It was 1984. Indy was exploring temples of doom, Beverly Hills cops received lessons in diversification, Nightmares on Elm Street were prevalent, Arnold, one of Fonz's friends, taught a kid Karate, feets were loose, a Schwarzenegger-looking robot went on a Sarah-killing spree, and a neverending story was told.
On my 13" television I saw a fuzzy commercial about a ghost movie. All I saw was electricity that transformed a woman into a satanic looking dog. "Nope. Ain't seeing that," I said to myself. Ghost movies weren't my thing because I scare easily. Even Gremlins freaked me out, despite Gizmo's cuteness.
"Hey, for my birthday," my best friend said, "we're gonna see Ghostbusters."
My mind flickered to the satanic dog. "Isn't that scary?"
My friend shrugged his shoulders. "Probably."
Being the good friend that I had been, I went with him and a slew of other brave kids and sat in the movie theater that seemed darker than usual.
The silver screen lit up, showing the main branch of the New York public library. A lone librarian strolled down a narrow hall of shelves, putting books away. As the old lady passed the card catalog, one by one, they slowly slid open. The cards flew upward like a geyser, chasing the frightened woman away. Then we see her scream from flashes of bright light. And I forgot how dark the theater was.
I saw Ghostbusters five times in the theater. Of course in the theater. There was no other way of watching movies until it came out on VHS. And no, I'm not talking about VHS the movie.
Ghostbusters became one of those 80's movies that helped define my childhood. I ran around with my friend, wearing an empty backpack, holding a small branch, chasing ghosts in a field where I used to live.
Over thirty years later, the remake has made it to the theaters. When I first heard that the four main characters would be all women, I was perturbed because the whole thing felt very heavy-handed, but I didn't put much thought into it. Apparently there was a massive movement against the all female cast. There were rumors that Sony deleted mysogynistic comments about the new movie from their site. And a Roger Ebert reviewer said that Sony could have put more effort in making a better movie than removing those comments.
And I have to agree.
As a storyteller, I'm always itching to find out why certain stories work and why others don't. It was difficult for me not to compare the remake to the original. But in this case we should from a comedic perspective.
In the original, the comedy emanates from the situation the characters are in.
In the remake it feels like the cast is playing to the audience. When that happens, we're taken out of the story because we're forced to watch them 'talk' to us rather than enjoy what's going on in the scene.
An example from the original:
We're introduced to the first Ghostbuster, Dr. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray. He sits behind a desk in front of a contraption with a few flip switches. Facing him are two students, a female and a male, who have volunteered to test their psychic ability. Venkman holds up a card without revealing the face, a star.
The male student puts his fingers on his temple and thinks. Nodding, he says, "Square."
Venkman flips the card over, revealing the star, and says, "Good guess, but wrong." He flips a switch and shocks the student with a blip of electricity.
The good doctor looks at the female student, a slight smile crosses his lips, and pulls another card. "Tell me what you think it is."
She thinks for a moment. "Is it a star?"
The male student snickers. I would too. We just saw a star!
"It is a star," Venkman says, putting down the card without revealing what it truly was.
The male student looks at the card, looks at the girl, and can't believe what just happened.
The rest of the scene is more of that, and it's funny because the intention of Peter is completely understood without telling us. Not only that, he's destroying the results of his own study for the purpose of getting some ass. And the male student finally blowing up at the doctor at the end of the scene is its climax (good structure), giving the comedy punch. None of this is played for the audience. There are several layers at work that it messes with our minds, making us laugh.
Back to the remake. It seemed that a lot of the comedy is forced. I think part of it is because they tried to redo some of the original stuff. When the first three lady Ghostbusters encounter their first ghost, Kristen Wiig's character, Erin Gilbert, goes to talk to it like Venkman did with the original casts' first ghost. The class 4 entity throws up on her, covering her in more slime than Venkman ever had to suffer. It's not funny because it's not a new take on the paranormal. And much of the remake is filled with playing to the audience rather than creating situations that are funny.
The only character that seemed to be in the moment is Kate McKinnon's character, Holtzmann. Her wacky spectacles helped, but often she just sat there in her scenes and let them be funny rather than working so hard for the comedy.
I think a lot of remakes don't work because they're trying to reproduce what has worked before, rather than creating something new, a different perspective or take.
If you look at Chris Nolan's Batman, Bruce Wayne is shown as a human being with all of the vulnerabilities of a real person. There was a story arch that stretched over the trilogy, which meant Nolan wrote an origin story, progressing to Batman becoming a symbol, moving to an arthritic hero where its purpose has been fulfilled.
There are layers of storytelling because Nolan uses Batman to tell us something deeper than what we see as the Dark Knight. And that's genius.