Monday, July 18, 2016

Ghostbusters 2016: The Controversy

Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge "Ghostbusters" fan. It’s in my Top 5 of all time favorite movies. I saw it in 1984 (as an adult—I’ve heard so many people opine that the new "GB" is “ruining their childhoods” that I feel compelled to remind people that the original was not geared to children even if children ended up liking it) and fell in love with it. To me it is the perfect blend of comedy, horror and the paranormal. I wrote a piece about it when it turned 30 a few years ago that you can read here.

Well, the remake opened on July 15 and I made an effort to go to see it even though the project never appealed to me. But I thought to be fair I needed to see it. So I’ve decided to review it for the blog. 

First, though, I’d like to address some of the rancor that has surrounded the project since its inception. There were people who really wanted another chapter in the "GB" series and there were people who weren't happy about it. I believe the big problem arose when it was decided rather than a continuation movie, they would totally remake it (it's been called a reboot, but there's far too much borrowed from the original for it not to be remake). And I have to put myself in that camp. It doesn't need to be remade. I think they did a really good job with the first one. This universe is so rich that I think a continuation movie could have been made very easily.

And studios need to understand something: You're putting out product that you're hoping touches the hearts of the audience (so said audience will continue to go see the movies). So yeah, you're going to have some fans invested in the movie. And they may not be happy with your decision to try to wipe the slate clean by completely remaking the movie that the fell in love with. Especially when remakes can fail so often. You don't have to listen to them, but they're not assholes for feeling that way.

Whether it be movies, books, music, motorcycles, whatever, we all have that one thing that we'd really appreciate nobody screwing with. It won't end the world of something is redone, but it does stick a little none the less.
This one still hurts. And I'm not
too fond of the 2014 version either.

Add to the problem Hollywood's current need to remake, reboot, redo EVERYTHING! Rather than have an original thought, they decide to just grab something that was popular years ago and redo it knowing that there is a built in audience for the material (which again, is why it's wise to show a little more respect to fans of the originals). While some remakes have been very well done, if people are gun shy it's because so often they fail miserably. 

So fans of the original "Ghostbusters" weren't overly happy when they found out that there would be a remake of a movie that got it right the first time. 

Then came the announcement of the cast and there was a contingent of people who just rejoiced that the leads were all female. And of course you had some who weren't happy that the leads were all female. And some who simply weren't happy about the particular actors who were chosen (I would fall into that category). But no matter what the reason was for the discontent, those unhappy with the project were all thrown into the "misogynist" camp by its defenders. Yes, the only reason these "manboys" didn't like it was because the leads were all female, or so the narrative held. Anything else was invalid. 

Over the course of time from the announcement of the project to the release, there seems to have been three main stages of argument (a bit like the four stages of grief) used by defenders of the project to invalidate the opinions of anyone that might have differed from theirs. And bear in mind, and prior to release, neither side had seen the work, yet the defenders of the project were as vociferous in their praise for it as they accused the detractors to be in their condemnation.

But watching the stages occur over time has been fascinating. They range from the childish to the unfair to the down right hypocritical.

Let's start with the childish (and most pathetic) which seems to be the most recent (third) stage people are using to insist that the aversion others have for this project is just plain wrong. 

Stephanie Zacharek, in her piece that appeared July 14 on, uses a sort of playground argument to defend the "Ghostbusters" remake by titling her op ed, “Sorry, But the Original Ghostbusters Isn’t Even that Good.” This is something I've heard a lot of people say lately, most of whom haven't even seen the new movie, when discussing it. Sort of like children saying, “Oh sure you can do a somersault, but it’s not even that good of one!” Zacharek's piece is a desperate little diatribe against a movie 30 years old that for a good majority of people still holds up but for her…well she’s decided that it was never that good. So that must be right. 

Here’s a little taste of her clever assessment of the original film: “But the movie’s pacing isn’t nearly as brisk as it could be, and the lines of dialogue Ghostbusters heads love and quote most—‘He slimed me’—sound like a parody of dumb comedy writing, the sort usually accompanied by an aggressively fake laugh track. By the end, the picture’s spirit is gloomy and ill-humored, as if it had tried hard to be a dark comedy and simply failed, leaving a vaguely sour taste in its wake.”

No, you're right, this scene isn't nearly as funny as a scene where a ghost vomits a couple of gallons of slime on the protagonist. 

Well…part of the reason the picture’s spirit may have seemed gloomy toward the end was because it wasn’t just a comedy and the climax featured them fighting a god to keep the end of the world from happening. But maybe that fact slipped past her because the color palette wasn’t Nickelodeon-bright.

Here’s a quote from the review film critic Roger Ebert (I miss him) gave it at the time: “They're funny, but they're not afraid to reveal that they're also quick-witted and intelligent; their dialogue puts nice little spins on American clichés, and it uses understatement, irony, in-jokes, vast cynicism, and cheerful goofiness. Rarely has a movie this expensive provided so many quotable lines.”

Sorry Steph, but I think I’m going with Ebert on this one. Here’s a clue, the movie’s pacing isn’t supposed to be brisk. There’s more going on in it then one-liners. But again, perhaps you were confused by the understatement and subtlety. For example, in "Ghostbusters" 2016, a great deal of time…really far too much time…seriously a sickeningly long amount of time is spent describing the contents of a man’s pants after he messed them upon seeing a ghost. sides still burn from laughter on that gem. 

Now to be fair, in the original, Bill Murray as Peter Venkman did ask the librarian whether or not she was menstruating when investigating paranormal activity at the library. But it was a one off joke to illustrate just how out of his element he was in the whole paranormal investigating thing. He didn’t go on for five minutes discussing color, flow and viscosity.

That’s the difference between the original and the new movie. The creators of the first movie knew when to stop. 

I mean honestly, how weak is the horse that you’re backing when to praise it you have to denigrate a 30 year old classic film?

I understand that the original "Ghostbusters" isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And I’m not always sold on the notion that ticket sales translates into a work of art. I mean, "Transformer" movies are still being made.

But the original "Ghostbusters" was a blockbuster when it was released. It was re-released very successfully a few years ago on its 30th anniversary (which probably helped Sony at last green-light a new stab at the project that had been floating around for decades). And it remains one of the most widely quoted movies ever made. There had to be some sort of quality backing all that. 

I will admit that I wasn’t dancing for joy when I originally heard about the new reboot/remake/redo whatever they were claiming it would be (it’s changed over the years of production). Quite honestly, because of the cast. And no, not because they’re women. 

See, that’s the other thing you have to do if you question the cast chosen for "GB"2016. It couldn’t possibly be that you just don’t find those actors funny. No, you have to assure everyone that you aren’t being misogynistic because that’s the narrative so many of the project’s defenders have been trying to drive home from the moment the names were announced (and even as a woman, I’ve been called misogynistic for not liking this cast). This is first stage defenders went to the moment the leads were announced. It's unfair. How do you prove a negative? "No, I don't hate the project because the cast is female. No really, I don't." Not to say that there weren’t jerks out there who did rant at the thought of an all-female cast. Get social media involved and you get all sort of creepiness posted on YouTube.

But there were many people such as myself who just weren’t impressed by the actors they chose for the roles. I could think of other women I would have preferred in the roles. In fact, I wrote a blog piece on that when the cast was announced stating that, unlike Lindy West who wrote a piece for GQ on the casting, I did not find it “The most indomitable fucking comic dream team of all kind.”

                          Yeah, sorry these names just didn't instill confidence in the project.

You can read the blog entry here but the bottom line is that I found the group chosen for the "Ghostbusters" remake anything but “The most indomitable fucking comic dream team of all kind.” And Lindy was beating the misogyny drum loudly in the heavy-handed piece starting it out with, “As you may have heard, a few delicate internet man-flowers are terribly, terribly, terribly upset at the news that the beloved 1984 classic "Ghostbusters" is being remade with a stunning ensemble cast of some of 2015’s most hilarious and sought-after comedians.”

My thought at the time was, if that was who 2015 had to offer, could we hold out till 2016 and hopefully find some funnier women?

But no, to Lindy, any nay-saying of the cast was only based on the fact that they were women, not that they might not be that funny. And interestingly, Lindy hadn’t even seen the movie but she decided it was going to be the best movie EVER because women were chosen for the roles. She decided that the all-male original cast was a gender imbalance. I wonder why she was so hating on the men. 

Then came…the trailers. And suddenly, the internet blew up! These were bad trailers. I mean really bad trailers. I mean the sort of trailers where you stare, mouth agape, in stunned silence despite the fact that you’re supposed to be laughing since, you know, comedy and all. Now usually trailers are intended to entice people to see the movie. Your A-scenes are chosen to really whet the prospective viewer’s appetite. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out. You can have a bad trailer for a really good movie and vice versa. The problem with "GB"2016 was that it didn’t seem to have a lot of A-material from which to create a trailer.  

So if you were already skeptical about the project based on the quality of the actors or director chosen, these trailers did not help. And when people expressed their aversion for the trailers, the old “misogyny” chestnut cropped up again. If you didn’t find the project appealing, it was because all the leads were women not because what they offered in the trailers was really terrible.

How many people who aren’t interested in seeing a Jackie Chan movie are accused of being racists? How many women who weren’t interested in seeing "The Expendables" were accused of hating men?

When the misogyny logic ran its course (or was milked long enough), we entered the second, or hypocritical stage which featured the question: “So…you haven’t seen it but you’ve decided it’s bad? How can you make that claim if you haven’t seen it?” 

Every day people use certain factors to judge whether or not to invest time and money in viewing/reading/listening to a product. That’s why they make trailers and book blurbs and have reviewers, etc. If someone isn’t into the horror genre, they’re not going to read Clive Barker. Very rarely does anyone grill them with, “Oh, but how can you judge whether or not you like it if you don’t read it? Maybe this is the novel that will change your mind.” If someone doesn't appreciate a particular actors work, they don't go see the movie.

When the movie "Pixels” was released, for example, I heard a lot of people say they weren’t going to see it cause they disliked Adam Sandler or they just thought that it looked stupid (both opinions I completely agree with) but I didn’t hear anyone defend that movie as vigorously with the, “But how can you know? You haven’t seen it yet” argument as I did with this latest "Ghostbusters". State that nothing about the new "Ghostbusters" movie seems appealing to you and you’re accused of being a hater and raked over the coals. It smacks of hypocrisy because how many of these people standing up for the new "Ghostbusters" stood up just as self righteously for a film like "Pixels"? (and for that matter, how many women who didn't want to see the movie were accused of disliking it only because there were four leads in the roles?) 

So this whole "Ghostbusters" controversy actually says more about the defenders of the project and the people who toss around the misogyny accusation far too easily than it says about the people they call haters. 

What’s even more fascinating about Stephanie Zacharek’s piss-fest on the original movie (getting back to stage three) is that it was written prior to the release of the movie, which leads me to wonder how she could write, “Thank heavens the Ghostbusters remake came together, against their will and their wishes” when she hadn't even seen if the finished product?

Poor Richard Roeper, reviewer for the Chicago Tribune, did actually see the movie and had the temerity to express intense dislike for the finished product in his review (despite being a huge fan of the ladies in the cast). He paid for that on various social media platforms with the usual slams aimed at anyone who wasn't blown over by "Ghostbusters" 2016. 


And interestingly enough, having seen the new "Ghostbusters" movie (I will post a review after this), I can tell you they borrowed a heck of a lot from the original. In my opinion, to the new film’s detriment (which I’ll explain in the review). So…I’m guessing some people connected with the new production must have had a bit more affection for the original than Zacharek might think. In other words, the original "Ghostbusters" must have done something right. 

I will post my review of "Ghostbusters" 2016 on the next post. 

In the meantime:

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