Ghostbusters (2016): Three Decades – Review

By Ernest Lee (17A01A) and Joan Ang (17A01B), Image sources: comicvine.com, ghostbusters.wikia.com

Two Press members walk into a movie theatre, having been told by Press EXCO that they should review the new Ghostbusters movie for the site.

The first is a long-time fan of the franchise: seven when he discovered an action figure of Peter Venkman (jaw, hair pop out when you squeeze the arms, a hand-me-down from an older cousin), ten when he came across the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, twelve when his teacher sang the theme song at a school event and fourteen when he actually watched the movie.

The second has never seen anything remotely Ghostbusters-related in her entire life, except for pop culture references splattered across the internet and bits and pieces of the trailer.

The former exits the theatre thinking it’s merely a reasonably decent reboot of the original and yet, the latter walks out thinking it’s one of the best movies she’s ever seen.

Hmm?

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Those less familiar with the 3 decades-old Ghostbusters franchise were probably first acquainted with it in a trailer dropped in Spring 2016. A reboot of a cult classic, Ghostbusters has drawn attention not only for its revival of an iconic franchise, but also for fielding an all-female main cast (with the amusing exception of Chris Hemsworth).

As a stand-alone film, Ghostbusters is pretty fantastic by most modern standards. Production value is consistently high, while the script never bottlenecks the quality of the film. The dialogue is accessible enough, with in-your-face humor never being tiresome.

The character portrayals were largely convincing, with the experience and talent of each cast member shining through in their performance. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) was one of the reviewers’ personal favourites, bringing energy, chemistry and general ridiculousness to a cast that would surely have suffered without it.

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The most standout factor, however, was the crispness of the editing and colouring of the film — probably a result of the need to make the proton guns look anywhere close to legitimate. Overall, a pretty good film for a casual moviegoer on a Saturday night.

That said, the film cannot, and should not be viewed in a vacuum. It’s a reboot of the top-grossing comedy of the 80s. Naturally, the movie is deliberately made to cater to modern audiences while banking on nostalgia and its namesake. The original Ghostbusters, undeniably an 80s cult classic, feels dated stylistically rather than in terms of humor or plot.

The deliberate differences made to casting and storyline for this film to restructure for a modern audience thus have an impact on the coherence of the movie. Instead of being a reproduction of the original with some minor changes, Ghostbusters distills the formula into distinct parts, then reassembles them in a way meant to appeal to modern audiences [find evil ghosts → chase evil ghosts → stop evil ghosts from taking over world].

This familiar storyline thus remains original enough to be appealing to new audiences, while giving writers enough wiggle room to work in more topical humor. If there’s anything the Ghostbusters isn’t, it’s boring.  

The reboot does try to improve on gender representation, especially since the titular Ghostbusters are all either male or female. In the original, Venkman’s (Bill Murray) repeated advances at the vulnerable, one-dimensional Dana (Sigourney Weaver), do make us uncomfortable. Here, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) instead takes the role of comic relief. The gendered divide between ‘main’ and ‘support’ character still exist, but with less unfortunate social implications.

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However, racial representation in particular seems to have regressed. A black main character does appear in both the original and reboot: Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) appears in the former as a no-nonsense doer, as capable as the rest. The colorblindness of the reboot, however, is jarring given the self-awareness of the film.

Allusions to such issues are present: Tolan (Leslie Jones) quips, “I don’t know if it was a race thing or a lady thing, but I’m mad as hell,” in response to being dropped on the floor in a mosh pit. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as Ghostbusters goes with regards to exploring any potential social issues.

Callbacks to the original are otherwise frequent, and played up for comedic value. Cameos are abound: save for the deceased Harold Ramis, other stars of the original are given speaking roles. Funny? Definitely — Dan Aykroyd going from celebrity scientist to a cab driver spewing the same scientific mumbo-jumbo will be amusing. It’s these nods to its predecessor that make this film a fun enough watch for long-time fans of the series.

The original Ghostbusters, however, has none of these playful references — but is regarded as a great film anyway. Its liberal but effective use of ad-lib, comfortable pacing and refreshing theme gave it a class of its own, but this formula was largely abandoned by directors and screenwriters of the reboot.

The current reboot’s humor is thus more mischievous as a whole, featuring jump cuts, scripted overacting and cheeky gags. The dynamics of the team have also changed: individual quirks of each team, previously more subtle, are given enormous amounts of prominence. Admittedly both styles shine do have the potential to shine, but it’s here that the quality of the film begins to diverge for the two reviewers.

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But does the first writer have his rose-tinted glasses on? Maybe and it’s why few sequels or remakes ever live up to the hype. This is a problem that plagues all reboots: too close to the original and it’s pandering, too far-out and you have a dissatisfied fanbase.

The 2016 reboot therefore has big shoes to fill, and not just in an artistic, ‘in-the-spirit of the movie way’. A generation of children that grew up on Stay Puft cereal, and Ghostbusters TV-spinoffs are now the ones with disposable income eager for more Ghostbusters. Keeping it niche, however, is a terrible way to draw in would-be fans.

Perhaps these reboots of beloved franchises tread a thin line, and in hindsight, directors do have to keep in mind these practical concerns . Of course, this is not apologising for, say, attempting to be a socially-conscious film without fully exploring issues of representation. Rather, directors and studios of any film have to  acknowledge the constraints of a limited screen-time and scope of a film, and work from there.

So, back to the two Press members. It’s still a light six and a strong eight respectively for them. The final verdict? Sure, it has its issues, both by itself and as a reboot. However, it’s a thoroughly watchable, entertaining film. At the very worst? Give the original a shot, it’s not that old.

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