Walter Peck Was Not A Baddie – and Other Points About Ghostbusters

This guy didn’t like the new Ghostbusters very much:

On this we disagree – but it’s good to see someone actually sitting down and articulating their reasons for disliking a movie, rather than ‘criticising’ in the way a lot of the Internet did with this one – i.e., via hysteria, abuse and the occasional death threat.

Personally, and bearing in mind in light of the above video that I’ve only seen the theatrical release, I liked this movie. I thought it was entertaining and fun – and no, I probably won’t end up going into the level of detail that a critic might, but that’s because I’m just audience. I don’t have any experience of looking at a movie like a critic does, looking out for those subtleties or comparing each participant’s previous work.

But one thing I can be absolutely clear about: this movie did not in any way affect my perception of the original. It did not spoil my ability to enjoy the original film, and it most certainly did not ‘ruin my childhood’ (the often-used alternative – ‘rape my childhood’ – is so wildly hyperbolic it should be overtaking Voyager 1 about now).

In fact, my appreciation for the 1984 Ghostbusters has increased enormously as I’ve aged and been able to better understand what it was getting at politically speaking. Because, let’s not forget, if GB2016 can be vilified for promoting a political message, it was no more guilty of it than GB1984 was. The libertarian/conservative message of the original is pretty much opposed to my own political leanings (for example, aside from his undeniably being a bit of a dick, I struggle to see Walter Peck the EPA dude as a bad guy: he’s no less trying to protect the city than the GBs are. He loses it at the end because he genuinely believes they, and the mayor, are putting the city at risk).

But in the end, whether you agree with the political Stantz of a movie (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!) doesn’t really matter. I see the libertarian subtext in the original movie, I acknowledge it, disagree with it quietly to myself, and I enjoy the movie for whatever else it offers. And what else it offers is great entertainment. It’s funny, exciting, has great dialogue and some madly quotable lines.

The new one might not be as sharp when it comes to dialogue, although it still has its moments (“Safety lights are for dudes!”), but it’s still fun, and it’s still a great buzz. I would also say that, on balance, the original movie is the better story, and has a greater sense of strangeness – which is something that I value very highly in any story with a ‘paranormal’ element. GB1984 had an eerie, vaguely Lovecraftian ambience that the remake sadly lacked. The idea of Ivo Shandor building a tower as a gateway for an Elder God (kind of) sadly wasn’t reflected in the new film, and honestly I think it lost out for it. Yes, we had the same basic concept, but in the new movie it was spun more as a resentful nerd using modern technology to achieve a similar effect (but sans the Elder God).

To expand on that a little, there was something powerfully unsettling about the original movie’s concept that the literal architect of the modern-day threat was a man who’d died decades before; that the actual threat – Gozer – was a timeless being who’d been waiting there all along. The idea that for the last sixty years the people of New York had been living their lives on top of the gateway, completely unaware of it. That’s a great trope I always get a kick out of in paranormal movies*, and it was sad that it wasn’t really there in GB2016.

In the end, I won’t tell you to go and see this movie if the idea doesn’t appeal to you. I won’t even suggest that you “give it a try, you might like it” – because in the end you know your personal tastes better than me, and I’m not about to push you into potentially wasting your time seeing a movie it turned out, yep, you didn’t like.

Depending on how seriously you take your movies, there’re fair criticisms that might be levelled at GB2016 in terms of its overall quality, its production, its scripting and so on. The review linked above comments that it was inappropriate – an insult – to remake Ghostbusters while three of the four leads are still alive. I think that’s unnecessarily strong, given Hollywood’s current fad for remaking movies. Peter Weller’s still alive, and they remade Robocop. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s still alive, and they remade Total Recall. Whether the remakes were as good as the originals is obviously open to debate.

Honestly this whole argument makes little sense to me because, to me, films are stories, and stories can always be retold. Compare our reaction to a movie remake – we completely lose our shit – to our reaction to a new production of an established play in the theatre. Someone decides to tell Batman’s origin story yet again**, or puts out a new version of Ghostbusters, and the pop culture world goes crazy. We don’t flip out like this whenever someone puts on a new production of Cinderella or Death of a Salesman or Les Misérables – even though the actors who starred in the last one are (hopefully) still with us. That’s because the existence of a new take on a story does not affect the quality, contemporary relevance or message – much less the overall entertainment value – of the original.

So, finally – was it right to remake this film at this time? On balance I’d have to say… yes and no. I don’t think the “some of the original actors are still alive” argument has any merit; but there is a part of me that thinks that the current political climate, in the midst of a resurgence of political dogmatism and hostile sectarianism in the USA and here in Europe, might not have been the best time. Viewed at its most political, this movie wasn’t just a standalone girl-power piece, but – in the context of its predecessor – represents a shifting of the franchise from libertarian conservative to liberal progressive. That’s at the root of a lot of the hostility. It scared and upset a lot of people, hurt a lot of feelings, and it could all have been avoided if the remake had been left unmade until society matures enough to handle political difference without fucking panicking.

On the other hand, another part of me thinks that, for all the above reasons, this was exactly the right time to make this movie – and that’s the reason it’s a shame it wasn’t a better film in its own right.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is not a bad film. I’d go so far as to say it’s a really good film for what it is. I enjoyed it hugely and will be buying the Blu-Ray because I’m old and stuck in a mire of yesterday’s technology. And the new movie has Holtzmann, after all, and… well, *squeak* – Holtzmann. But it’s not the film it should’ve been; and for all the ideological furore it’s caused, it didn’t end up having the weight to have the effect it could have had. And that’s a real shame.

Also, ECTO-1 didn’t have the original awesome siren.

[* It has to be at least remotely plausible, though: 2005’s War of the Worlds – the Spielberg one – fell short on this trope because it didn’t make any reasonable case for why the aliens, dormant underground for millions of years, waited until humans had aircraft, nuclear weapons, lasers, guided ordnance, sophisticated computers and such before mounting their attack.]

[** I swear, from a movie point of view – excluding comic book canon – Batman is really nothing but origin story.]


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