Simon Columb weighs in on Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot…
Fellow Flickering Myth-er and Ghostbusters fan, Luke Owen, followed the release of the new trailer [watch it here] with an article titled “Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is everything wrong with reboots…”. His interest in the topic is deep and the first few paragraphs of his informative article is a concise history on the development of the third instalment of Ghostbusters. What is exceptionally clear is his distaste for Paul Feig. Director of Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, Feig has an impressive career in comedy proving how he is clearly ‘creative enough’ to reboot the series. Cinematically, these three films earned over $200m each, pulling in $775m worldwide. Though Luke may not be a fan, it is clear that many millions of others are. Including me.
Let us get the obvious out-of-the-way. If you don’t like Paul Feig, it is more than likely that you won’t enjoy his latest movie, whether it is Ghostbusters, Bridesmaids 2 or a “new smash” starring Melissa McCarthy. But the argument leveled at the upcoming Ghostbusters seems to be the ‘type’ of film the trailer is selling. Cam Williams, for his blog Graffitiwithpunctuation.net, reiterates how it is crucially a money-making, conversation-starting, tick-all-boxes advert for the film. That means, some shots featured may not be included in the film (see The Amazing Spider-Man, etc). It also means that some sneaky title cards may not be directly linked to the plot but serve as a mere reference to our own knowledge of the series. “30 Years Ago… Four scientists saved New York” has already been changed to “Four friends” in the international trailer proving that, until it’s released we can’t truly judge the plot or narrative just yet. But none of it matters, because the goal is the same: people talking and tickets selling. Yes, we can pass judgement on a trailer but it is merely an advert. If you are excited about the film because of the trailer, it has done its job. If you are less-excited but still intend to buy a ticket to pass judgement on the film, it has still done its job.
What I take issue with is an argument against Feig’s lack of creativity and the fan-service he is bowing to. This is, after all, a known property so, by default, it isn’t an original idea. In the same manner as Zoolander 2 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he was always going to refer to the original 1984 classic. The cynical cash-grab situation here is the same for Hollywood as a whole – Feig is hardly the man responsible. Creativity is far more open-minded and varied than Owen’s restrictive boundaries. Creativity can be reinvention and adaptation. Changing something and developing it. It is inevitable that any creative idea is subject to praise and criticism but just because you dislike it doesn’t mean you can immediately dismiss the idea entirely. After all, maybe it is not you who is the target here. Ryan McNeil, for The Matinee, championed the film on the basis that seeing a surge in interest will reignite the craze. Inevitably, little girls (with boys), donning the Ghostbusters gear for Halloween 2016 is reason enough to be excited for the new film. The point is that this interpretation of Ghostbusters has reinvented the series. It is so ‘outside the box’ that even hardened fans of the original are uncomfortable with the changes made.
When Mel Gibson was not included in Mad Max: Fury Road, I’ll bet some fans were wary of what we’d see. When Aliens hit the multiplexes, the action-mould Cameron carved out in the series erased the horror/thriller tone of Scott’s masterpiece. Fan service is sticking rigidly to the expectations of the fan base. Hiring a do-what-we-say director with four similar-looking men would be extreme fan-service. But by using Feig, Wiig and McCarthy, we know it is not the same from the outset. We know that it is an entirely new take and this is what makes fans of the original wary. It is anything but appealing to the fan-base exclusively, as revealed in the backlash that primarily originates from those self-confessed “fans”. There are others who aren’t as fussed. If you’ve caught the odd episode of the animated series and saw the two films at some point in childhood, then all you’re after is a terrific film involving those classic suits, an ECTO 1, ghosts and New York. These things all remain intact.
For better or worse, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Creed are almost remakes to their original counterparts – albeit with a switch in the cast. Arguably, they lack creativity because they simply repeat the same narrative. But in all three cases, it worked out to enormous box-office success. It is possible that the plot of the new Ghostbusters will take the same narrative route, but considering such a bold step was taken with the cast, perhaps Feig will take the same creative risks with the story. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Creed lacked “creativity” and any fan service is considered a nostalgic nod or homage to the original. Can the same credibility be applied to Ghostbusters?
In any case, it is still a comedy with some of the biggest comediennes working in Hollywood. Paul Feig’s direction may not be your cup of tea, but the small fan base that passionately argue this, are stating the obvious. The simple fact that a comedy-director of some of the most successful films in the last few years is not qualified for the job is barmy. Hadley Freeman in her recent book, Life Moves Too Fast, celebrates the original Ghostbusters for its strong depiction of women (It’s Ripley as the love interest!) and champions the laughable charm of sleaze ball Bill Murray. With this in mind, a four-strong female cast is not only innovative but arguably inevitable.
There is a final point. While Den of Geek has to write posts politely asking commenters on Ghostbusters news articles to refrain from falling into the bowels of insult and misogyny, we should be actively defending this type of pro-feminist filmmaking. We can go back to the but-I-just-don’t-like-the-director back-and-forth, but there is a bigger change marching on in any case. Just because there is a clear sexist backlash to this entire production doesn’t mean that liberals and audiences must automatically like the film; that’s not the point – it may be awful. The issue is with the strong-armed effort to undermine and dismiss the film before release that seems short-sighted. For example, the abuse Anita Sarkeesian receives after detailing how computer games are (and it’s blatantly obvious) exceptionally sexist is simply not acceptable. There is a deep, ugly side of masculinity that’s emerged from Sarkeesian’s well-argued YouTube videos and it is important that we all condemn such gross acts of malice when the conversation boils over.
Ghostbusters too has awakened the beast of hyper-macho pride and we should be supporting such a bold move from Feig. Because, perhaps this year’s Ghostbusters isn’t for the Paul Feig haters. Instead, it’s for the current crop of kids who don’t want to watch another Marvel/DC film. Or the women who loved Bridesmaids. Or the men who adore Melissa McCarthy’s self-effacing Gervais-isms (that’s me). They can’t wait to see the new film and no amount of toys-and-pram throwing will change that. As the Rolling Stones said, “you can’t always get what you want”, but for anyone who loves cinema, this might be what we need.