Yesterday, director Paul Feig gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly in which he explained—not a little defensively—his plans to reboot Ghostbusters with an entirely new, all-female cast and no connection to the films that came before. It definitely won’t be the last such interview. In the eight years that I’ve been covering entertainment news for this site, nothing—not the threat of new Star Wars or Batman, not any of the countless remakes or reboots we cover daily—has produced more ire than the specter of another Ghostbusters, much of it coming directly from me. And Feig understands better than anyone, with the possible exception of J.J. Abrams, that he has a long road ahead of convincing people like me of his intentions—or, at least, calming us down—as he proceeds through these next, difficult steps. He may as well have told us he’s marrying all of our mothers.
Like many of my generation, Ghostbusters isn’t just a movie for me; it’s in my DNA. The year it was released on video was the same year my parents divorced, and the same year I was skipped ahead out of second grade, uprooting me from everything I’ve ever known. And in that tumultuous, friendless time, Ghostbusters was always there. As I wore that VHS into a tracking line-filled mess, Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler (sorry, Winston) became like foster fathers to me. Recognizing in them kindred, nerdy outsiders, I absorbed bits of their personalities as my own: Venkman’s almost sociopathic inability to take any situation seriously; Ray’s goofy enthusiasm for things no one else cares about; Egon’s dry, deadpan detachment. Even now, they are a part of me, as real as any family. And just like family, the last thing I want is to watch them get old and die.
Amid the uproar over an all-female reboot, it’s easy to forget that, for more than two decades now, that’s been the threat of any new Ghostbusters movie. Back in 2010, Dan Aykroyd—the black heart of the Ghostbusters 3 movement, ladies and gentlemen—kicked off four years of existential dread by saying he wanted to make a movie that would find the Ghostbusters handing it off to a younger generation, due to their own advanced decrepitude. “My character’s eyesight is shot, I got a bad knee, a bad hip—I can’t drive that caddy anymore or lift that Psychotron Accelerator anymore, it’s too heavy,” Aykroyd said of these plans to check in on our beloved heroes to see how age had rendered them feeble as horses waiting to be put down. Hey, fantastic. As long as I’m being reunited with the things I loved to see how time has utterly destroyed them, why don’t we dig up my childhood pets?
We’ve watched as Aykroyd’s passion has turned to zealotry, as steadfast as his belief that space aliens are angry about 9/11 and that we should arrest them—and equally as grounded in reality. After Bill Murray made it clear he’s about as eager to make a third Ghostbusters as he is a third Garfield, Aykroyd insisted, well, they could just do it without him. After the death of Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman distancing himself, Aykroyd remained determined. Hell, even Rick Moranis and Ernie Hudson expressed their doubts that another one should or even could be made, and yet Aykroyd has always remained undeterred, musing aloud about dream casts to anyone who will listen. One imagines he spends his nights whispering plot details to his bottles of Crystal Skull, taking their rictus grins as signs of encouragement.
And that’s the sad reality: Another Ghostbusters movie is inevitable. Even if Aykroyd had a chilling moment of clarity, perhaps after catching Blues Brothers 2000 on cable, the push to revive it is—even by Aykroyd’s own admission—bigger than any one of them or of us. Ghostbusters is a dormant franchise in an age where such a thing is not allowed, where its parent company Sony rebooted Spider-Man twice in a decade and is ready to do it a third time if need be. No matter how many rejected scripts or surely unnerving meetings with Aykroyd its executives have endured—no matter how many withering blog articles they’ve read condemning the project—no one has come close to pulling the plug entirely. Somehow, “Let’s Just Not Do It” has never been considered as an option. Which is why, while it’s definitely not better than nothing, a total Ghostbusters reboot may be the best possible scenario.
“Ghostbusters is such a great thing and everybody knows it, and it’s such a great world. It’s a shame to just let this thing sit there,” Feig explains to EW. And while one can quibble with whether it would actually be a shame to just leave it alone, the most reassuring thing about Feig’s take is just that. He will let Ghostbusters just sit there, by making a movie that will have almost nothing to do with Ghostbusters.
As Feig explains, his film will take place in a reality where the first two didn’t even happen. It’s a world that hasn’t been witness to the comings of Gozer or Vigo The Carpathian, or any other major supernatural events that, 25 years later, would have rendered the act of busting ghosts as commonplace as catching mice. The Ghostbusters team we know and love aren’t old men robbed of their powers and charm; in fact, they don’t even exist. Feig adds that, if any of the cast members do want to return, he would welcome them, but “it would just be in different roles now”—an edict I’m guessing could prove difficult to stick to, should Murray come sniffing around. But for now, all that remains is the basic Ghostbusters premise of friends trying to launch a business in which they investigate the dubious existence of paranormal phenomena. That and the name.
Granted, the mere fact that it will be called Ghostbusters will still be enough for some to hate it on principle. (That is, provided it is called Ghostbusters, and Sony and Feig resist the urge to make some girly, ExpendaBelles-like play on the name. Ghostbusterettes. Ghost-Besties. I’ll stop now.) But as someone who feels as protective toward the Ghostbusters name as he does his own, I’m far less concerned about the title than I am the story and characters it represents. And for me, I’m reassured by Feig’s strategy, which actually secures the Ghostbusters legacy: It closes the book that Aykroyd has been trying to force upon for decades now. Then it takes that book away from him.
“I love the first one so much I don’t want to do anything to ruin the memory of that,” Feig swears to EW. And by not trying to add something new to those memories, he’s doing everything he can to ensure he won’t. This new movie may be called Ghostbusters, but it doesn’t force you to recognize it as Ghostbusters. In fact, knowing that it has nothing to do with the original Ghostbusters means you are free to ignore it if you want. No one has to check in out of love turned into grumbling obligation. No one has to update the Ghostbusters Wiki with what these characters are doing a quarter-century later. No one has to gaze upon baby Oscar, now a grown man learning the family business, and confront their own mortality. Feig’s plan seals the original, “actual” Ghostbusters story away safely in our memories, where it can’t be unleashed by some dickless interloper demanding that the containment system be shut down.
Of course, as Feig himself acknowledges, this means the new Ghostbusters story he’s co-writing with The Heat’s Katie Dippold will have to be judged entirely on its own merits. And again, for some, those merits are already in doubt, based solely on the idea that casting all women is a “gimmick”—as though Feig were, say, suggesting making Bugsy Malone with all children, or having monkeys reenact the Civil War. It’s an idea that Feig deftly refutes, saying, “When people accuse it of being a gimmick I go, why is a movie starring women considered a gimmick and a movie starring men is just a normal movie?”
(Further to that point, why is a movie starring Saturday Night Live and SCTV members chasing ghosts not considered a gimmick? How is Aykroyd’s original idea to cast himself and John Belushi—the Blues Brothers themselves—in an update of an old Bowery Boys comedy not a gimmick? When it comes right down to it, Ghostbusters is a franchise steeped in “gimmicks,” and I say that with love.)
Still, I understand those reservations. The Heat was only fitfully funny, and if you’re not a fan of that film, or of Bridesmaids, it’s easy to imagine a worst-case scenario in which Ghostbusters is another vehicle for Melissa McCarthy’s physical comedy shtick, or that it will, say, end with a scene of the Ghostbusters bonding while lip-syncing to En Vogue. But at least Feig has his own comedy voice (whether you like that voice or not)—and unlike everyone else who’s taken a stab at Ghostbusters 3 over the past decade, he’s not trying to graft that voice onto a world that already exists. Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters will be Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, not the Ghostbusters we’ve so fiercely protected. And after living so long under the dark cloud of an official continuation, and with the threat of bearing live witness to the Ghostbusters’ entropy, that’s honestly the best I could hope for.
“At the end of the day, all we want to make is a great movie and people are going to attach a lot of energy to either being nervous about this or being excited about it,” Feig says. “And all Katie and I and the rest of the team, who we slowly assemble, can do is just make a great movie that’s super funny, that’s scary, that’s real, that has great characters that people identify with and want to see in these situations. It’s a world that they’ve experienced before in the old ones, but the hope is the minute they sit down they’ll go, ‘I love the old one, oh my God, I’m loving this new one.’”
Pitting that cautious optimism against all the negative energy that’s been flowing under this project, like so much mood slime, may prove as outlandish a plan as it was in Ghostbusters II—just to name the most obvious example of why revisiting Ghostbusters will never satisfy everyone. And yes, it would be great if there were no new Ghostbusters of any sort. It would be awesome if Feig would apply his talents toward making another, original comedy, rather than putting them in service of warmed-over nostalgia.
It would be ideal if we didn’t live in a world where studios are so brazenly calculating about exploiting our fondest pop culture memories, rather than taking the risk involved in creating new ones. It would be cool if every single day didn’t bring fresh evidence that the demand for “franchises” has reduced filmmaking to branding. And it’d be nice not to even have to even consider “scenarios” for another Ghostbusters, and decide which one is the lesser of so many evils.
But if we must choose the form of our Destructor, then okay, Paul Feig. I’m ready to believe you.