Originally published July 8, 2015
Ghostbusters came out and met with critical praise, although it fared poorly at the box office. When I finally got around to seeing it on cable television, it was…okay. It managed to avoid the gimmick trap, but it fell into the “trying too hard to be the original” trap instead. Had it just been its own thing, it probably would have been a really good movie.
SO, FIRST THERE was the announcement of a new Ghostbusters movie, and there was much rejoicing. Then, as the movie slipped further and further back into development hell, came the news that the new movie would be a reboot with an all-female lead cast, and there was much rejoicing, along with some grumbling. Then came the further news that there would be yet another Ghostbusters movie shot, this one with a male lead, and again there was much rejoicing, along with some grumbling.
As for me? Even after I had spent some time trying to sift through the news and the media reports, trying to figure out how much of “all female Ghostbusters vs. all male Ghostbusters” was legitimate, as opposed to the media taking the ball and running away with it to somewhere like Finland…it still felt cynical and gimmicky, from start to finish.
I’m late Generation X, born in the mid-1970s — Ghostbusters was part of my childhood. My friends and I kept re-enacting the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene in the playground, and I even got to see Ghostbusters II in the theatre. Ghostbusters is a beloved movie, one that’s really fun when you’re a kid, and even more fun when you’re an adult and can finally get all the jokes. And, it’s one of those movies from the 1980s that just aged well.
So, I understand the nostalgia. If I were a movie executive and suddenly had the power to greenlight another Ghostbusters movie, I don’t know if I’d be able to resist. Perhaps there’s a reason that remakes and reboots tend to show up in roughly 20–30 year intervals.
But, there’s an old type of joke about Hollywood, with sleazy executives pitching bad ideas: “It’s [beloved movie], but with [surface level change that wouldn’t make the movie better in any way]!” To be absolutely fair, while there is an element of this in the original breaking of the story, we often hear about the casting of new movies before we get solid details about their plots, and a reboot done properly is very different from a remake.
And, to continue being fair, while the media has presented the idea of a Ghostbusters expanded cinematic universe as following up an all girls Ghostbusters with one that is all boys, the actual news story mentioned some producers, writers, and a grand total of one actor for a role (Channing Tatum), who hopes to be playing a ghostbuster…which means that for all we know it could just be a spin-off movie launched by the all-female cast joined by Channing Tatum. So, the evidence for the media grabbing the ball and buying plane tickets to Finland continues to mount. Although, with the Tatum version itself appearing to slip into development hell, even this speculation may prove inconsequential in the end.
And yet…it still feels gimmicky to me. It feels that way because the announcement of a Ghostbusters cinematic universe came so quickly after the success of one by Marvel, suggesting a scrambling for properties one can build an expanded universe upon. And, it feels this way because Ghostbusters needed no reboot in the first place — both of the original movies, and the animated TV show, stand on their own merits.
But, that doesn’t mean it can’t work. It all depends on how well it’s done, and the gender of the leads has absolutely no bearing on that.
Take Robocop, for example. The first half of the reboot was actually a really good movie — rather than just retread the original plot of Murphy rediscovering his memories and his humanity, Murphy retained his memories and personality, but found that most of what made him physically human had been lost. The story arc was Murphy and his family having to deal with that. And it worked! It was good…right up to the point where the filmmakers seemed to remember that they were trying to remake Robocop, and with a literal flipping of a switch just smashed the plot from the original into the back end of the reboot, with no regard whatsoever for the fact that the new movie no longer supported that plot. I would love to see the second half of the rebooted Robocop one day, the one that the first half so lovingly set up and promised. I think it would be amazing.
Likewise, the Ronald Moore Battlestar Galactica was in just about every way a better, more interesting series than the original, with far greater depth. And, speaking to the fact that gender doesn’t mean a lot in these things, Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck blew Dirk Benedict’s version out of the water. Twenty years from now, I have little doubt that Sackhoff will be remembered as the definitive Starbuck, with Benedict, along with the entire original series, reduced to a footnote.
A rebooted Ghostbusters with an all female lead cast can certainly work. So long as it’s a good story well told, with vivid characters and funny jokes, it will be worth every penny. I hope that’s what it will be, and I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. If, on the other hand, it turns out to be the “original Ghostbusters, but they’re all women!” of the bad movie pitch joke, it will be an unmitigated disaster — and that version of the joke is just plain insulting, no matter what your gender might be.