GB1Do we really need another Ghostbusters movie?

No. Not really.

I was there in June of 1984. I saw the film four or five times that summer. That was a time when being a “geek” or “nerd” didn’t mean you were part of a popular marketing target. It meant that you were going to get your ass beat on a weekly basis, harassed and – if lucky – spend your lunch by yourself at a table.

Besides being a cool movie, Ghostbusters was the first movie I saw where the oddballs were the heroes. Their eccentricities and strange interests weren’t written to be mocked. These guys were fine with who they were. Even in conflict, they were never ashamed of who they were or what they did for a living. And they were a team. Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddemore each had a different background and motive for doing what they did. But they were friends and a team. That perfect combination meant they could do anything. Screw the mundanes and their ungrateful yuppie larvae.

That spoke to me. They did what they wanted, saved the world and got the girl. Well, Venkman got the girl but that’s because he’s Bill Murray. Bill Murray is The Man.

bookI still have my beat-up copy of “ESP, Hauntings, and Poltergeists” by Loyd Auerbach. I bought it back in the mid 80s when I wanted to become a parapsychologist. I didn’t want to be a scientist of course; I was just in it to meet girls. And save the world from the inevitable supernatural invasion.  I held onto that book through college when I became my own man apart from that miserable experience of being an outcast.   Accepting my own weirdness went a long way toward feeling confident and well-adjusted as a writer.

So you can understand that this franchise is important to me.   I just don’t think a movie is worth our interest or Sony’s money.

GB2It’s been a quarter of a century since the last movie. When we talk about the future of the franchise, most people who care about such things seem to believe that it rests in the next 2-hour, $100 million feature film. I think that’s short sighted.

Sony and the creative team behind the original film missed a great opportunity to generate a new audience by not developing a live-action series. Ghostbusters 2 was not a terrible film, but since 1984 the franchise found its greatest creative achievements in The Real Ghostbusters (and to a lesser degree Extreme Ghostbusters) animated series and in Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening’s brilliant run on IDW’s Ghostbusters comic book.   In these examples you’ll find strong stories, character development, respect for the source material, and the courage to expand the known universe of ideas. Unfortunately, cartoons and comic books reach only so far into the potential market.

The Real Ghost BustersGBIDWghostbusters-comic-banner1-600x221Television is no longer Film’s lesser cousin.   Television has given life to film properties for generations.   Yes, it used to be true that to have a truly important television series was to say that a film was based on it. But how often have films failed to capture the essence of what made television show (or comic book series, video game, etc.) great?   There used to be a time when television meant dumbing down the writing to reach the largest audience possible, but that has become part of making the summer blockbuster. Television has the time to tell good stories and build an audience.

Ghostbusters is a story that showcases special effects, but shines where it comes to character interplay and the struggle of a bunch of guys to build something that ends up saving the world. This is the kind of storytelling that makes successful shows like Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Agents of SHIELD, even going back to shows like M*A*S*H, In the Heat of the Night, Alice, and The Odd Couple. If Sony had changed direction at some point in the last ten years perhaps there would be no need to reboot the franchise. But in my mind, a series is still a viable and potentially profitable idea for Sony.

But Sony wants a movie.   Sigh. Okay.   What’s on the table this time?

The latest in a long list of “confirmed” development deals, Paul Feig rebooting the universe with an all-female (or predominantly female) cast.   Philosophically, I don’t have a problem with this.   What’s more important is the story that’s told. Until we see a story, all we have is a gimmick designed to keep us talking.

It’s also a reboot, which is Hollywood’s way of cashing in on the iconic elements to secure marketing recognition while appealing to the widest mainstream audience possible by changing everything that made the franchise unique.   (See: Star Trek)   Thus, Feig’s plan presents a challenge from a studio perspective.

Can an all-female cast carry a summer blockbuster aimed as an international audience to the level of profitability required by a studio making a $100 million investment? Does Sony have the ability to successfully market such a film? Will they have the intestinal fortitude to even try? Or will this movie end up with a $50 million budget and end up as a Christmas offering with “girl power” marketing? I would like to say that all these questions involve creative, courageous advocates marketing to an audience willing to devour such a film. I would like to look back and see I’m wrong, but I don’t think we live in that kind of world yet.

So here we are.  Sony wants a movie.  Checks will be written.  Things will happen.  Will everyone live happily ever after?  Not based on this, no.  But then, this is about commerce, not art.