Thursday, July 14, 2016

Riske Business: Is Ghostbusters II Really a Bad Movie?

by Adam Riske
Yes and no.

Ghostbusters II doesn’t work. It’s a major step down from the first, which is a beloved classic. I still think Ghostbusters II occasionally has moments – a line delivery from Bill Murray here, a good special effects sequence there. The performances are enthusiastic enough. Despite no one really wanting to make this movie (if reports can be believed, Columbia Pictures basically strong-armed the creative team to make a sequel to the hit 1984 original Ghostbusters) the players are game and no one seems like they’re completely phoning it in. It’s just a matter of not being able to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. Ghostbusters was intended to be a stand-alone feature and not a franchise. I’m not saying they did the best they could (because if they did the movie would be more successful) but Ghostbusters II is not an atrocity, which is how most remember the movie to be.
The sad part in all of this is that if Ghostbusters II were released this summer instead of the summer of 1989, it would be probably be considered one of the better sequels of the season. This is how far we’ve fallen. On the podcast-a-thon last Saturday we briefly discussed why summer movies are so much worse now than they were circa 1990. I gave this some thought and I think it has to do with a gradual shift in what audiences consider entertainment. In 1989, Hollywood films were built on a foundation of directors, writers and, most specifically, actors. Nowadays it’s the “below-the-line” talent that is most authorial for the majority of summer blockbusters, whether it be visual effects teams or art departments. We’ve transitioned to this place in film history, I think, because we’re in a society of instant gratification -- i.e. we need spectacle during every frame. Or at least we (and studios) think we do. The heartening aspect of all of this is there seems to be an impulse in most moviegoers to really gravitate to summer blockbusters that are based on character (think Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory or The Conjuring 2) over ones that are about spectacle (Alice Through the Looking Glass, Warcraft, Independence Day: Resurgence). It’s like our sixth sense is telling us that something’s off.

So where does that leave us for Ghostbusters (2016)? I’m 50/50 on this one. I want the new Ghostbusters to be good for a number of reasons creatively (most of which are obvious like shutting up sexist haters and “Yeah! A good movie!”) but I also want it to fail commercially and here’s why. The new Ghostbusters has a reported budget of $140+ million, which is $100M+ more than either of the two previous Ghostbusters films. If the new one flops, that will be just another piece of evidence for studios to cut budgets and stop giving us special effects extravaganzas on a weekly basis. As much as the visual effects in Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II hold up (which they do for the most part), the real special effects in these films are its cast and writing. That’s not a knock on Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig and Paul Feig, who are all very talented in their own right, but I fear with a huge budget they’re going to be at odds with the special effects. Which will take over? Which will win out? I fear the latter.
Our filmgoing culture is dying in front of our eyes in many ways. Independents are mishandled more than ever (preventing many of them from really breaking out) and big-budget tentpoles are being made based on awareness instead of demand. I don’t get why the studios don’t understand that what they’re doing with sequelizing, rebooting and remaking popular existing films is toxic for their long-term health. Say you run the gamut of refurbishing all of your big franchises (e.g a Star Wars or a Jurassic Park show diminishing returns) then what is Hollywood going to sequelize, reboot or remake next? They have barely any new properties that anyone likes from 2010 to 2016 because they’ve wasted so much money and resources on trying to recreate successes of the past. And that is when the blockbuster model will die. What will happen then? Does film go back to the pre-blockbuster era before Jaws and become auteur cinema again? Probably not. I honestly don’t know where it will go. The writing is on the wall. The sky is falling. Make original content again! Refresh the star system again! That’s how you save the film industry.

I’m not sure how I got here from “Is Ghostbusters II really a bad movie?” but that’s the magic of writing sometimes. What do you all think?

22 comments:

  1. Yes Ghostbusters II is a bad movie in that I never have any desire to go back and revisit it. I just finished watching the new one but I'll refrain from commenting until the weekend open thread.

    As for why blockbusters are bad? I almost can't blame the studios since they're just giving customers what they apparently want. People are dropping enough cash to go watch Transformer movies that 5 is on the way and 6 and 7 are already greenlit.

    There's also going to be more and more catering to the international market to the point where studios are going to be working hard at trying to make their movies appeal to everybody. The best any of us can do is to continue to support the filmmakers and projects we like.

    To be a little optimistic though, it's also true that the release schedule is getting spread out more and movies like Deadpool or Zootopia are getting released in February and March whereas they previously might have gotten shoved into the Summer. Next February we get John Wick: Chapter Two, Lego Batman, and The Dark Tower. Not everything has to be released in May-August or December now, and that at least is a good thing.

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    1. You raise some interesting points, especially your last paragraph. I just hope that if we're not cramming every tentpole into the summer now that it will mean some diversification of content. I feel like we are getting the same movies every week i.e. sequels/reboots/superheroes or kids movies.

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  2. Looking back, the scene at the beginning with Ray and Winston at the kid's birthday party is weird in that the kids are annoyed that He-Man hasn't showed up. How in 1988-89 was He-Man so popular? The cartoon and successful toys had long been cancelled and the Canon Films adaptation was a bomb and hadn't become a cult classic. Did Ackroyd and Ramis have an axe to grind and put He-Man in as a joke?

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    1. FROM IMDB:
      The mention of He-Man early on in the film is fact-based humor: Filmation, the animation studio responsible for Ghostbusters (the series with Jake Kong, Eddie Spencer, and Tracy the gorilla) as well as Masters of the Universe, went defunct in 1989, the same year this film was released.

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    2. TBT: In 1986 I worked at a daycare center and the children LOVED He-Man, Skeletor, etc. One quote I remember fondly is a little girl saying to a little boy, "okay, I'll be the mommy She-Ra, and you be the daddy She-Ra." It makes perfect sense to me that 1986's He-Man-loving 5-year-olds would be 1988's He-Man-loving 7-year-olds.

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  3. I know this is a movie site, but it seems to me a tad disingenuous to repeatedly and largely exclusively bemoan the death of Hollywood/studio creativity because movies are increasingly made for bigger international audiences and teenagers, and in so doing imply via omission that TV isn't also Hollywood/studio product. I wasn't old enough to watch 80s or 90s TV (apart from Star Trek, of course), but wasn't most of it pretty blah, and wouldn't most of it be nigh-unwatchable today? Whereas who among us can keep up with the great TV series of today, not to mention movies?

    I'm not saying you guys are wrong to be frustrated with the state of movies, or that you're wrong to not be F This Movie and/or Television Series!, but with streaming and on-demand and Netflix disc options, it's much easier to watch something great now than it was twenty years ago, no? For under a grand, one can now buy a kick-ass digital projector and bring the magic of movies (and TV) to one's living room or back yard, programming one's own slate of high definition, original aspect ratio entertainment from every corner of film history and world screen culture for family and friends.

    Seems to me, then, that film culture isn't "dying", but rather evolving. (There's plenty enough unvarnished bad news in the planetary environment department that I hardly think a balanced perspective on entertainment is amiss.) We're all safe (I hope) and alive! It's summer! Why not embrace the positive? :)

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I think we just disagree on the state of film culture (specifically blockbuster culture) at large. I don't think my article is disingenuous. It's an op-ed, not a news article. I'm all for embracing the positive (see my last two articles focusing on toys e.g.) but sometimes I want to offer constructive criticism too. It shouldn't be one or the other.

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    2. I didn't intend to single this article/you out; I was responding to what often feels to me like a somewhat cranky tone to the site at large. And I don't mean that as a personal criticism of/attack on you or the others; it's just my sense of things, and that sense could well be wrong. Maybe I'm unreasonably defensive of the status quo (being, I freely admit, one of those who totally enjoyed both Jurassic World and X-Men: Apocalypse, and considers Iron Man 2 a superb multi-plot thread juggling act as well as a splendid stand-alone flick). I totally understand why today's franchise-saturated, CG-heavy blockbuster movie landscape rubs many the wrong way, and I'm not saying they're wrong to protest, and I'm also maybe hyper-sensitive to the allure of nostalgia. But I don't think The Movies are on a path to extinction just because we're getting lots of franchise/movies, either. As Ian Malcolm might say, "Entertainment... finds a way."

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    3. You're not wrong, El Gaith, but it really depends on what matters most to you I suppose. I agree that we're in a (new?) Golden Age of Television and that's wonderful, but I think it's fair for "Movie Lovers" especially those that value the theatrical experience (which cannot truly be replicated at home regardless of equipment), to bemoan the current state of mainstream cinema and fear for its future. I'd like to think we're in a state of flux while the industry truly figures out piracy/VOD/Netflix/etc (I don't think the industry has ever needed to adapt to so many different changes so quickly before) and that ORIGINAL, story/character-driven movies will find their way back on top of the mainstream, but it's hard to feel confident about it.

      Sometimes part of loving something is wanting it to be better.

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    4. We're in the middle of a particularly bad summer so I think it's natural to focus on the negative. We got some good movies earlier on in the year and there's also always going to be good stuff in limited release that maybe we miss theatrically but then end up coming back to later. I think in hindsight you can usually go through a list of movies that came out in any given year and see a ton of stuff that you really liked.

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    5. I kind of love 90s TV. Quantum Leap? Lois and Clark? Love it!

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  4. But X-Men Apocalypse is so not good! I want to be PC and say the world is a rainbow but if we're already cranky, why not just embrace being Mr. Glass on this one? Blockbusters are SO BAD right now El Gaith. I mean, c'mon, man. They're so bad! Just because they're for global audiences and teenagers doesn't mean they can't be good movies for global audiences and teenagers.

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    1. Two of my favorite film critics of today (David Edelstein and Mick Lasalle) quite liked X-M:A. But even if I shared your gloomy outlook on big movies, and I don't, I'd rather live in the now, with all our home entertainment options past and present, than twenty or thirty years ago. Maybe partly because I'm a homebody who'd rather save his going-out energies for parks and nature than movie theaters, for which I feel respect and some affection, but not profound or wild love.

      Onwards and upwards! Optimism! :)

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    2. I've also found this a weak summer. But then, this summer gave me Civil War, The Shallows and The Nice Guys, so I can't complain too much. I think if a person only watched new movies in the theater then he/she would be far more likely to feel gloomy about movies. I've been going through a lot of 80s/90s Action and cannon films at home so I've been quite happy.

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    3. When I watch Superhero movies I notice how costuming is so important, because they kind of all look the same - like they're made of spandex, plastic or metal/shiny material, and in a lot of primary colors. And lately the aesthetics are really black and gritty. I would just be interested in seeing a different take on all the aesthetic aspects of these superhero movies.

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  5. My main thing about Ghostbusters II is that it's flawed by enjoyable. Beat for beat, it's too similar to the original and the premise that the team had to be reset to nothing so they could be re-established hurts the quality. And then you have the independent issue that comedy sequels almost never work (which, I suppose, feeds back into how beats are repeated from the original, the flaw in MOST comedy sequels).

    But, and maybe it's the fact that I was a kid in 1989 and was so excited to see this movie and I loved all things GB thanks to a worn out VHS copy and the Real Ghostbusters, I love that cast doing Ghostbuster things. There's something that is so intensely satisfying, at least to me, seeing those guys together. It is not a great movie, by any stretch. But I don't know if you could have made a great GBII without doing a complete 90° turn, like Dante did with Gremlins 2.

    That being said, I'm so glad there was never a GBIII. Bill Murray and his reluctance to do non-Garfield sequels saved us all. Ultimately, I really never understood why there's so much antipathy towards GBII. It doesn't ruin either the original masterpiece or much childhood, much like the new GB won't (which I've not seen yet, but will at some point soon).

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    1. I think I agree with everything you said here.

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  6. Everyone loves it when folks come together and share ideas. Great blog, stick with it!|

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