July 17, 2015 by T. Gregory Argall
Screenwriter Robert Towne sometimes tells the story of his experience in writing the screenplay for “Mission: Impossible II.” Before there was any discussion plot or characters, Director John Woo (know primarily for action films) brought him into a large room with drawings taped up all over the walls. The drawings were storyboard sketches for about half a dozen action sequences that Woo wanted to do.
Woo proudly gestured around the room to all of the images, then turned to Towne and said, “Write a story around these.”
Admittedly not the proudest moment for a scribe whose resume includes “Chinatown.”
But the difference between a screenwriter and a working screenwriter is that a working screenwriter takes the job. So he took the job.
So… Let’s talk “Ghostbusters.”
For years there has been talk and speculation about a third movie in the “Ghostbusters” franchise. A dozen different plot rumours marched happily around the internet, but nothing ever really gelled. Bill Murray was never really on board with the idea of a third film, and when Harold Ramis passed away last year the book was closed on the possibility of a full reunion of the original team.
Undaunted, Sony Pictures continued sifting through ideas until they found one with what they felt was just the right balance of audience appeal and blatant pandering.
The decided to do a complete reboot, with all of the major roles (and many of of the minor roles) gender-swapped.
And that’s just not fair to anyone.
The first “Ghostbusters” movie was a surprise success, spawning an army of fans who still quote the film in regular conversation. Now, “Ghostbusters” was by no means a perfect film (there’s no such thing), but it was damned near perfect at being exactly what it set out to be, which is a very rare feat itself.
The producers of the new “Ghostbusters” movie seem to think that they can recreate that success by essentially slapping a new coat of paint on the old movie.
They have an old car with the Ghostbusters logo, just like in the first film. They have matching jumpsuits, just like in the first film. They have big scary zapgun things strapped to their backs, just like in the first film. They have quirky main characters, some of whom wear glasses, and one of whom is black, just like in the first film.
But… (And here’s the twist!) …They’re women!
And that, in many ways, is a significant and positive thing. For women. For society in general. But not for the movie.
Yes, I know that despite everything the internet stands for, you can’t actually judge a film until you have seen the final product. But the studio has very carefully and with willful intent allowed specific images and plot elements to be released to the ravenous public. They want people to judge the film before seeing the final product because that’s how Hollywood works now.
And so based on what they have released I will judge the film and explain why I feel that the current approach is a bad idea.
When making a film, if you start with a good story and then add elements around that story, odds are you will have a good movie. However, if you start with a few flashy showpieces or gimmicks and try to fit a story around them, you will end up with a movie that looks like you had some flashy showpieces and tried to fit a story around them. Ask Robert Towne. He’ll tell you.
To fans of the movie, to people that loved the movie, “Ghostbusters” is more than just an old car, some matching jumpsuits, and big scary zapgun backpacks.
It’s the Key Master and the Gate Keeper.
It’s Peter Venkman, Raymond Stanz, Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddmore.
It’s a giant demon dog crashing a party.
It’s… the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
But mainly, and most importantly, it’s the world in which all of those things exist.
Here are three possible ways this whole thing could have played out…
Option A – Passing The Torch. Years after the previous Ghostbusters movies, a new generation of Ghostbusters take over the job, with past Ghostbusters retiring and handing them the keys to ECTO-1.
All indications are that this is not what the new movie will be about.
Option B – Strong Female Characters In A Good Story. An interesting, fun, and entertaining story about a group of women who find themselves pioneering the business of capturing ghosts.
That movie could stand on its own and doesn’t need the Ghostbusters label.
Option C – Cramming A Gimmick Into A Mold That’s Been Broken. Retell the whole story with different characters, simply so the studio can point and say, “Hey, look, we have roles for women.”
If it was actually about roles for women, they’d go with Option B.
Based on what Sony has shown, it seems that Option C is their plan, which is insulting to moviegoers and to the cast.
“Ghostbusters” fans are going to want to see a movie that takes place in the same world as the previous films. It’s a world they know and love and enjoy.
For people who are unfamiliar with the previous “Ghostbusters” films, calling the new movie “Ghostbusters” won’t be a selling point at all.
Not going with Option B suggests that the studio and the producers lack confidence in the cast, in the the story, and in their audience. They only have confidence in the label of a franchise, yet seem to have no real understanding of that franchise.
They have a cast with proven comedic skill. I would definitely go see any other supernatural comedy with this cast.
But it won’t be a Ghostbusters movie and Sony is doing a terrible disservice to this movie by calling it “Ghostbusters.”
Try to be nice to each other.