As everyone who knows the meaning of the words “social media” is probably aware, the trailer for Paul Fieg’s remake of Ghostbusters dropped last week. Reactions have been mixed and analysis has moved from ultra-positive to . . . eh. Yet, by this point we’ve all become so suspicious of trailers that it doesn’t surprise me that the general consensus is “Yeah, it looks interesting, but I’ll reserve judgment.”
To be honest, that’s kind of where I am. I’ve kind of kept my head out of the production news for this one – there was another popular series that has kept my attention for the past year – and now the finished product is on display. The reaction: It looks fine.
What we get from the trailer is a mixture of new efforts to turn this series into something different while at the same time rehashing and recreating classic elements of the first movie, actually too many. There’s a scene that resembles the joke about the library ghost. There’s a scene resembles Rick Moranis’ possession subplot. There’s a scene that resembles the joke about getting the car. There’s a scene that resembles the mass hysteria in New York. This has me worried that much of the movie will be given over to fan service, and recreations of classic scenes just to keep our attention.
The new resides in the fact that the four leads are women, funny women. As a matter of fact, these are some of the funniest women working right now. We can see their efforts here in fits and starts and many of them work. It’s also nice that the movie isn’t cast with twenty-somethings. Of the four major players, four are in their 40s save for Kate McKinnon who is 32. That’s admirable when you consider that most movies of this scale are almost always cast with women under 30.
What does not work, I’m afraid, are the ghosts themselves. In the original Ghostbusters, the ghosts were mostly wispy and spectral; they had fluidity to their movements. They were apparitions that really felt like what we might imagine from spectral leftovers. Here, I’m afraid, they’re not as impressive. Their forms are closer to zombies and, for some reason, they’re mostly all blue. Why are they blue? There is a scene in which we see a community of ghosts standing bunched together and it looks like a black light painting. That’s an odd choice that I hope doesn’t become the aesthetic for the whole movie.
Yet, all that pales in comparison with the #1 issue at hand; will the comedy work? Here’s the ice cold truth about comedy: no one can really know until the project is done whether the movie is funny or not. Comedy is purely lightening in a bottle, either you catch it or you don’t. That was the seed of the original movie back in ’84. It worked because the pieces came together – if they had moved the story and the dialogue just a little to the left and you’d have had, well, Ghostbusters 2.
The original Ghostbusters worked because the dialogue was sharp (mostly at the hands of Bill Murray) and because we cared about the characters. It was also a complete shock. It felt like something new. That original movie took people completely by surprise: a special effects movie that could also be funny. It was a case of all the right pieces falling into place at just the right time. This is what worries me about the remake: there’s a lot of expectation riding on this one, and when you give that kind of pressure to a comedy, you’re asking a lot.
I realize that my reaction isn’t overloaded with optimism. My pessimism is based on recent history. I’ve already been through one unnecessary ghost-themed 80s remake in the past year with Poltergeist and while I move toward the Ghostbusters remake with slightly more anticipation (Poltergeist is closer to my heart so I walked into the remake with pure dread), I do so without getting my hopes up. I’ve been burned before when I’ve coasted on anticipation only to have my hopes come crashing down. The trailer for the new Ghostbusters movie is interesting, I’ll say that, but having had my head stuck in this medium for the past 25 years I’ve come to learn that trailers are not a revelation. Trailers don’t show you the movie that the studio made; trailers show you the movie the studio wishes they made.
If there is one thing that deadens my anticipation here it is how close the movie seems to be paralleling the original. The plot seems to be ebbing in that direction, and that’s the safe way to go. So there’s the food for thought. Why does this remake feel so safe? Columbia Pictures, by giving us a female cast, is clearly trying something new, but why not try a new story? If they really wanted to be new and different why didn’t they try a plot that took the characters out of New York. Or maybe turn New York into the ninth level of Hell and let the girls deal with a different kind of threat. Will it work? I hope so. Thirty-two years ago Ghostbusters caused an explosion of mass hysteria. In my heart, I’d like to think that the new cast can recapture that same magic all over again.