I was so excited to rewatch the original Ghostbusters and also to finally see the new version released a few years ago. It’s old-school boys club versus modern girlpower. What a fun, light-hearted, and thoroughly enjoyable way to finish my semester of study into haunted horror. Or so I thought.
First, let me go down a side avenue into the story origins. In case you didn’t know, the original Ghostbusters movie was co-written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who also star as two of the four eponymous heroes. I don’t know about Ramis, but Aykroyd is a true believer. He was raised in Ottawa, Ontario as an honest-to-goodness real life Spiritualist. (Yes, they do still exist in a few secure pockets of our world.) His father, Peter, is the author of A History of Ghosts, which intertwines the history of Spiritualism starting in 1848 with the Aykroyd family history. I’ve never read it, but it’s been on my “to read” list for years and Dan wrote the forward. Yes, Dan is still an unabashed true believer. He has a new series on the Travel Channel called Hotel Paranormal and previously hosted the Canadian paranormal series Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal (co-created with his brother Peter Aykroyd, Jr).
But back to the early 1980s.
One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement – I carry around a police badge with me, for example. I became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born.”
— Dan Aykroyd
After his rise to stardom on Saturday Night Live and his successful turn in the cult classic The Blues Brothers with John Belushi, Dan was inspired to write a fresh modern comedy that embraced his roots and his core beliefs. He originally hoped Belushi would play the role of Dr. Peter Venkman, but his friend and co-star’s tragic death left the role open and it was eventually filled by Bill Murray. I think I would have preferred the movie with Belushi. Or Chevy Chase. Or any number of other successful comedians of the era.
I like and admire Bill Murray. I do. It’s said that over half of his dialogue in this movie is pure improv. And he is funny at times. I did laugh even though I knew all the jokes. However, this role he played just does not translate well twenty-five years later. I’m sorry, but Venkman is a creep, creep, CREEPY guy passed off as a quirky romantic lead. I’d totally forgotten the scene where he plays at testing two students for psychic skills. Ugh. It’s just disgusting. My skin crawled. And when Dana (Sigourney Weaver) comes to the Ghostbusters with a serious paranormal problem, he spends the whole time in her apartment plying her with ham-fisted and nauseating sexual overtures. Yuck.
And poor Dana. She’s living in a superconductor of paranormal activity. She can’t walk to her own front door without being harassed by puppy lovestruck Louis (played brilliantly by Rick Moranis, who also created much of his dialogue, including that amazing and quite hysterical single-shot scene through his sad little party that ended with an invasion by a Terror Dog demon). And then she has to deal with Vile Venkman. Of course, in typical 80s fashion, she eventually starts to see him as more endearing and charming than disgusting. Barf. However, before we are subjected to any skin-crawling romantic scenes between Dana and Venkman, she becomes possessed by a minion of Zuul and has involuntary sex (not shown, thank goodness, but definitely implied) with another minion wearing neighbor Louis’s meat suit.
So here’s the thing. The plot and writing in the 1984 movie are still quite brilliant. Kudos to Aykroyd and Ramis as well as Ivan Reitman who encouraged them to start the movie before the Ghostbusters become famous and beloved by New Yorkers. It’s very easy to understand what’s happening at all times and there is a logical progression from a scary incident in a New York City library to total chaos erupting all over Manhattan. I love all the other Ghostbusters, especially Ramis as uber nerdy Egon Spengler. And I love Annie Potts as wise-cracking Janine. The appearance of Mr. Stay-Puft at the penultimate moment never gets old. So I still had fun watching it again, aside from the cringe-worthy bits with Murray.
As for the 2016 version, I enjoyed it. Again, I was laughing out loud. I truly adore Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. The part where a ghostly demon is perched on Jones’s shoulders at the Ozzy Osbourne concert … I just about peed my pants. McKinnon’s performance gets a little over-the-top and campy at times, but I’m used to that aspect of her comedy from SNL skits. Melissa McCarthy’s performance is solid. Kristen Wiig is a bit of a dull stick, but she sort of needed to be with this ensemble cast.
The decision to cast Chris Hemsworth as Kevin the useless receptionist was ludicrous and annoying. There I was happily enjoying a girl squad version of Ghostbusting with a refreshing lack of romantic subplot until they drop Thor into the office and turn Kristen’s character into an awkward puddle of goo whenever he’s in the scene. ARGH! WHY?!?!?!?!? What they needed was a modern version of Louis with a dash of Janine’s sass. Preferably gay. Or a drag queen.
But my main issue with this new version is that the plot was confusing. I watched it with my husband. He’s never seen the original and could not follow what was going on after a certain point. I had to stop the movie and go back to catch some of the exposition several times. But since I knew the original plot, it was a little easier to follow as long as I sat back and let the action and dialogue play out without thinking too much. I liked that Jones’s character wasn’t just some person who needed a job, but actively pursued becoming a member of the team bringing her own passion for NYC history. Huge improvement there. I liked the idea of a supercilious emo-type guy running around stirring up evil paranormal trouble. He’s exactly the type of guy who would fire an automatic weapon in a crowded movie theater. Of course, he wants to trigger the apocalypse. So far, so good. But after his (not quite) death, I just lost the plot. While I loved the mayhem of the haunted parade balloons, I shook my head in disappointment when the penultimate villain takes the form of the iconic Ghostbusters ghost. No. Just no. If you’re not going to use Mr. Stay-Puft, use something totally different in form and function.
And guess what? I really didn’t like Murray in his cameo role in this version either. Sigh.
So now I’m sitting here with a wee bit of a heavy heart. Ghostbusters 1984 has lost some of its halcyon luster. The 2016 version is a confusing remix that feels derivative and does not stand on its own merit. It’s more like star-studded fan fiction with a gigantic budget.
Alexis K. says
My dad’s two-cents was the original had some very talented and well-known comedians to back up the comedy side compared to the remake. We even see about three of the original cast pop up in the remake as well. I agree that the overall sexual undertones and creepy behavior really dates the original to its time.
I think the women cast in the 2016 version has some great and hilarious moments. But the film fell as too goofy for me beyond some of the best moments of comedy. I am also bias to the original as it has a special place in my childhood.
Glenna Hartwell says
Y’know, a lot of Bill Murray’s roles involve him playing an older guy having some sort of romantic or quasi-romantic thing with younger women. Take his turn in Lost in Translation, where he and Scarlet Johansson play two expats in Japan. He’s a sort of fatherly figure until romantic overtones creep in. Creep being the operative word.
In real life I have nothing against people dating/marrying out of their age bracket. It’s more like… Murray is cast in these roles over and over. And that creeps me out. So I’m glad you called out Venkman’s harassment in Ghostbusters. To think in ’84 we would have laughed at that!
I agree with everything else in your review until you get to Kevin. I guess I’m the only Kevin fan here! I enjoyed his surrealistic one-liners. I loved seeing that stereotype flipped upside-down. I do agree they needed a modern-day Louis though!
Glenna Hartwell says
One more comment. Thanks for the info about Aykroyd and his father, and that book. I dated someone who was involved in the Spiritualist church. I went to several of their sessions, which were mediumistic. They were pretty cool. People just took turns trying to tune into the dead and provide psychic messages to the participants.
Did you know that Aykroyd is also an expert on what used to be called UFOs and is now called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena? He is a true believer there, too, and very knowledgable.
I totally agree about the creepy attraction to the women in the 1984 film. Did not translate well, came off as harassment, but the rest of the movie was good. AND I agree about the receptionist in the 2016 movie! I was enjoying the girl power and then they put a random hot star in to play the ‘dumb blonde’ trope and I hated it.
“He’s never seen the original and could not follow what was going on after a certain point.” I DID THIS WITH MY FRIEND TOO. She didn’t get the old references, so she said the movie was too fast paced and confusing. It relied too heavily on the audience knowing the plot of the previous film and therefore glossed over several things too quickly for unfamiliar viewers to understand.