In this article, I outline the history of one of Hollywood’s most promising yet underachieving franchises – Ghostbusters.
Who You Gonna Call?
Are ghosts real? Can we interact with them? And if they are hostile, what exactly can we do about them? This is the question that parapsychologists Dr Peter Venkman, Dr Ray Stantz and Dr Egon Spengler want to answer. Well, maybe not Venkman. He just wants to make some money and get laid. He is willing to humour the other guys though.
After being called out to New York Public Library to investigate a disturbance, they come to face to face with evidence that ghosts are real. The excitement is short-lived however when their grant from Columbia University is terminated.
Ever the pragmatist, Venkman suggests the trio go into business themselves. Setting themselves up as the Ghostbusters they design and build state of the art equipment to physically catch and incarcerate troublesome spirits.
The Ghostbusters first client is Dana Barrett, an attractive concert musician whom Venkman is immediately smitten with. She claims to have seen a doorway to another dimension while opening the fridge in her Central Park apartment.
Aside from investigating her case, the boys take a job removing a rather unpleasant ghost from an upstate New York hotel. Almost as soon as this happens many ghost sightings pop up over the city which our heroes must deal with.
The business is a roaring success, so much so the Ghostbusters take on a fourth member in the form of Winston Zeddemore. Soon it becomes apparent that the rampant supernatural activity plaguing the city may be connected to Ms Barrett’s case. Soon she and her hapless neighbour Louis Tully are possessed.
The end of the world is coming. And our boys are the only people who can save mankind. If only they could do so without old Dickless himself, EPA Official Walter Peck sticking his nose in.
Lightning in a bottle is perhaps an overused term these days, but there is no better example than Ghostbusters.
Dan Aykroyd initially developed the script as a starring vehicle for himself and John Belushi. At the time it was a much more fanciful affair involving all sorts of inter-dimensional excitement.
He took the project to director Ivan Reitman. Reitman was interested but felt the script needed to be toned down into a modern-day movie about starting a business. Reitman bought in filmmaker Harold Ramis to rework the script with Aykroyd, and the pair would go on to star as Stantz and Spengler.
After Belushi’s tragic death the role of Peter Venkman was given to comedy legend Bill Murray. Ernie Hudson was cast as the fourth member of Winston Zeddemore and Annie Potts was drafted in as the sarcastic but loveable secretary Janine Melnitz. With the addition of Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barrett and Rick Moranis as Louis Tully, one of the most impressive casts in comedy history was put together.
The film is a unique blend of comedy, horror and science fiction yet thanks to the strength of the script, the genre amalgamation never feels unusual or forced. With its eerie score by Elmer Bernstein and catchy title song by Ray Parker Jr, Ghostbusters became an instant pop culture sensation upon its release on June 8th 1984.
Audiences laughed at the funny bits, jumped at the scary bits all whilst marvelling at the incredible special effects for the time. Watching the film 37 years later it is still just as impressive as it always was.
The glue that holds the film together is the chemistry between the central characters. Ray Stantz is the heart of the team. His enthusiasm keeps the gang going. Egon Spengler is the brains. His stern, intellectual demeanour and genius intellect allow the gang to create and use some rather spectacular machinery. Winston Zeddemore is the one member of the team who is not a scientist, he’s the everyman who’s level-headedness keeps everyone else grounded.
And finally, there’s Peter Venkman who is arguably Bill Murrays signature role. He is sarcastic, sleazy and even a little lazy. He is the mouth of the team and the star of the movie.
Apart, these guys are nothing. But together they accomplish great things and save the world.
Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett is a great foil to Murray’s comedy wiseguy and their scenes together give the movie a charged sparkle. Rick Moranis is hilarious as the nerdy Louis Tully and he almost steals the show. He is an absolute comedic tour de force in the film, especially in the third act.
One must spare a thought for William Atherton as the loathsome Walter Peck. The film maybe was not as good to him as it was to the other cast members. Having “Dickless” shouted at him in the streets must grow old after almost 40 years I am sure.
Ghostbusters was also a triumph of marketing and production. The famous “No-ghost” logo is instantly recognizable, so is the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. It is also a love letter to the city of New York and makes the city look mysterious and beautiful.
It truly is an excellent movie. Everything about it just works and works perfectly. True lightning in a bottle indeed.
Naturally – it created a franchise.
He Slimed Me!
The film was followed two years later by The Real Ghostbusters, a syndicated animated series that ran from September 1986 to October 1991.
Produced by Dic Enterprises – the show was a smash hit with kids of all ages. It chronicled the continuing adventures of our main heroes. The breakout star of the show was Slimer. The green ghost that the guys trapped in the hotel in the original movie.
He was such a hit that in the fourth season of the show was retitled Slimer! And The Real Ghostbusters. His image became as iconic as the marshmallow man and an integral part of Ghostbusters lore.
So why The Real Ghostbusters? A trademark dispute over the title. Nothing more exciting or interesting to go into.
The cartoon naturally led to a hugely popular toy line from industry giants Kenner – which was of genuinely high quality. The action figures were expertly designed and created, and the playsets were practical and imaginative.
After the show ended, a spin-off show Extreme Ghostbusters aired for a single season in late 1997.
With the film so fondly remembered and the animated show and toys being such a hit – naturally, Columbia Pictures began to think of creating a sequel. After the original movie, Murray had taken something of a hiatus from acting which ended in 1988 when he made Scrooged (coincindentally another supernatural comedy set in New York). This coupled with the general reluctance of the filmmakers meant that it finally took five years for the movie to come to fruition.
Not So Fast, Dead Head
Ghostbusters II hit cinema screens in June of 1989. Only this time around it was not the runaway success everyone was expecting. The original core cast returned as well as producer/director Reitman. Aykroyd and Ramis once again delivered the script.
Whilst being somewhat successful at the box office it was not a world-conquering blockbuster like the original. It was released during a year that was very sequel heavy. Its competition included movies like Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, Back To The Future Part II, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and License To Kill, and even THEY didn’t stand a chance against Batman.
Ghostbusters II was almost lost in the melee.
Then there were the negative reviews. The story is really a rehashing of the original. The boys have gone out of business but are called into action once again when Dana Barrett is threatened by a supernatural force that is also targeting her baby son. There is a talking painting, a river of slime under New York – hardly inspiring stuff.
Murray, Ramis and Aykroyd seem to be just going through the motions and almost every narrative beat of the original film is repeated.
Not only that, the more adult humour was toned down to something a bit more kid-friendly. A decision no doubt spurred on from the success of the cartoon. It does have its fans though. Its defenders say it works as a great feel-good story and has a message about everyone needing to come together and be nice to defeat evil.
Fair enough. But in the original movie, there is a scene where the Ghostbusters arrive to take care of the threat to the world. New Yorkers are cheering for our heroes and Venkman goes to work the crowd. It is a perfect little scene that really adds to the pure magic of that film. It is probably only a couple of minutes long, yet just that little moment alone generates more feels than the entirety of the sequel.
Also, the sequel contradicts the events of the animated show. In the show, the gang’s adventures continued, but the sequel tells us that they went out of business as soon as the original movie ended and were sued. It was a slap in the face.
It is a film that wants to have its cake and eat it. It wanted to utilise what was popular about the animated show. More cartoony ghosts. The Slimer character. The more family-friendly humour.
At the same time though, it told a story that completely ignored the narrative. I can remember distinctly noticing that as a kid.
After the muted reception and Murray’s vocal dissatisfaction with the second film – everything went quiet on the Ghostbusters front for a few years.
Murray would not sign up for any of Aykroyd’s proposals for a third movie. He also had a major falling out with Ramis on the set of Groundhog Day. Murray and Ramis did not speak for 20 years and only made up on Ramis’ death bed shortly before Ramis tragically passed away in February 2014.
The cast did lend their voices to Ghostbusters: The Video Game. The game was released across multiple platforms in June 2009. The game essentially functioned as the third movie with a new story set two years after the end of Ghostbusters II. Along with the returning cast, iconic monsters like Stay Puft and Slimer returned along with samples of Bernstein’s original score.
It was a hit amongst fans and gamers in general. It is a fun game and a thrill to hear the actors back in the roles. Even if it is obvious at times that each one’s dialogue was recorded separately.
Despite returning to voice the game, Murray still expressed reluctance at a third movie. So, in 2016 Columbia Pictures decided to reboot the franchise with Ghostbusters: Answer The Call.
A Crime Against Cinema
Although the original cast returning for quick cameos – the film focused on new characters and a new story that had nothing to do with the original. Kristina Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones were cast as a new quartet of paranormal exterminators. The film was directed by Paul Feig.
Many fans were against the movie and stated that they refused to see it. An opinion shared by some prominent film critics. This however resulted in controversy as the remarks were (mistakenly) construed to be sexist. When these accusations were levelled – they did not go down very well.
This general bad feeling arguably had a negative effect, and the movie was a disappointment at the box office, even though some critic reviews were kinder than expected.
It looked like the end for Ghostbusters. Until in January 2019, some MAJOR news broke.
Life After Death
Ivan Reitman’s son, Jason Reitman had started his career in film with a quick cameo in Ghostbusters II as an obnoxious kid who insults Ray and Winston at a birthday party.
He grew up to become an acclaimed filmmaker in his own right with films such as Juno, Thank You For Smoking and Up In The Air. He started 2019 by revealing to the world that he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps and make a new Ghostbusters film.
So, what do we know about this film? We know that it stars Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, and Paul Rudd.
We know that it is about a divorced woman who takes her two kids to live in a house she inherited from her deceased father— a house in rural Oklahoma where some crazy supernatural stuff seems to be going on.
In the house, the kids Pheobe and Trevor find some hidden equipment that belonged to their mysterious grandfather. They also find uniforms with the name tag reading “Spengler”.
We also know that Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver AND Bill Murray are returning.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife originally had a release date of July 2020 but due to the pandemic it is now expected to drop in November 2021. With its hip young cast and an acclaimed filmmaker at the helm could it finally be the film to bring the franchise back for a new generation of fans? Does the future look bright for Ghostbusters?
Check out our previous retro review of Ghostbusters here.
Spoiler news for Ghostbusters: Afterlife? Maybe.
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