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Ghostbusters (2016) - John C. Kirk

Jul. 18th, 2016

03:51 am - Ghostbusters (2016)

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Tonight I went off to the BFI IMAX to watch the new Ghostbusters film. I'll get to my thoughts (with minor spoilers) below, but first a bit of preamble.

It's fair to say that this film attracted quite a bit of controversy, even before anyone had actually seen it. Looking at the Ghostbusters page on Facebook, each time they posted something about the new film they got negative comments. E.g.
Post: "Let the ghost journey begin 3 days today!"
Comment: "3 days today people will be vomiting in disgust of this injustice to the fans"

Based on the advance publicity, there were two things we knew about the new film:
a) This is a reboot rather than a sequel.
b) The Ghostbusters are all women (as opposed to being all men in the original film).

A lot of people complained about the reboot aspect, but they were dismissed as misogynists. For instance, here's a recent article from The Guardian:
Why Ghostbros on Twitter are monstering my Ghostbusters review
"It's that latter, and vital, aspect that naysayers who have yet to see Ghostbusters will vehemently disavow as the reason they're not jazzed for the latest iteration. [..] Yet few, if any, people complained that their childhoods were being stolen when word got out that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill were going undercover for a big-screen update of 21 Jump Street, the beloved 80s show that introduced the world to Johnny Depp."

Personally, I saw the original version of 21 Jump Street once when I was a kid, but I don't remember anything about it other than the basic premise (cop goes undercover at a high school). There may be people who remember it a lot more clearly, but I don't think that it's iconic in the same way as Ghostbusters. (As Spike put it in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Who you gonna call? ... God, that phrase is never gonna be usable again, is it?") In any case, I haven't watched the remake. In a similar way, I enjoyed the original versions of Robocop and Point Break when I was at school, but I haven't watched either of those remakes either. I also enjoyed the original version of Total Recall; I have seen the remake (when I was round at a friend's house), but I wasn't particularly impressed by it. I watched the three Spider-Man films with Tobey Maguire, but I haven't watched either of the Amazing Spider-Man films.

So, if I say "I'm not enthusiastic about reboots in general, and I won't rush out to see the new Ghostbusters film", I don't think it's fair to assume that I'm lying about my motivation because I hate women. More generally, I prefer to assume good faith; you're not going to win anyone over if you refuse to engage with their actual arguments and just attack a strawman instead. (I think this is a wider issue of partisan politics. For instance, I voted "Remain" in the recent Brexit referendum, but I don't think that everyone who voted "Leave" is equivalent to Alf Garnett. Some, yes, but not all.)

If you want to read the continuing adventures of the original Ghostbusters, I highly recommend the IDW comic. It's been through a couple of relaunches, but it's all part of one ongoing story. Right now (18th July), most of the collections are on sale at Comixology: I think that 4 issues for £2.49 is pretty good value. It's worth noting that they've brought in new characters and had female Ghostbusters (at one stage the team had 3 women and 1 man) but they've done that as a sequel rather than a reboot.

Looking online (e.g. Why Ghostbusters Went With A Reboot Over A Sequel), the explanation is that Paul Feig (the director and co-writer) thought it would be a better story if the new team created their own equipment rather than having it handed to them. I can see his point, but I think it's possible to have the best of both worlds. Look at Extreme Ghostbusters: this was set about 10 years after The Real Ghostbusters, and the basic premise was that the original team were victims of their own success. They'd caught all the ghosts and put themselves out of work, so they moved onto other things. When ghosts started reappearing, a new team took over, but then they found that the old equipment no longer worked properly so they had to redesign it (e.g. the dome shaped trap that Kylie carried on her back). Looking at the trailer for the new film, they've developed new equipment that wasn't in the original film (e.g. the pistols and boxing glove), so they could still have done that even if they'd inherited the basic gear.

Also, look at the Doctor Who relaunch in 2005. This wasn't a reboot, but you didn't need to have watched any previous episodes in order to understand what was going on. The new stories stood alone, and re-introduced any relevant information (e.g. "this is a Dalek"). They only started to draw more on the backstory when they'd established the new series on its own merits. So, I think that the new Ghostbusters film could have done the same thing: all you need is the line from the trailer ("30 years ago, 4 scientists saved New York"), and you could skip over the details.

Based on all that, I figured that I'd watch the new film at some point, but I'd probably wait until I could stream it at home. However, a few friends independently said that they'd enjoyed it at the cinema: peer reviews count for a lot, so I figured that I'd give it a go. Also, I suspect that people will be talking about this at Nine Worlds next month, so I'd like to have an informed opinion. I decided to go in costume, mainly so that I could get a photo with the Stay Puft figure at Waterloo station:



A few people said kind words about my outfit, and a member of staff gave me a voucher for free snacks at the cinema, so that worked out nicely!

I think the film benefits from being on a big screen (and the IMAX is certainly big), but you don't need to watch it in 3D. In fact, I think that the 3D may actually have made it worse. There was a scene near the start, looking down on the buildings of the city; I assume that this was real footage (from a helicopter) but it looked as if it had been done with miniatures. According to Wikipedia this was filmed in 2D, which may explain it.

Moving onto the film itself, I enjoyed it. Certainly if you take it on its own merits (independent of the original film) then it works well. As a reboot, it has a similar story structure to the original without being literally the same script. When Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, some people criticised it for being a rehash of the original films while other people said that this was necessary to reassure anyone who disliked the prequels. I think there's a similar principle here: it's familiar enough to be comforting, but different enough to have some surprises.

Thinking back to the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, there was a particular line that they showed in all the trailers: "You like pain? Try wearing a corset!" It was funny the first time, but it wore a bit thin after I'd seen it repeated (in isolation) several times, so I don't think anyone laughed when I saw the film in the cinema. There was a similar problem with the trailer for this film, where they took a particular line ("It went everywhere. Every crack.") and also put it on the posters etc. I also looked at the bit where one of the characters is licking her gun and just thought "Ew! Why would you do that?" The good news is that the trailer didn't give away all the best bits of the film, and there were some genuinely funny bits that made me laugh out loud. As for Holtzmann (the gun-licker), I think she was the most entertaining character, mainly because of her enthusiasm. If you've seen Fantastic Four (the 2005 version), think of the way that Chris Evans portrayed Johnny Storm, taking joy in his abilities even when he was reckless.

I wasn't so impressed by Chris Hemsworth's character (Kevin) in this film. Basically, I think the writers went too far in making him a stupid character; this is similar to the way that Joey acted in Friends, where that aspect of his character got exaggerated more each year. For instance, I don't think it's at all plausible that someone would cover their eyes rather than their ears when they're trying to block out a noise; even chimps can handle that. In real life, stupidity is more about not thinking things through, e.g. when you phone tech support to say that your email doesn't work and they say that they'll email you with instructions to fix it. Just to be clear, I'm fine with the male protagonist being an idiot: I'm only objecting to poor writing that strains my suspension of disbelief.

Some people were concerned that Patty (the black woman) was the "street smart" character while the white women were all scientists. The film is actually a bit more nuanced than that: she's more of a historian, so she can provide handy exposition about significant events that happened in each location.

They've used a different model of car for the ECTO-1 in this film, and I'm fine with that; it looks superficially similar, and gets the job done. I'm also glad to see that they used an amber light on top: blue lights are reserved for the emergency services, so you can't just stick one on top of a private vehicle. Aside from anything else, this should make life easier for any fans who want to drive a replica around. The only odd thing is that Holtzmann looked tiny when she was driving; couldn't they have raised the seat for her?

Ultimately, I'd have to agree with the last line of the film: "It's not terrible at all." This is a new Ghostbusters story, with great effects, and I'll happily go to watch any more films that are set in this new continuity. Meanwhile, the original is still intact, and I can re-watch that whenever I want to.