Saturday, October 18, 2014

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost - But A Reboot... That's Another Thing Altogether

For years now, the fan community has been sharing rumours of a new Ghostbusters picture in the works like kids sitting around the campfire swapping ghost stories. But now, in the past couple of weeks, just like a scene from Ghostbusters itself, we've been told that it's real — that a new movie's finally gonna happen.

And then we started getting word from director Paul Feig of what this thing's going to look like, and, suddenly, I got this sinking feeling, like when someone in a movie goes into a haunted house hoping to catch a glimpse of Casper, or maybe Slimer, and they end up starting to get the feeling that they're going to have to deal with something more like the entities from Poltergeist instead.

So I started reading through the reports about Feig's plans, particularly his interview with Entertainment Weekly, and then I donned my Ghostbusters hockey jersey, and fired the first and second movies into the blu-ray player, and then I gave it a lot of thought. And while I try to keep an open mind about film talk until a movie actually hits the screen, in this case I feel like Venkman staring down the hall at Slimer for the first time, knowing that what's coming next probably isn't going to be groovy.

The biggest problem with Feig's vision, at this point, is his decision to go with a total reboot. To rip the tablecloth out from under the franchise's history, leaving only the flowers of the name "Ghostbusters" still standing. The first two films never happened, their characters don't exist, it's a whole new universe with whole new technology.

I hate the notion of reboots. Principally, because they rarely work. This is usually due to bad writing and direction, and sometimes acting, but also to the current Hollywood phenomenon of shotgunning reboots (usually to superhero franchises) onto screens within just a couple of years of their predecessors, with this often happening even though the earlier material was reasonably good. It's not only a case of unoriginality, it's a matter of these new versions being totally unnecessary. A reboot is only worth doing if the original/previous version sucked. If the earlier version was okay, then either produce a new movie that keeps the old one within continuity, or, [gasp!] take a big risk and spend your time, money, and energy on something new and original that isn't linked to any other property.

Let's take a look at some of the reboots that have come out in recent years:

Star Trek and Star Trek - Into Darkness (a remake of The Wrath of Khan, despite the director's claims otherwise) were terrible. Glaring A.D.D. fests with characters who were strident and shrill in their dealings with each other, rather than genuinely emotional, reasonable, or interesting, and plots that were so stupid that you'd think they'd been penned by a Tribble in its final, delusional moments before dying of an overdose of poison-laced quadrotriticale. These were no more serious attempts to do Star Trek than an episode of Pokemon would be.

Similarly, Man of Steel (a retread of Superman II) was a colossal shit pile, giving us a Superman who was more wooden than Guardians of the Galaxy's Groot, and a plot that was so dumb that the writers/director/producers/studio might as well have hired Gleek the space monkey to crap onto pieces of paper, put them into a hat, which they would then have randomly pulled out and attempted to rorschach-style decipher to fill in material on each page of the script. Seriously, this flick gets as far as having a Jor-El AI simulation take control of Zod's ship, to the point where he can slam hatches and cut off the arms of bad guys, and yet he can't just pilot the damn thing into the sun, thereby, oh, I don't know, killing all of the bad guys and thus ending the threat to Kal-El and humanity? Nah. Couldn't do that. That might actually make sense. It was also unnecessary because Superman Returns, though not perfect, was an acceptable film, and one that continued the Superman franchise (at least, one that continued the franchise after Superman The Movie, and possibly Superman II) in a reasonable fashion, rather than throw out the previous material.

The Christian Bale Batman movies were in a bit of a grey area. They were all pretty entertaining (though The Dark Knight Rises was frequently stupid in some of its plot point choices), but really, they were unnecessary. The Michael Keaton movies (we shall not speak of the others) were very well thought-out and acted, and still stand up to rewatching today.

About the only reboot that I can think of that was a success in terms of being well written and acted, and looking good, and fitting the criteria of being necessary because its previous incarnation was a disaster, was the new Battlestar Galactica.

So that's one reboot out of a whole pile in the last decade or so. Not a great track record, Hollywood.

Mostly, reboots are just a director's exercise in polishing his own ego. The director and studio want to capitalize on a known, successful property with built-in fan loyalty that will increase their modern film's chances of box office success. A reboot also allows a director to claim originality without having to actually do the hard work of coming up with something new.

Feig claims that to come back to the existing Ghostbusters universe would be "too difficult"and that if it's a world that's already had a ghost attack "how do you do it again?" Well, Paul, it's been 25 years since Ghostbusters 2, and while a lot happened back then, one would expect their world would have moved on, with other events, characters lives changing, and other characters coming in and out — just like the real world has done since 1989 and everything that happened then, like a little event called the fall of the Berlin Wall. Life moves on, and, in so doing, leaves plenty of room for developments in the world and brand new stories that aren't too constrained by the events of the past. Feig's also said he wants to have new characters and tell new stories that are really scary and have shiny new tech. See above.

And because of the amount of time that's passed, a sequel wouldn't have to spend a lot of time on the links to the original films: maybe a photo on the wall of Janine and Louis opening a franchise operation in another city, or a character walking past a memorial wall with photos of fallen members like Egon (and Peter, if Bill Murray refused to do a live cameo), or a brief scene with an elderly Ray tinkering in the lab, or Winston doing paperwork as company CEO. Anything's possible, and even the smallest nods here and there would go a long way towards establishing the new film's legitimacy.

If the original Ghostbusters had been terrible, with a deeply-buried seed of potential in its rotten core — like the original Battlestar Galactica — then there would be a good reason to reboot it. But it wasn't. And there isn't. A sequel, as opposed to a hard reboot, would allow Feig to do all of the things he wants, while still respecting the original material that built the fan base and told the story he is implicitly relying on for the success of his new movie, regardless of how different he makes it. There is simply no reason for a hard reboot, aside from self-deluding vanity.

Then there was Feig's second big piece of news: he wants to go with an all-female cast.

Why?

Feig says "it would be really fun" and "I just find funny women so great."

I agree: funny women are great. As are funny men.

I also think that this being the 21st century in western society, it's okay — and, story-wise, better — to have stories mixing both genders. After all, women and men work side-by-side in all kinds of businesses, scientific and academic settings, military operations, non-profits, etc and these workplaces are better for that mix.

Admittedly, there are some situations/settings, where a single-gender crowd is appropriate, such as Feig's movie Bridesmaids, or its male counterpart The Hangover (and sequels) and the Tom Hanks flick that film folk rarely like to acknowledge: Bachelor Party. But even these situations are not so clearly-defined when we look at modern life, as more and more men are adding women to their groomsmen lineups, and women include men as bridesmaids (my own best man at my wedding was a woman — my oldest friend since junior high — and she organized and attended the bachelor party). And so when we look at a small business startup or group adventure setting like that presented in Ghostbusters, it seems obvious that having an mixed gender ensemble cast is what most accurately and appropriately represents modern society.

Moreover, this is already a proven concept in modern film and TV. Look at Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, or Firefly, or Farscape. Remove the comedy element, and it still works: Battlestar Galactica, the various Star Trek spinoffs of the last 20 or so years, and Alien and Aliens. Throw the comedy element back in, along with horror, and Cabin in the Woods is a great recent example of how a mixed gender ensemble makes a film work (And, yes, I know, part of the point of that cast mix was to play off the idea of classic slasher film character tropes. But Whedon could have done something similar with an all-male or all-female cast, as some horror movies have done. Wisely, he didn't.).

Besides that, a mixed gender ensemble does a better job of ensuring there's someone for everyone in the audience to identify with. It's kind of like last weekend, when my wife and I were shopping for a birthday present for our niece: we were looking at Lego sets, and were a little confounded that a lot of the kit boxes seemed geared towards one gender or the other, when that kind of specificity wasn't necessary. One box for a mountain cabin set (complete with mountain!) only came with a bearded male mini fig, which might make a girl feel excluded. On the other hand, another box for a cruise ship/yacht kit only came with the new "friends" skinny girl mini figs and in bright pastel colours, which might discourage boys who would otherwise be interested in building a boat. Why can't all the boxes contain male and female mini figs, and have photos of boys and girls playing with them. It's like Lego's taken niche marketing too far. Instead, we settled on a kit from The Lego Movie with female and male figs. But getting back to Ghostbusters, yes, there should absolutely be smart, funny, caring, ass-kicking female leads. There haven't been enough of them, women have been wanting to see more of them, and men enjoy them too. But by the same token, let's not leave good male leading characters out either, because both men and women like them too.

Feig says "Bottom line: I just want the best, funniest cast."

Wouldn't that be a mix of talented people of both genders, as the other productions mentioned above have proven?

Wouldn't it be awesome to have a cast of ghostbusters that included talented people like Melissa McCarthy, Jenna Coleman, Rashida Jones, Gillian Anderson, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Sara Tanaka, Rosario Dawson, or Emma Stone, AND some talented people like Jason Lee, Ken Jeong, Vince Vaughan, Jon Favreau, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Nick Kroll, Marlon Wayans or Tyler Labine?

Bottom line: as a fan, I just want any new movie to be really good, and that would be far more likely if it's a sequel instead of a reboot, and if it has a mixed cast.

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