Movie Reviews Popgeekery

Ghostbusters (1984) vs Ghostbusters (2016)

Spoilers for Ghostbusters, obviously.

Nostalgia is a funny thing.

I was eight years old when Ghostbusters came out and, as many of my generation, I watched it and its sequel at the movies, with a couple of subsequent viewings on VCR. I vaguely remember that there was a cartoon on TV at some stage and watching that whenever I happened to stumble upon it.

Like many movies from my childhood, Ghostbusters survived in that limbo that is part nostalgia, part memory. I recall liking the movie very much, I remember being charmed by Peter Venkman (and Bill Murray’s deadpan delivery), and rooting for The Guy Team to save Dana (please note the power dynamics in this sentence, it is a presage). Later, I too partook on “who’re you going to call” jokes and got goosebumps when I heard that song. It was never one of my favourites like Back to the Future or Die Hard but it was definitely there inside my nostalgia toolbox.

I haven’t watched the original movies since the 90s.

***

When they announced a reboot with four actresses, I was pretty happy about it myself, being a fan of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Paul Feig. I was surprised (Yeah, I know, I am a sweet summer child) with the immediate backlash the news received, which then quickly morphed into horrendous abuse and more sexist bullshit when the first trailer showed up. In between cries of “women ruin everything” and “why ruin a perfectly good guy movie” with girls, there were also eye-rolling screeches on how childhoods were being destroyed by the new movie and cast.

It’s all very gross and uncomfortable and par-for-the-course with patriarchy. It’s also hilarious because, as far as I know, the new movie does NOT come with the power to annihilate childhoods and wipe-out memories.

I wish it did, as you will soon notice.

***

Ghostbusters

I had to watch the 1984 version of Ghostbusters a few weeks ago for Fangirl Happy Hour.

Wow.

That older movie is shit.

It’s terrible in a way that goes beyond its dated special effects or its cheesy script. Those things when surrounded by actual competence can feed back into nostalgia in a good way. But Ghostbusters (1984) is bad in how it has barely a thread of emotional resonance to it. Listen, I get it, we all like big, fun, funny blockbusters that combine science with action and quirky characters. But here we have four characters who are supposed to be friends and we hardly see any shade of that relationship on screen. They quip and they laugh but we don’t really get any feeling that these characters care for each other. Or even know each other that well.

It’s also sexist garbage when it comes to my childhood favourite, Peter Venkman. That movie opens with a scene in which Peter, who is a scientist conducting an experiment at University, and he sexually harasses his female subject. He proceeds to sexually harass Dana, the character played by a woefully underused Sigourney Weaver (another negative point for this movie) by creeping into her personal space and getting into her face inside her own house and basically browbeating her into a date. And that’s the basis on each the emotional core of this movie is built on: in spite of this lamentable, gross, inexcusable behaviour, Venkman is the romantic hero of the piece. And he gets the girl in the end.

Its terribleness is even more obvious after I watched the reboot, Ghostbusters (2016).

Nostalgia can be go fuck itself, the new Ghostbusters is a vastly superior movie in many fronts, while also being a big, fun, funny summer movie.

***

Ghostbusters (2016) is lively and resonant. Its foundation is the close, fraught friendship between Abby (McCarthy) and Erin (Wiig) – a relationship that has a continuous thread throughout the movie and which plays an important role in the end. The fact that the Abby and Erin are friends, by the way, doesn’t preclude Abby from being close friends with another woman, Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) because guess what, women aren’t Highlanders and there can be more than one.

Best. Poster. Ever

Best. Poster. Ever

Speaking of Holtzmann, it gives me such pleasure to find new girl-crushes and feel genuinely surprised and excited to see a character as Holtzmann: someone who seems to be in the spectrum, who is cool, iconic, sexy (without being sexualised for the male gaze), funny and omg so kick-ass. There is one scene in particular I could watch a million times over, in which she takes over the weapons that she invented and shows the villains hell on earth. There is also more emotion in the scene in the ending when Holtzmann gives a nervous, understated speech, than in the entire franchise to this point.

***

The fourth Ghostbuster is Patty. Played by Leslie Jones, Patty proved to be a controversial character when she first appeared in the trailer. She is the only woman of colour in the group and she is also the only one who is not a scientist. I loved Patty just like I loved all the other ghostbusters. But I am conflicted about the character.

On the one hand, why the hell is Patty, the only one who is not a scientist?

On the other hand, if one is charitable, it is possible to read into it as the narrative making a point about white privilege. It is a possible reading because the movie does have a lot of subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) social commentary (and there is one scene when Patty is vocal about race – the “is this a race thing” scene). On top of that, it makes me uncomfortable when having an important conversation about race or gender, we end up somehow stepping over the types of workers that make up the biggest part of the world’s workforce. Patty starts out as a MTA employee and as such she is someone who takes great pride in her work. She becomes a ghostbuster because of her knowledge about New York and in fact, that knowledge AND her quick thinking actually save the day. Twice.

For what is worth, Leslie Jones responded to that criticism with a “why-not”.

***

There is a token male character in the group.

3659F11800000578-3694112-image-m-40_1468737132428

Dumb and blonde Kevin (played by a comical Chris Hemsworth )is a walking-talking social commentary. How many times have we seen this role played by women over the years since the beginning of cinema? This movie is so nice though because it actually manages more sympathy for Kevin than his female counterparts have earned over the years: Kevin actually has a bigger role than many women in the same situation had. And he becomes a beloved member of the team by the time the credits role. He is not expendable.

No one is – and this is the thing I loved the most about this new movie. Ghostbusters has always been about friends and found families. It just took 32 years for it to be actually believable.

In other words, go see the new movie. Oh, and stay until the end of the credits.

Advertisements

You Might Also Like

5 Comments

  • Laura Hartman (@LH171)
    July 18, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    I loved this movie! Can’t wait for the sequel.

  • Paul Weimer
    July 18, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Stay through ALL the credits. 🙂

  • Jocelyn
    July 21, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    I loved Patty because as a librarian (though not a public librarian…) she is basically the perfect library patron. She knows what she likes to read, she’s friendly, she’s a fellow city employee, I bet she’d NEVER leave anything weird stuck between the pages of the book.

    Yes, she’s the only one of the Ghostbusters who isn’t a doctor (aside from Kevin and the Big Bad). The thing about that character, though, is that it gives a point of identification for so many people (gov’t employees, people of color, avid readers, anyone who has worked at a public help desk, blue-collar employees). The other characters are great, but can you identify with them? In most cases, not as easily. I have some advanced degrees, but I still don’t easily relate to brilliant physicists. My brain doesn’t work like that.

    MTA worker who reads a lot? Yeah, that’s a character I can see myself in.

    And the bad guy. I worked at a hotel for a while, too. I had Annie Potts’ job.

  • Tansy Roberts
    July 28, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    I agree with all of this (I also rewatched the original recently) – even if you take out the awful creepy sexist attempt at “romance” in the original, the new film is much better at portraying relationships, nuanced characters and the progression of how to ghostbust (including the trial and error design of fun technology) so it feels like it has more actual science (or “science”) in it.

    But I’d add that in all this original vs. remake chatter, no one is talking about Ghostbusters 2 AT ALL. I’ve only seen the occasional sideswipe at it, as if everyone agrees it’s a terrible movie. But we also rewatched that lately and it’s much better!

    Having the Ghostbusters disbanded and needing to restore their reputation makes for a much more interesting narrative than ‘hey we’re going to bust some ghosts.’ The Zuul plot is better. More importantly, the core relationship of Dana & Venkman is so much less creepy (he only steps on her boundaries once and then in the company of others rather than forcing her to be alone with him), largely because they are equal partners in acknowledging his faults, and he actually makes an effort in earning back her interest.

    Sigourney Weaver was so wasted in the original movie, and the second one feels like it’s equally about her AND the Ghostbusters, which is much less demeaning. I like that Dana has established friendships/history with the other guys (that five years of missing history is very deftly implied), and that her haunting revolves around her workplace as well as her baby. Having the baby as the ‘damsel’ means she gets to be much more active in the story instead of being passively possessed. Yes, the villain has a creepy sexual attachment to her, but that is 200% better than two male characters we’re supposed to LIKE cracking on to her when she repeatedly shows no interest.

  • Ju Transcendancing
    July 28, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU FOR TALKING ABOUT HOW SHIT THE ORIGINAL MOVIE WAS! I was gritting my teeth through so many people talking about how great the original was and how the new one was great but not quite as good as the original and I was like HAVE WE SEEN THE SAME MOVIES?! Nostalgia cannot cover up up for me HOW BAD the original was – although I confess, I didn’t have nostalgia, I saw it for the first time recently, but as you pointed out it was EMOTIONALLY EMPTY, and frankly unbelievable on every level. The sound track and the kitschy aesthetic is the only stuff it had going for it.

    The new film is superior on every measurable level I care about (and some I don’t). I’m delighted, I can’t wait for more and I just want to keep watching it OVER AND OVER AND OVER.

Leave a Reply