The Ghostbusters 2016 Reboot: Stepping Out of the Spin

by
The Ghostbusters 2016 Reboot: Stepping Out of the Spin

 

Ghostbusters 2016

How good (or bad) is Ghostbusters 2016?  It depends on who you talk to.  Some would say it’s awesome and doing well.  Others say it’s horrible and tanking at the box office.  Neither extreme is correct.  The truth: it’s a fun but flawed reboot that has done box office numbers that should  be just okay.

How do I rate a movie?  If I come out of it liking the performances, being able to follow the story, and having had an enjoyable experience, it’s going to start out with a three star rating.  It’s got to be flawless for it to get a five to get a five.   Ghostbusters 2016 isn’t flawless, but it’s still a fun night at the movies.  I’m glad I didn’t wait for it to come out on DVD – but I’m also not sorry I skipped the 3D version. (There will be more on that later.)

Did All that Trolling Have Any Effect on Ghostbusters 2016?

Like many, I tried to ignore the massive amount of gamer-gate-like trolling and commentary about the all female Ghostbusters reboot.  It was impossible to avoid completely because the noise made about this was everywhere!  Between internet headlines and late-night talk shows, the negative nonsense about the film being rebooted with women was on par with a Taylor Swift dating crisis.  As in, it was silly and unimportant information that everyone knew about – even if they’d rather not.

Now that I’ve seen Ghostbusters 2016 and formed my own opinion, all the pre-release fuss seems even more ridiculous. Unfortunately, the bias caused by it can be seen in some of the reviews.  For instance, although the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes barely give the film a positive rating (59 percent), the overall critic rating is  a decent 73 percent.  What’s  interesting is that at the time of this writing the general audience rating is 58 percent.  That’s practically the same as the top critics figure.

To p critics on the site are 73 percent male.  In this case of critic ratings there is definitely a split that happens along gender lines.  It’s not the first time that a film has sparked notice about a definite gender divide in how it has fared in its reviews.   Huffington Post had quite a lot to say about how the 2015 film Sisters did on Rotten Tomatoes.    Salon deals with this issue in terms of Ghostbusters 2016, so you can check out the specifics there.

Likewise,  reading through the general audience comments there’s no doubt that the number is in part the result of some of those same, predominately male, trolls that complained about the all-female reboot from the beginning.

The bias question isn’t just an issue with reviews though.  Even the framing of the film’s box office seems to have been affected.  Take this July 24th headline from Forbes:

Weekend Box Office: ‘Ghostbusters’ Stumbles, ‘Tarzan’ Swings To $260M Worldwide

With that headline you would think that Tarzan is doing well and Ghostbusters is not.  The article itself notes that the films are basically doing congruent box office numbers and have similar issues in terms of a large budget that needs to be made back.  That being said,  the budget for Tarzan budget is a good thirty million dollars more than Ghostbusters.  Yet, it’s Ghostbusters that’s hammered for two paragraphs with negative predictions – and it’s only in its second weekend.   When Tarzan had been out for two weeks – with a lower ten-day box-office accumulation – Forbes pitched the film as doing surprisingly well.

Going through the various entertainment business outlets this is the general pattern of analysis.  Whether people realize it or not, they are crunching the numbers from a glass half-empty perspective.  It does appear that the backlash did have some effect.  It does not however have total responsibility.  An equal or even greater responsibility  is the film’s marketing.

Ghostbusters Review: Compare & Contrast the Reboot vs. the Original

(Spoiler alert:  there will be plot points discussed from both versions of Ghostbusters.)

Ghostbusters 2016 is a decent reboot.  A reboot is not a remake, revival or sequel.   In a reboot it’s impossible to “ruin” the original, because the stories in the two films don’t really affect each other.  It’s

A “reboot” only comes into play when you’re dealing with an ongoing series that doesn’t want to acknowledge any of its previous incarnations for whatever reason.  The Amazing Spider-Man, Batman Begins, & Casino Royale are the best examples I can think of for this. (www.trekbbs.com).

As such, one of the biggest problems with Ghostbusters 2016 is that it’s been marketed as a comedy in the same vein as the original.

 

[youtube

 

It is understandable that the producers wanted to connect the success of the original Ghostbusters to Ghostbusters 2016.  There However, aside from the basic idea of four people forming a company to hunt ghosts in New York City, and some Easter eggs and cameos by the original cast,  these are very different stories.

Casino Royale is the perfect example of a similar kind of reboot.  The 1967  version and the 2006 one are both about James Bond and involve spying, and “M” is part of the story.  That’s about all the two have in common.   Walking into Ghostbusters 2016 with the idea that it’s going to be the same kind of film with the same kind of characters as the original – only cast as women – is a mistake.   Heck, the two movies aren’t even in the same genre!

It’s a dramedy, not a comedy

I know Ghostbusters 2016 is billed as a comedy, but let’s clear something up.  The story being told in Ghostbusters is as much of a comedy as Orange is the New Black, Transparent, and Girls.  In other words, it’s a dramedy.

Unfortunately, the confusion around these kinds of shows and movies will continue until Hollywood is willing to realize that dramedy is an actual form.  Currently it’s a word that just gets tossed about, but is not recognized as an actual category for awards. Hence it’s not seen as a legitimate writing format.    This train of thought is not the focus of this article, but it’s worth mentioning because the original Ghostbusters is a straight-up comedy.  You can see the difference when you look at the original Ghostbusters trailer.

 

[youtube

 

Everything in the original trailer screams spoof, comedy, and not to be taken seriously.  For one, it’s got that voice over going on, a hallmark of all things comic from the 1970’s and 80’s.  (Don’t believe it? Check out these links: National Lampoon’s Animal House – 1978, Airplane! – 1980National Lampoon’s Vacation – 1983.)  Once that voice over starts the audience is cued into the idea that everything that happens in this film is part of one big joke.

In contrast the trailers for Ghostbusters 2016 aren’t spoofing anything because the film is treating an out-there circumstance as a plausible reality. (By the way, that’s a core element of how to spot a dramedy.)  There are no voice-overs.  Instead we hear the characters stating what the reality of their world is.

 

[youtube

 

Right off the bat the would-be audience learns that the ghosts in Ghostbusters 2016  are scary and spooky real threats.  They then see three  women – Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) presented as legitimate scientists.  This very different from the original.

If you were to try giving the women counterparts from the original, Erins’s would be Dr. Peter Venkman – the character played by Bill Murray.  Jillian’s would be Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), and Abby’s would be the Dan Aykroyd character, Dr. Raymond Stantz . However, despite the guys all having a “Dr.” before their character names, and losing jobs from Columbia, as you can see, it’s not at all played as being realistic:

 

[youtube &w=560&h=315]

 

Murray’s character is a skeptic who has been using “science” as a way to pick up women!  McKinnon’s Jillian is a real professor trying for tenure.   The humor in her situation comes from absurdity of the hoops she’s got to jump through and the ways she’s stressing out about it, not her actual work.  Once she sees the ghosts it’s the scientist within her that leaps into action.  When Murray’s Dr. Venkman realizes the truth, he sees a way to make money.  He’s far more an opportunist than a scientist.  Even the need to save the city comes via his romantic pursuit of cellist Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver ).

Just to be clear, as a kid I saw the original Ghostbusters in the theatre and loved it.  My memories of it are it being silly fun.  I mean,  Sigourney Weaver plays a beautiful but reserved woman.  She gets possessed by demon that turns her into a raving sex maniac that wants to make out with her geeky neighbor ( Rick Moranis).  To top it off,  Murray is the wise-cracking, somewhat sleazy guy who in the end turns into a “prince” and rescues her from a giant ghost Marshmallow man!  Yes, it’s hilarious, but in no way is this a remotely serious story!.  It’s a laugh a minute and a great comedy – both then, and now.

Truthfully, an actual remake of the original Ghostbusters would be a disaster.  First of all, recasting men to play the characters Murray and Aykroyd did would be impossible.  They are giants in comedic history.  Has anyone tried to remake a Charlie Chaplin film? No. Have they used ideas from his films? Yes.  Ghostbusters 2016 allowed the producers to work with the central idea of Ghostbusters without touching the original timeline or events.

This takes us back to the definition of a reboot.  If you are walking into Ghostbusters 2016 expecting a similar film as in 1984  you’re gonna be disappointed.  It’s not the same – but it’s not trying to be either.  It’s a dramedy, not a comedy.

The comic half of dramedy: different kinds of funny

Ghostbusters 2016 being a dramedy doesn’t mean it isn’t funny.  It’s just a different kind of humor.  The dramatic element means that every scene does not run like a routine on Saturday Night Live.   Nor are the jokes a non-stop series of sight-gags, gross-outs, and one-liners.  The only sexist humor is that which makes fun of sexism.

Do note that I’m not listing sexist humor as a liability of the original movie.  It was 1984.   Labeling a film from those times as bad because they contain sexist ideas would mean hitting every American comedy from that period.  It would be an unfair assessment. The 1915 film Birth of a Nation is structurally one of film history’s most brilliant films ever made. At the same time it is, by far, the most racist piece of propaganda ever made.

So, is there some male fantasy wish-fulfillment going on at the expense of women in Ghostbusters?  Yes.  Is this scene one of them? Yes.  Is it funny? I’d say yes, but again, funny is in the eyes of the beholder.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGNoXIhKTLw]

 

 

Ghostbusters 2016 plays with the fact that there’s sexism and objectification in the original (and in film and TV overall).  However, instead of a lot of raunchy comedy much of the humor in Ghostbusters 2016 is tongue-in-cheek.   This means it may take some folks a minute to get it.

Erin is essentially in the role that Murray played in the original.  Her reactions to Kevin are totally send ups of his reactions to Weaver’s Dana.  Then there are those seemingly pointless beefcake photos of the airhead receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth).  The shirtless photos of him are totally random in their introduction. (In the theater I was in there was instant laughter when they hit the screen. )  It’s absurd that the character even has them!

That’s really the point of them being there.  Hemsworth is spoofing a role that in visual media is usually played by a woman.  You know what I’m talking about.  Shots that pan down a woman’s body as some guy trips over himself while staring.  These body shots are so standard that we don’t even register how unnecessary they can be to the actual story.  Kevin’s random inserts hysterically highlight this practice.

Kevin also represents the pouty and sexy, “dumb blonde” that gets away with everything because she’s hot.  Often she has no idea what she wants out of life.   If she does have any known ambitions it often that she’s planning to be a model, or actress, or marrying some rich guy.

At the same time, some of cinema’s most memorable women got there by playing these kind of characters.  You can start with Marilyn Monroe, but there’s also Goldie Hawn,  and currently, Anna Faris.  It’s not the “type” being spoofed that’s at issue.  There is comic gold in this kind of role, and Hemsworth makes the most of it!

 

[youtube &w=560&h=315]

 

The problem with this blonde, eye-candy type of female character is about the lack of diversity of roles for women.   The situation Hemsworth is in is quite different from what most actresses would be facing.

Hemsworth plays Thor in the Marvel movie franchise and George Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek franchise.  He’s also been in many other movies playing different kinds of roles.  This role in no way will set him up to be typecast as a dumb blonde or playing “the boyfriend.”   In fact him playing Thor makes his role here even more funny.  “Thor” as the  quintessential dumb blonde?  That, is funny!  If there were a consistent variety of roles available for women to play, being cast as eye-candy wouldn’t be a big deal. 

The Bridesmaids issue

After reading a number of reviews it seems to me like many reviewers walked into this film expecting comedy bits flying a mile a minute like Bridesmaids.  “Bridesmaids” seems to be a more or less deliberate attempt to cross the Chick Flick with the Raunch Comedy. It definitively proves that women are the equal of men in vulgarity, sexual frankness, lust, vulnerability, overdrinking and insecurity. (Roger Ebert).

There are many reviews like this about Bridesmaids.   This general outlook on the film has always given me pause.   They remind me of the 1980’s when women were trying to prove they were “just as good” in leadership roles and wore those “power suits.”   During those times what was the best comment a woman in leadership could get?  “She’s just like a man” – even as she was derided for it. ( Margaret Thatcher, anyone?)

Today there are new views of what it takes for a woman to be an effective leader.  Power suits are no longer in vogue and major business leaders like Warren Buffet tout that a woman may have an  entirely different leadership style that is equally effective. In other words, some of the very traits that twenty years ago were the kiss of death for a woman climbing the corporate ladder have come to be seen as assets.  Perhaps comedy will at some point realize that there is more than one way of being funny.

On its own terms, what does and doesn’t work in Ghostbusters 2016

The Positives: it’s a good story

For the most part I thoroughly enjoyed Ghostbusters 2016.  It’s biggest asset is the actual story.  I totally got Jillian trying to hide all of who she was in order to fit in, and the tenure track jokes worked.  Then when the  issue regarding the friendship between Abby and Jillian came up I got pulled into the dynamic right away.

The other great plot point: why all the ghosts are showing up in the first place.  I really liked that there was a human nemesis using the same science as the ghostbusters to create chaos!  Rowan North ( Neil Casey) came off as your typical evil and insane bad guy, but at least the audience is made to understand his motives.  Through Abby we get the pain of being bullied and labeled a loser.

At the same time, Abby isn’t out to destroy the world – because she’s not criminally insane.  Understanding what may have driven a person to criminal acts isn’t allowed to be an excuse for it.  Yes, this is not a new concept for villains.  However, when it’s left out this kind of scenario becomes about justification of the actions.  It’s one of those things that needs to be put in, and the film does a good job of it.

I loved the twist of  Rowan purposefully dying and then how he ends up taking possession of Kevin’s body.  Hemsworth’s turn as the villian is hysterical.   Through him Rowan’s history became the launching point for a bunch of great jokes about the benefits of being attractive and working out!  There’s a little bit of the idea that had he been willing to take care of himself he might have fared better in life.  Again, a rotten childhood doesn’t give you a pass to be a terrible adult.  Abby and Erin serve as a testament to that.

As for the ghosts themselves, I thought the effects were pretty good.  They managed to be legitimately creepy without turning the movie into a total horror film.  The historical tie-ins to New York City were a nice touch.  The whole idea of past sins coming back to literally haunt the city was a smart theme.

Although I would have liked to have known a little more background on McKinnon’s character, Jillian, she was just a whole lot of fun.  Half bad*ass, half goofball, Jillian was the epitome of a geek-girl.

[youtube &w=560&h=315]

Without questions, she’s the coolest character in the movie.

The Negatives: Not Embracing its Uniqueness

The Patti problem:

In the original Ghostbusters, Ernie Hudson arrives late in the film as Winston Zeddemore.  In the 2016 version he is Patti’s “Uncle Bill” who owns the funeral business that Patti gets the hearse from. That relationship is fitting since Patti’s role in this film does descend from his.

This is the character description on the Ghostbusters 1984 wikia.

Out of the four, Winston is perhaps the most conventional. He is the common man of the Ghostbusters. He is a responsible dependable person, however as shown in the jail in Ghostbusters he does think for himself. His Christian background shows sometimes in ethical issues, and may be partly why he is so dependable. Winston takes over the mechanical aspect of Ecto-1, leaving Ray more time to work with Egon and build new equipment.

There’s a whole bunch of stuff I could discuss about this, but I’ll stick with one.  The wise, moral, dependable black character with less education than the white characters they interact with is a consistent representation in film.  It creates a “separate but equal” visual domain for African-American characters.  Granted, it’s a couple of steps up from unabashedly separate and unequal portrayals that have dominated most of cinematic history.  Still, it’s an annoying trope, and the character of Patti Tolan (Leslie Jones) continues the tradition.

The problem is that McKinnon, being the science/engineer person, literally has much more to play with. She’s the designer of all of the group’s ghostbusting equipment. Patti’s whole argument about becoming a ghost buster is that she can help by giving the history of various haunted areas.  Yet,aside from the initial incident with the subway tunnels her “expertise” doesn’t really come up.  She’s regulated to doing funny reactions, some which work.

Here, you can see that both her and McKinnon are used as comic relief.

 

[youtube

 

In the above scene, Patti being isolated from the group makes sense because she’s gone to get the car. In other scenes though – like the strange moment when she tries to follow Abby in the mosh pit jump, only to have everyone part and let her fall to the ground – not so much. The set up is way too random and staged. It’s a stand-up comic moment…in the middle of a movie.

In terms of comparing the Patti character to Winston, the original does a better job of making his character’s presence fit.   He can fix things due to his training in an Air Force technical school and we see him being useful.  For Patti, the reason why she knows this history isn’t really explained.  It’s not like she’s been working as a tour guide.  Basically she’s there to show them the second ghost, provide a car, and an extra pair of hands.  Jones makes the most of the role as she can, but there’s just not much there for her to do.

The Comedy Question

As I said earlier, the film’s story is really one of dramedy, not comedy.  Nevertheless, the comedy part of a dramedy should be funny.  For many one of the chief complaints in other reviews is that this film isn’t funny enough.  I did smile and chuckle at a number of things in the film.  However, there were several things in the film that I could tell were supposed to read as funny – but weren’t. Case in point: the afore-mentioned Patti mosh-pit jump.  Ironically, what hurts Ghostbusters 2016 the most in the comedy department are the self-conscious attempts to be funny.

The expectation that this needed to be a comedy similar to the original clearly leaned heavily on the film. Specifically it seems that all the trolling pressure led to the writers wanting to avoid seeming like a “chick flick.”   As a result, they end up squandering what should have been its greatest comic asset – the relationships between the women.   They avoid fleshing out the relationships between the women in favor of setting up “funny” one-liners.  In doing so they lost track of the story in terms of who the characters are.

Here’s a perfect example.  After the initial great set up about Abby and Erin’s history around their book what happens?  They get the call about the first ghost and immediately Erin gets to go along for the ride.  Nine years of betrayal and Abby has no problem with this?  Some back and forth about this could have been some great comedic dialogue.

Next, Erin gets slimed by the ghost.  What does Abby say about this happening? Nothing.  After seeing how Abby reacts about the wonton soup, that just doesn’t fit.  Where’s the happy dance and I told you so?  After 9 years of her friend denying their research, there definitely should have been response from Abby.  McCarthy would have done it hilariously.

With 9 years of being abandoned by Erin there needed to be a bridge of scenes that led to seeing that past hurt and resentment resolved.  That doesn’t happen either.  It’s basically all Kumbaya between them once she’s back.

The consequence of their being no real interaction between Abby and Erin around the projectile ghost-vomiting bit? It renders that scene as a set up for the line Erin says in both the trailers – the one about the stuff getting “in every crack.”   Even that is an isolated shot of Wiig saying it. It comes across like part of a stand-up routine  – instead of being a funny part of the story where Erin has to face Abby about having turned her back on their research.

There’s a similar thing that happens around Erin’s lost tenure.  The video is put on YouTube, ultimately getting Erin fired, Yet, there’s barely a conversation about it.  Did Erin just completely stop caring about tenure?  If she was mad about the book,  shouldn’t there have been some more tension between her and Abby about what the video had cost her?  On the flip side, they could go with Erin no longer caring about tenure.  It could have been a big and funny, “screw you my research was right” girl-power moment when she faced the dean. Instead, what happens is we see Erin sneaking out of the university.

In viewing the film these, and a few other scenes, felt like there was supposed to be more there. Was some of the story edited out because someone thought it would be “too girly” or serious?  If so, it was a big mistake.  Had they dealt with real tensions in women’s friendships or gone more hardcore about women in the workplace, there would have been more organically funny scenes.   Erin having mixed emotions about losing tenure, but being thrilled that her research was right, would have played well – dramatically and comically – between her and Abby.  We actually get a touch of what that could have been like in this clip – which is probably one of my favorite sequences in terms of showing the overall group dynamic:

 

[youtube

 

Unfortunately, that little moment about who’s leading is the only one that suggests that something isn’t quite right between them. It’s also why I wonder if some of the original story got tossed out and this is a remnant of it.

By not following the dramatic relationship arc set up by this conflict, the entire script was weakened.  Even the climatic moment when Erin jumps into the closing vortex to rescue Abby has less meaning.  Sure, we know that she abandoned Abby before and now she’s not.  Of course she’s not.  Once Erin saw that first ghost there’s been no signs of doubt that she and Abby were a hundred percent back together and on the same page.  Had that relationship issue been up during the film Erin’s act would have had far more significance.  Sure, it may have seemed more like a “chick flick” – but it would have been funnier.

The Wrap Up

At the end of all these pros and cons, the bottom line is still what I started out with.  I had a good time watching Ghostbusters 2016.   As a summer popcorn film, that’s pretty much the basic measure if it’s a decent movie or not.  Seeing the women taking down the ghosts with those proton packs was awesome!  Of course, I came into the movie willing to see it on it’s own terms.

As for the 3D version, there’s been some good commentary about this aspect of the film.  I know that even in 2D I appreciated the visuals and general look of the film.  In particular, each ghost was definitely memorable!   For more on the 3D version, Cinemablend has a comprehensive review on just the 3D aspect.

The short version about the 3D Ghostbusters 2016 is that it’s supposed to have been done very well and it was applied to the movie in some new creative ways.  …Yet, I’m not sorry to have skipped it.

The thing with 3D is that you really need to enjoy the effect in the first place to want to go see it in that format.  There are very few stories that actually need to be in 3-D to get its point across.  In terms of what I’ve read about how it’s used in Ghostbusters 2016 the effects really makes the viewer feel like they are in a haunted house.  Personally, I would not have enjoyed the haunted house moments.  It’s hard to concentrate on the story when ghosts are popping out in front of your face.

the holes in the story, I wish the makers of Ghostbusters 2016 had spent less time and money on the 3D ideas and more on shoring up the characters and story.  Maybe they thought that more cool special effects would appease the naysayers, but the core of the original was about the guys – not the ghosts.  This version was supposed to re-imagine a world where the ghostbusters were women.  In trying to focus on the movie being funny and more modern-looking, the story of the women got a bit lost in translation.

 

Start a Discussion

Main Heading Goes Here
Sub Heading Goes Here
No, thank you. I do not want.
100% secure your website.