Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Looking Back at Ghostbusters

We're inching ever closer to the release of Ghostbusters, this summer's reboot of the 1984 comedy classic. Unfortunately the reboot has already been the subject of mild controversy, with some questioning the decision to recast several male roles with female actors and others calling out the sexism behind that criticism. Furthermore, the trailer set an unwanted record as the "most disliked" film trailer in YouTube history.

If you're like me, however, you probably can't help but be a little bit intrigued by the reboot. That's simply because the original Ghostbusters left such a lasting and generally pleasant impression 32 years ago. If the new film captures any of the same comedic flavor, it'll be worth a watch.

Like a handful of other successful films created by Saturday Night Live cast members and alumni over the years, Ghostbusters began as a sort of pet project for a single comedian. Dan Aykroyd had the idea that he and fellow SNL (and Blues Brothers) star John Belushi could star in a paranormal film about "Ghostsmashers" journeying through time and space to take on various inhuman villains. This was how the original script was designed, and by the sound of things it didn't much resemble the final project. However, a few early seeds were planted.

Naturally, the idea of ghost hunting (whether it's labeled "smashing" or "busting") was preserved, and the story goes that the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man was part of the original script. The Marshmallow Man has since proven to be one of the more enduring characters, arguably the most amusing image from the 1984 film. Driving that point home is its here as the subject for a popular online slot game. The game fills its slot pay lines with icons from the 1984 film and includes shout-outs to numerous characters. However, it's the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man who dominates the cover (and supposedly has a cameo in the reboot). This may actually make him the longest-lasting character in the saga.

Aside from the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man's lingering presence, the script for the 1984 film didn't resemble Aykroyd's original vision too closely. He and writing partner Harold Ramis showed the script to eventual director Ivan Reitman, who helped to spin it into the Ghostbusters story we know and love today. Sadly, Belushi also died before the script was finished, causing a little bit of a casting shake-up and likely further changes to how the story unfolded.

The result, however, makes it hard to imagine the project any differently. With Bill Murray brought on board as Peter Venkman alongside Aykroyd (Ray Stantz) and Ramis (Egon Spengler), an iconic cast came together. And by grounding the idea of paranormal ghost hunters in New York City, the project dropped some of the B-movie flavor that it sounds like Aykroyd's original script might have carried and ended up looking like a distinctly SNL-inspired film.

You probably recall the end result (if you've seen the movie, of course!). After Venkman, Stantz and Spengler put together their private "Ghostbusters" unit, they wander around Manhattan capturing ghosts (or at least one ghost, Slimer) before they're eventually roped into conflict with some larger demons and a god named Gozer who conspire to unleash hundreds of ghosts on the city—leaving the Ghostbusters to clean it all up.

It's an absurd premise, of course, but it made for a delightfully inventive paranormal comedy that took full advantage of the talents of its core cast members. Now the question is whether or not the reboot can capture the same spirit (so to speak). The key advantage it has is that it's still based largely on talent from Saturday Night Live, which in some ways feels like a very similar show to what it was in Aykroyd's time. It's hard to put your finger on just what it is, but there's a certain SNL comedic vibe that lingers no matter who's in the cast, and the hope among fans is that it can also come to the surface in the new Ghostbusters.

It may help matters that Murray is on board, at least for a brief scene. According to this report, the original Ghostbusters veteran agreed to a cameo because he didn't want there to be any impression that he disapproved of the idea of a reboot. He also called the cast "a jolly group," which seems to bode well for on-screen chemistry if nothing else.

Dan Aykroyd probably never imagined that the word "Ghostbusters" would one day represent a legendary brand in film, or that in 2016 we'd be talking about a reboot. But if you plan on seeing the reboot this summer, take another look back at the original. It'll be fascinating to see how similar the two films end up being.

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