his detractors’ misogyny and oversensitivity.
“It’s so dramatic,” Feig said in a Variety interview published this week. “Honestly, the only way I could ruin your childhood is if I got into a time machine and went back and made you an orphan.”
The reboot’s naysayers do not all belong to the camps which Feig has called out. In sniping back at the bored Twitter fringe, he addresses tangential social issues but sidesteps the growing frustration with the way Hollywood executives make creative decisions. It’s unsurprising that Feig’s not able to summon a strong defense for his approach. He wasn’t interested in the job, but former head of Sony Pictures Amy Pascal kept pushing to bring him on board.
“I was courting him for like a year,” Pascal told Jenelle Riley. She was convinced that the project needed “somebody who was going to do an entirely different idea, equally brilliant and completely their own thing.”
Sony Pictures is home to precious few dependable franchises. While James Bond is enjoying a critical upswing, the studio has somehow managed to misfire on three consecutive outings with Spider-Man while fast-tracking a second Smurfs sequel which nobody wants. Pascal and Sony saw Feig as a sure thing in the wake of the director’s impressive run at the box office, and their business-first approach led them to pursue a talent who admitted he had no clue how to approach the property. When Feig eventually suggested that he could deliver his usual brand of female ensemble comedy wallpapered with the Ghostbusters brand, Sony celebrated that they’d signed their man.
The problem with the new Ghostbusters is not that Feig wrote his story around a team of women. What’s troubling is that Sony hired a director who’s got a limited comfort zone and force fit an iconic property into that mold.
Filmmakers have been reinterpreting stories in movies and television from the beginning. The lack of respect often shown to remakes by critics is not always reflected at the box office, as familiar brands continue to fill theater seats. Nor can it be said that a derivative film can’t be an interesting exercise. Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Mann each revisited their own stories in order to improve upon them. Gus Van Sant attempted to relive Hitchcock’s Psycho experience shot-for-shot. For most, the titles of Ocean’s Eleven and The Maltese Falcon conjure images of their impressive remakes over the originals. When a talented filmmaker has a bold vision for a new direction, it’s often worth giving them the opportunity to try. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the fate for Ghostbusters.
Recently, we had an opportunity to read a breakdown of the reboot’s story. Far from being inspired or confident, the outline of the new Ghostbusters film represents a departure from the familiar story in mostly unimportant ways. The scientists who strike out on their own business venture are, of course, women instead of men. Their adventure begins at Columbia, the real-life school which stood in for the university which banished Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler to the private sector. The script goes out of its way to reference the original film unnecessarily – a realtor shows the women a firehouse before they find their ultimate headquarters above a chinese restaurant (where one might assume they’ll spend “the last of the petty cash”). The movie promises an origin story for a reinterpreted Slimer; their company car is an old white hearse. If the film is going to spend so much time winking at its predecessor, why discard its solid foundation to begin with? Ghostbusters was a concept ready-made for expansion, as an eager Venkman once promised that “the franchise rights alone” would make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.
Pascal was reassigned within the Sony Pictures organization after hackers released her private emails featuring racist jokes about President Obama and complaints about working with Angelina Jolie. In the months since her departure, Sony has projected a confused image on the Ghostbusters front. With Feig’s film in pre-production, the studio let slip that another team (including Channing Tatum and Chris Pratt) was also developing their own Ghostbusters script. It may be too much to hope that Pascal’s replacement, the notoriously penny-pinching Tom Rothman, is reconsidering the Feig project for creative reasons, but it would certainly be welcome.
The true magic of great comedies rarely lives on the page, but is revealed only when the writing, direction, performances and editing succeed together. Paul Feig’s attempt at Ghostbusters may ultimately be funny when it elbows its way into theaters in July of next year, but being funny alone will not earn it a place with the original.
The story outline (which we’ve confirmed is legitimate) is reprinted in full below. This is a lazy treatment for a treasured property. Ghostbusters deserved better.
- Kristen Wiig will be playing Erin Gabler, a science professor at Columbia University, who years prior co-authored a book with Abby Bergman, played by Melissa McCarthy, titled “Ghosts From our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively – The Study of Paranormal Knowing.“
- The two have not spoken in years but are brought together when Erin is approached by a gentleman looking for help with a haunting. It’s during this interaction that Erin learns that Abby has made their book available online. Erin fears what the book could do to her credibility if it’s discovered and approaches her old friend to take the book out of circulation. Abby agrees only after she offers to bring her and her colleague Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) along to look into the haunting.
- Abby is a professor of paranormal studies at a third-rate university in the Bronx where she works with Jillian. Jillian is the Egon of Feig’s story. She’s invented a PKE Meter that she brings to test during this first investigation.
- At the site of the haunting they encounter slime followed by the ghost of a young girl who proceeds to slime Erin. (Sound familiar?) Abby catches the incident on film. The video goes viral but the majority of the public doesn’t believe the video is real. The circumstances around the situation cause Erin to lose her job at Columbia.
- Abby proposes the three set up a business investigating paranormal disturbances. Erin reluctantly agrees and the three embark on setting up a paranormal extermination business.
- They next need to locate an office for their new business. The realtor shows them a perfect spot, a renovated fire house that is way too far out of their price range. They instead end up in an apartment above a Chinese restaurant.
- We are next introduced to Patty Tolan, played by Leslie Jones, who works in the tunnels under New York City. While underground she encounters the film’s villain Rowan Elgin (The role Peter Dinklage is rumored for) carrying a device. She pursues Tolan but he gives her the slip. After losing him, she stumbles upon his device attached to the wall. A ghost in clothing from the 1600’s appears from the device and chases Patty until a train appears and hits the ghost, causing it to vanish.
- Meanwhile, Erin, Abby and Jillian and their new intern named Kevin are brainstorming ideas for a logo for the business website when Patty arrives. Patty brings them down to the tunnel to show them the device.
- Patty proposes that they let her join the team, offering them the use of her uncle’s vehicle for the business, an old white hearse.
- The newly formed team gets their first official gig at Rockefeller Center where they are hired to get rid of the ghost of a fat Mafioso. They test out Jillian’s newest invention, the Proton Pack, on the ghost. The pack ends up shooting off the ghost’s arms, legs and torso, leaving only a disembodied green head (Yup, Slimer). The head manages to get away.
- Much like their previous video, the video of their fight with the fat green ghost again goes viral, but again it’s viewed as a hoax. The evening news reports on the event, jokingly referring to them as the Ghostbusters.
- The team’s next call brings them to a comic convention where they arrive dressed in old underground maintenance uniforms provided by Patty carrying Proton Packs, blending in with all the other cosplayers. A battle breaks out when they locate the demon-looking ghost. The crowd cheers, thinking it’s all part of the convention.
- The Ghostbusters eventually deduce that the rise in paranormal activity is the result of Rowan who has ties to very old secret society and has been working on building a machine that will release all the ghosts in the city to facilitate the release of an ancient Sumerian god of darkness who will bring about the end of all humanity.
- They get to Rowan too late as his machine has created a large supernatural cloud that begins to rain slime. The Army arrives to provide assistance but the raining slime causes them to become possessed. The team must find a way to stop Rowan as his machine begins to release a horde of ghosts from all periods of New York history. While there is no Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, there is a ghost T-Rex.