This past week, Ghostbusters unceremoniously landed on Blu-ray and DVD, where the redheaded step monster of cinema now currently sits at the top of the rental charts of both Rotten Tomatoes and iTunes. Online it seems like the toxic and vitriolic welcoming party that the film received this past summer has largely dispersed. Perhaps the haters feel like their job is done, perhaps the heat of summer has given way to the cooler clarity of fall, or perhaps the goggles have come off and people are prepared to admit that Paul Feig‘s Ghostbusters isn’t a monster out to destroy their innocence. Speaking for myself, I know that I still like it.
Admitting that got me kind of creamed when I wrote the Nerd Bastards review of the film back in July, the darn thing wasn’t online for an hour before someone accused me, and Nerd Bastards, of being paid off by Sony. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the first time I’ve been accused of having my opinion for sale. In my other life as a political journalist I was accused of being a “TorStar mouthpiece” for criticizing a Conservative candidate for actively avoiding the media. (For you non-Canadians, TorStar is the company that owns the Toronto Star chain of papers, and is widely seen as being leftwing.) So I have a callous when people say I can be bought. I know I wasn’t bought, so believe whatever you want.
**Quick Note: From this point forward, there will be spoilers, so avert your eyes if you still have a mind to watch Ghostbusters and don’t want it ruined for you.
So with that in the back of my mind, I still had the impetuous impulse to prove those people wrong, so I put on the Ghostbusters Blu-ray and let roll the extended edition with 15 additional minutes of footage. I’m rarely of the opinion that extended editions make better movies, even Lord of the Rings where the extra footage helped fill some of the holes (particularly at the end of Two Towers and the beginning of Return of the King), they don’t tend to improve the quality of the movies on the whole. So no, the extended edition of Ghostbusters with its extra gags and added plot didn’t “save” the movie, nor did it need saving anyway.
As with my summer review, the most galling thing about I found about this Ghostbusters, the one thing that keeps the cast from really being able to make the movie their own, is the constant callbacks to the original film. The difference in rewatching Ghostbusters is that I knew where and when they were coming, so the shock was mostly absorbed. It’s not a matter of “Why didn’t they set it in the same universe of the original?” or “Why didn’t they just make them Ghostbusters: The Next Generation?” because Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are more than able to stand on their own as a troupe, and in Ghostbusters they do, at least when they’re allowed to.
On the reaction to his Ghostbusters Feig recently said to the Hollywood Reporter that in seeing the first film in 1984, as someone in their early 20s at the time, he remembers watching a great comedy while others remember seeing a sacred cow. “I just thought for everyone it was this amazing comedy, and what I love about it is it was this amazing showcase for [a group of] the funniest people working at the time — instead of this being trapped in amber,” he said. Perhaps Feig inadvertently fell into the trap, perhaps he thought he could undercut some of that criticism from people who thought that Ghostbusters should remain untouched, only to lose those people anyway because they refused to even entertain the idea.
Getting over the original film probably would have helped the subtext that Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold. Many people picked up the internet posters mocking the Ghostbusters videos, or how the villainous Rowan, to borrow a phrase of the Mary Sue, is “straight out of Reddit” and “the toxicity of nerd culture personified.” What struck me in the second viewing was the difference between how the Ghostbusters are greeted, in the ’84 film they become folk heroes in no time, but even after their very public successes, the lady Ghostbusters are still written off, mocked, and insulted. Having said that, Ghostbusters itself still has a 77 per cent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The extended cut does do one thing better than the theatrical by driving home that point and making it personal. After being “fake arrested” after Rowan’s death, another toxic nerd accosts Erin and the others about how it feels to be fakers, and dredges up Erin’s hated high school nickname, “Ghost Girl.” Nerdlinger brandishes it like he’s found out how to get into the dungeon without using the wizard key, and apropos, Erin punches him out. Naturally, that does nothing for the Ghostbusters publicity, because a lady can’t get mad when some internet Spartacus with half the story tries to dine out on their personal humiliation.
The vitriol that this movie conjured still astounds me. I believe I even pointed out in the movie review that the alchemy that made Ghostbusters ’84 a modern masterpiece couldn’t be replicated by the entire team in their original roles in Ghostbusters II, not that anyone expected Feig and Co. to catch lightening in a bottle, of course. Still, why was the idea of remaking Ghostbusters with ladies so scary? Why did the anger fester well after opening day. Fans forgave Daniel Craig’s casting as “James Blonde” when they saw him roll in Casino Royale, everyone agreed that the best thing about Batman V. Superman was Ben Affleck despite years of snickering about “Batffleck,” but Leslie Jones was still getting harassed on Twitter a month after the movie opened…?
One hates to throw around a world like “misogyny” but there’s really no other way to think about that outrage. This was the summer of outrage though with people accusing critics of taking payola from Marvel and conspiring to keep DC movies down, and while not everyone that disliked Ghostbusters was female-hating, the ones that voted it down on IMDb, YouTube, and chased everyone involved on Twitter certainly do. They’re also likely the same people that the “Cosplay is Not Consent” campaign was invented for, or ranted and raved about Twilight fans being at Comic Con.
It’s surely to the disgust of those people that in recent days, Feig’s Twitter feed is filled with people actually glad that they will get to experience Ghostbusters again on home video. There are still a few wise-apples out there that were rubbing the director’s face in their not liking it, but that’s okay. If we’re going to be that childish about it, then we’ll consider a piece of advice you’d give a child, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. And to the rest, it’s okay to like what you like, and never let anyone tell you differently. Even if the thing you like is Ghostbusters.
So I like Ghostbusters, and still like Ghostbusters. The scenes where McCarthy, Wiig, Jones and McKinnon get to play off each other, or off their not-so-with-it receptionist Kevin (portrayed by game day player Chris Hemsworth), shows that they have great chemistry and a rapport that seems to come fairly easy. Their camaraderie is believably naturalistic even though the script doesn’t make it make exactly clear about why and how these four just drop everything to become Ghostbusters (or Conductors of the Metaphysical, if you like), but once the ‘busting starts I just rolled with it. It probably helps that three out of the four ladies are present or past members of Saturday Night Live, a background not dissimilar from the experiences of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis when they become the Ghostbusters in ’84. (And I’m keenly aware that Ramis was on SCTV and not SNL so don’t bother pointing that out in the comments.)
There were a lot of scenes that still make me laugh, particularly any scene involving Andy Garcia‘s mayor and his assistant played by Cecily Strong, for example. The cold open with Zach Woods as the tour guide of the haunted mansion still slays me with his deadpan delivery, and the one cameo I didn’t hate, Slimer ‘jacking the Echo One, still works on its own humorousness despite the chilling effect of the appearances from the rest of the original cast. (Come to think of it the Ozzy Osborne cameo was the most tiresome of all. He has no Ghostbusters connect, not to mention it comes about 17 years too late.) My biggest regret with the film is that the filmmakers didn’t trust themselves enough to let this movie be without the literal and metaphysical ghost of the first film haunting. And when the credits roll, and you think that Feig might have finally cut the umbilical from Ghostbusters ’84, Patty asks about a voice called Zuul.
Perhaps if this Ghostbusters had been a bit more more success, or if the blowback hadn’t been quite so stinging or personal in nature, a sequel might have been allowed this iteration to stand on its own. A bit more critical clarity, separate and apart from the internet blowback, might have let the filmmakers realize that they went too far with the cameos and Easter eggs, and a sequel, if there was to be a sequel, might do better by being its own thing, and developing its own mythology. The tools were there, the talent was there, and if the support had been there a little bit more than who knows what might have happened next. In the meantime, I still like Ghostbusters. Deal with it.