UNFAIR COMPARE: Ghostbusters (1984) vs. Ghostbusters (2016)
I know, I know, I’m a bit late to the party here, but I’ve been busy.
But! I finally got around to seeing the new Ghostbusters, and given how I haven’t quite finished the book I’ve been reading (again, busy), here’s another installment of UNFAIR COMPARE!
As far as premises go, Ghostbusters has pretty much everything a kid could want. There’s a quartet of quick-witted heroes (which usually means there’s enough roles for everyone to play when the neighborhood kids get together) who blast gnarly monsters with lasers, drive around in a cool car, and they live in a firehouse.
True story, in second grade, some class project from the second grade, everyone in my class had to draw themselves as ‘what they wanted to be when they grew up.’ So you had firemen and police and astronauts and such … and I drew myself as a ghostbuster. Which, sadly, isn’t a career I’ve pursued, so let’s hear it for abandoned dreams.
Add in the copious amounts of slime and a super catchy theme song, it’s no wonder Ghostbusters has taken off as a franchise.
I’m using that video in particular for a reason. See, when I was a kid, my knowledge of ghost-busting came more from the cartoon, rather than the movie. Oh, I’d seen the movie, and there’s still probably a battered VHS tape bouncing around somewhere in my parents’ basement … but I still can’t help but feel I’m coming at this from a different angle than some other folks.
See, when the internetosphere started making a stink over how their childhood was being ruined in the name of ‘diversity,’ I couldn’t help but think ‘you know, this has been done before.’
Yep, Extreme Ghostbusters, from 1997. It’s more or less forgotten (or people try to forget it) as far as the Ghostbusters ‘canon’ goes– I never really watched it as a kid, but I vaguely recall liking the idea, if not the character design. Also, does it make me an asshole if I wonder if ghostbusting might not be the most wheelchair-friendly of careers?
But! I’m not here to compare a cartoon to a cartoon. Rather, let’s go movie to movie. At a glance, the reboot Ghostbusters is pretty similar to the original. You’ve got a handful of mad-scientist oddballs driving around in a cool car and blasting gnarly monsters with lasers. Also, slime. There’s even the obligatory ‘villain takes the form of a kaiju-sized ghost’ at the end. Fair enough. At least it’s not quite as call-backy as The Force Awakens was.
Apart from these parallels to the original, the new Ghostbusters has a different feel than the original. Basically, it feels a lot ‘cleaner,’ more Hollywoodized. A lot of this is tied into the fact that New York in 1984 was a far different city than New York in 2016. For example, in the original Ghostbusters, they start up shop in an old firehouse that Egon says “should be condemned.” Whereas in the new one, the same firehouse (one of the movie’s many, many callbacks and cameos) is now renting at $21,000 / month.
Alternately, in the original, the Ghostbusters start up as a business– whereas in this new one, mad scientists Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Abby (Melissa McCarthy) start chasing ghosts so they can prove their scientific theories right. Heck, the name ‘Ghostbusters’ isn’t even their idea, instead it’s foisted onto them. It makes for a different dynamic. Also adding to this is that in the original movie and cartoon, it was made a big deal that you had to capture ghosts, and stuff them away in the containment unit. Whereas in this one, Erin & Abby & co. do a lot of blasting the hell out of them instead. I mean, they capture ONE ghost, but most of the rest are blown up into piles of gooey slime.
Though really, the biggest change in from the 1984 movie to the 2016 one is the source of the ghosts. Sure, both movies have people explicitly trying to bring about Armageddon, but in the original, this plan was hatched long ago, and is only now coming to fruition. The ghosts are almost a force of nature, one that can only be dealt with through paying the right people (kind of like calling in the exterminators). Whereas in the new flick, the film has an explicit villain– a misanthropic basement-dwelling weirdo who’s unabashedly a dig at the kind of misanthropic basement weirdos who have said their childhoods are ruined by this movie. And then, when you consider that in the original, the awkward nerdy weirdo is just a victim in the whole ‘armageddon’ thing (though he does have freaky monster sex with Sigourney Weaver), there’s a lot of gender analysis stuff to unpack. Which is cool!
So yeah, with all of the hand-wringing and side-picking that’s been done over the new Ghostbusters, it’s easy to get lumped in with one group or another. Because, to be honest, this new Ghostbusters isn’t without its flaws. There’s the whole ‘awkwardly clean Manhattan’ thing, for one (which also came up in the TMNT reboot).
Secondly, the humor in the new Ghostbusters is a bit … broad. Wiig, McCarthy, Jones, and McKennon are all great in their roles. But some of the gags just come off as a bit cartoony, and fall flat as a result. Then again, it’s really hard to go up against the likes of Bill Murray, so that’s putting the ‘unfair’ in the title here.
The cheesy gags peter off in the second half of the movie, when the ghost-busting really gets into swing. And one thing the reboot unarguably has over its predecessor is the fact that it looks better. Don’t get me wrong, the original Ghostbusters had great special effects … for the time. Really, the biggest surprise the new Ghostbusters had for me was the fact it did the 3D so well. Ghosts and proton beams and slime-vomit is thrown at the audience– not continually, but still well enough to make the sequences really ‘pop.’ It’s worth dropping the extra few bucks for the 3D verison. Honestly, the only thing I’ll really get fanboy-cranky about is that the various re-mixes of the original Ghostbusters theme pale in comparison to the original Ray Parker Jr.
Ultimately, I’d say that the 1984 Ghostbusters has the stronger first half, where the 2016 version has the better second half and finale. All and all, it’s a fun, explodey summer adventure, and well worth seeing on the big screen. And heck, if this movie means a bunch of little girls tell their teachers they wanna be ghostbusters when they grow up? Even better.
Really, I just wanna see a cartoon based on the new Ghostbusters movie. Put Lauren Faust in charge, and you’d be printing money, I tell you.