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Friday, July 29, 2016

Thoughts on the New Ghostbusters



DISCLAIMER: I am not a misogynist and I am not racist. I love Ghostbusters. My mom still has my proton pack and Ecto-1. I was looking forward to the new movie - everyone in the cast has proven themselves over and over again. I don't believe the movie's existence is/will ruin my childhood. I don't believe "reboot syndrome" is anything new in Hollywood. 

I saw the trailer and was disappointed in what I saw. But I also knew that trailers lie. They're advertisements and don't feature the complete product. (The Ghostbusters II trailer had an unfinished effect where there should be ghost, but there's nothing.) In other words, I went into this movie with a clear head and hopeful expectations.


GOOD: The characters

Just like I thought, the characters are likeable, funny, and dynamic. And they're not pastiches of the old. Even though they fit into the archetypes of "face", "heart", "brains", Kristen Wiig's not "the Venkman", Leslie Jones is not "the black one Winston". True, I miss Bill Murray's unpredictability and Harold Ramis's dry delivery. But they are their own people with their own problems and quirks.

Kate McKinnon plays the hell out of her character, who is essentially a mad scientist. But she's not just playing Spock. She's a little unstable, a little off. It's hard to get a bead on her, if she's insane, if she's a pervert, what sort of romance she desires. The one thing I don't like is that I don't know what motivates her. She's one hundred percent "the crazy one".


BAD: CG Effects

I think one of the mistakes people make is comparing it to the original Ghostbusters. To do that is to be colored by the eyes of nostalgia. EVERYTHING looks real when you're a kid. Hoggle looks like a real troll. Falcor looked like a real dog-dragon. The Jurassic Park dinosaurs looked like real dinosaurs.When I was a kid I was scared to death of the slugs in Night of the Creeps -- the little pieces of rubber pulled on a string.

So instead, compare it to today. It'd be short-sighted to expect this movie to use practical effects. (It's short-sighted to expect ANY movie to use practical effects -- it's a gift when one does.) The thing about CG is that you can make things look absolutely awesome, but it takes hard work. And the pendulum swings just as far the other way -- if you don't put in the effort, the effects look like absolute crap (see any SyFy or Asylum movie).

Ghostbusters gets a B-. They don't look like they're there. I mean, I know they're ghosts and they're not supposed to be there, but they ARE supposed to be there, even though they're not, but... you know what I mean.

Just too cartoony. Cheap-looking and just what you'd expect from Sony (see The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Not just the effects, but the design. There's a few good moments, like the Lady Gertrude ghost. But the others look like they came from The Real Ghostbusters.



GOOD: The humor

Another mistake people are doing is comparing the comedy to the original. First, comedy is uniquely a product of multiple factors -- the actors, the writers, the time and culture, human sensibilities. And again, nostalgia goggles make things funnier than they used to be.

Now I'm the last person who should be asked about comedy. The only thing I laugh at are my kids screwing up. Like the other day they made iPhones out of legos. Lots of apps, but when I asked how you call someone they said "huh?"

The bottom right icon is "all the other apps and games in the world"

But looking at it objectively, today's comedy is being delivered by people like Amy Schumer, Seth MacFarlane, Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen. Mostly weed and blue sex humor. This is a far cry from the Bass-o-matics and lounge singer sketches of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and the rest of the SCTV-to-SNL pipeline. It was a different time. And all humor is relative.

Ghostbusters utilizes that Judd Apatow line-o-rama style of humor. The director sets up a scene and lets the actors go. Now I must say that this kind of funny is not my style. I loved The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, but I think that was because of the subject matter. I had no love for Superbad or Knocked Up. But the scripted lines I LOL'd. Like when the tour guide says "At the time of its construction, it was one of the most elegant homes in existence featuring every luxury including a face bidet and an anti-Irish security fence." And the scenes with between Liam Hemsworth and the girls are fantastic.


BAD: The Script

It's not a bad script per se, but you can see where producers set down the tape for the plot to hit the marks. What it needed was one more go around with a script doctor and one less with the marketing team. Someone who could punch up the lines, fill in the backstory, switch up some of the headscratchers (like how are they defeating ghosts in the climax, and Kristen Wiig's OOC moment when she releases a ghost just to show it off).

The original Ghostbusters had those little touches that gave context and weight. They weren't just two prisoner ghosts who burst out of the pink slime. They were the Scoleri Brothers. Ray and Winston discussing the ramifications of their business in the car is a great quiet moment that makes the character's actions matter. Louis's explanation about "shuvs and zuuls being roasted in the depths of the slor." And it took me years to finally get "picking up or dropping off?"

I think this is a symptom of the improv-style approach to comedy that they took. You are only as good as what the actors spew during filming. The fat may be trimmed in the editing room, but is there any meat left after? Without that investment at the script level, there's no thoughtful events or comedy. I can tell that the lines that made me LOL were scripted, not improvised. Again, I blame Sony for this. The Amazing Spider-Man did the same thing.

Fun fact: In the original, the Ecto-2 was a personal helicopter. I'm not sure which one I'd rather have.
GOOD: The New Stuff

We've got new characters with new histories. One of them keeps licking her proton wand. We've got new weapons - a ghost-punching fist, a ghost-shredder, dual proton pistols, ghost grenades.

We've got new ghosts. Although I complained about the effects, I liked their design -- they look scary and ethereal. We've got new sets. A new motorcycle. New locations. I like my ghostbusters fresh and innovative.

In his defense, Dan Aykroyd's still got it.

BAD: The Old Stuff

Did we really need a cameo from everyone in the previous movie? It gets distracting after a while -- it keeps reminding you that "hey, remember how good the original was?" If you are constantly comparing yourself to the old, no one's ever going to accept the new. And that scene with Justin Timberlake went on forever. They're just standing there while he graffittis the wall. And all the time you KNOW what it's going to be. Did we really need the origin story of the logo? Is that something that was missing?

And the story is way too similar to the old movies. There's four ghostbusters, one's a black everyman, one's the inventor, one's the true believer, one's the leader. There's a mayor who wants to keep things quiet and ignore the problem. There's a secretary who doesn't do his/her job. There's a giant monster-ghost wrecking the city that's supposed to look cute. There's a whole bunch of ghosts unleashed at the end. There's another villain with little tie to the characters' stories/internal goals.

If you're trying to appeal to the old fans, the solution is not to give them the same thing over again, just with a shiny updated polish. They want a new story, new developments, new obstacles, new goals, new evolutions. Someone must have thought of an original idea in the twenty-seven year gap.


CONCLUSION

I left the theater feeling pumped and wanting to put on my proton pack. But even my inner fanboy can't overcome my critic. At a macro and micro level, the movie does not succeed. It takes too long to get going. And then it's terribly predictable and uninspired. One of the reviewers called it "disposable" and that sounds accurate. But despite this fumble, I want to see more stories from this universe. I want to see what these characters can do if they break away from their anchor to 1984.

I wish I could say it's a new classic, but it's not. I give it a 100% should rent (or Netflix) and a 50% see in theater. And that's for the Ghostbusters fan. Adjust accordingly based on interest in the franchise.
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