The Mother Brain Files: Be Ready to Believe
By Mother Brain
Christmas is fast approaching this year. I don’t enjoy the holidays like I used to. Part of it has to do with the tough years of getting older and losing loved ones. Another part of it has to do with me not being able to enjoy the day opening presents filled with new toys to play with. Among those favorite toys of my youth were The Real Ghostbusters action figures. I recall watching the cartoon every day in my Grandma’s apartment and reenacting the stories with my figures, the Ecto-1 vehicle, and my fire house playset where you could pour fake slime over the roof. Those were the days I cherish dearly. Yet, I doubt at my age that I’ll be able to enjoy the soon-to-be-filmed Ghostbusters III the same way and my reasons go far deeper than playing with action figures. In this latest piece, I give my own two cents on the long awaited sequel. First, though, I have to look back at my own history with the franchise itself.
The first time I saw Ghostbusters was on VHS sometime between 1987-1988. I used to believe that the cartoon spawned the movie and I didn’t realize it was the other way around until the second movie came out. I remember not watching it all the way through at first. While Bill Murray’s opening scene with the behavioral stimulus test on the two students was comedy gold, I was not only scared shitless by the librarian ghost but I also cried when the Ghostbusters caught Slimer in the hotel. I was one of the many young kids who adored the little green ghost with the big appetite because of his depiction in the Real Ghostbusters cartoon and I didn’t understand why he was evil at first. Only when I watched the first movie thoroughly years later did Ghostbusters become my all-time favorite movie next to Robocop. It was not only a classic sci-fi comedy that featured the best of its comedy geniuses (Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis) but it was also a definitive piece New York-based cinema that captured the essence and the attitude of the Big Apple. Every now and then whenever I watch it on cable, I catch on to a new joke or spot a location I pass by regularly. Also in my youth, the film was my introduction to talents such as Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson, and director Ivan Reitman.
When Ghostbusters II hit cinemas in June 1989, it was a major event in my household. My parents must have cleared Toys ‘R‘ Us for the new line of figures. My cousin and I got new Ghostbusters T-shirts just in time for the release. In the weeks leading up to the release, we got increasingly excited as new trailers and new scenes were being unveiled on Entertainment Tonight. My cousin and I must have recited the dialogue in the courtroom scene everytime we saw each other. We even picked up the soundtrack cassette tape early on and wore it out just for the hot “On Our Own” track by a pre-multiple offending Bobby Brown. In my vivid memories of seeing the sequel at the old UA by the West Shore Expressway on Staten Island, the audience went crazy when the ghosts were caught, when Rick Moranis suited up for the first time, and of course when the Ghostbusters used the Statue of Liberty to smash through the art museum covered in hard pink slime. It was like watching the fight scene at the end of a Rocky movie.
While I still enjoy watching Ghostbusters II for nostalgia today, I can see why it was flawed. Besides its dazzling special effects (especially the Gozer climax) the original film was edgy in its humor. Between Aykroyd having sex with a ghost during the big montage, the ghostly possession of Weaver and Moranis as “Gatekeeper” and “Keymaster” respectively, and Murray telling the Mayor that William Atherton’s character “has no dick,” Ghostbusters was not originally intended as a kids flick. These were raunchy funnymen coming off not only Saturday Night Live but R-rated comedies such as Meatballs, Stripes, Doctor Detroit, Trading Places, and Where the Buffalo Roam just to name a few. Let’s also not forget that the film was originally intended as a two-man vehicle for Aykroyd and the late John Belushi. I feel like the massive success of the cartoon forced the makers of Ghostbusters II to tone down the edgy humor in favor of more family friendly entertainment. In essence, the sequel resembled a live-action adaptation of the cartoon much to the dismay of Bill Murray.
As my generation gravitated towards Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Batman, and various Marvel Comics characters, the Ghostbusters phenomenon lost steam shortly after the release of Ghostbusters II. A missing void was left in my life until 1997 when the animated Extreme Ghostbusters hit small screens. While I initially liked the idea of new characters (and a two-parter where they teamed with the original guys), it just wasn’t the same. I was about to hit high school and Ghostbusters was just fluff to me by then. Will Smith movies (i.e. Independence Day and Men in Black) were the ticket!
Then 1999 rolls around with word of Ghostbusters III finally making movement. I remember listening to Dan Aykroyd on a radio show where he leaked the hell on earth premise with a new, younger group of guys taking over from Murray and company. Rumor has it Chris Farley, Will Smith, and Ben Stiller were up for the new members but Farley died two years earlier, Smith showed no interest, and Stiller was busy; however, I took the news so seriously that I accidentally fooled a fan site into believing that the sequel was already in preproduction when I informed them about the lit no-ghost sign outside the Hook & Ladder Fire House in Manhattan. As it turns out, that light stays on all the time. The same could not be said for Ghostbusters III unfortunately.Despite all the teasing from Aykroyd and co-writer Harold Ramis, too many factors got in the way of getting GB3 produced. Murray (written as a ghostly cameo) and director Reitman had no interest in returning. In Murray’s case, he was still extremely sensitive about the creative failure of the second film and was also having beef with Ramis after conflicts during the production of the comedy classic, Groundhog Day. Columbia Pictures, now owned by Sony, felt the franchise was old news and wanted a Blair Witch Project-knockoff instead. The following decade brought more rumors and teasing with no sign of a new film.
By 2010, things started to move. A new script was turned in by writers from NBC’s The Office and Reitman, following a major box office slump after 1997’s Father’s Day, signed on to direct GB3. Rumors went rampant again about a new cast and every contemporary comedian from Jack Black to Jonah Hill expressed serious interest in joining the new team. Even Daily Show’s John Hodgman was said to have signed on with a summer shooting start date for a 2011 release. Again, however, the studio refused to move forward unless Bill Murray committed to the project. Even for all his teasing (specifically his appearance in the famous jumpsuit and Proton Pack at the Spike TV Scream Awards), Murray could not commit to a script he disliked.
Yet, Murray was willing to commit to an excellent video game where the original cast (minus Weaver and Moranis) reprised their roles in voiceover form with the story based on Aykroyd’s hell on earth premise. The game developers at Atari even set the story in 1991, just two years after GBII. While previous Ghostbuster games suffered because of their terrible gameplay, this one proved to be a lot more fun and much more faithful to the spirit of movies. Should GBIII never come to fruition, I’ll be more than happy to accept this one in its place.
As for the real GBIII, I can’t say that I look forward to it. It’s bad enough the original cast is too old to strap on the Proton Packs and drive a beat-up Ecto-1. It’s also too difficult to find the right combination of actors to get together and recapture lighting in a bottle. Whether its any of the Power Rangers spin-offs, Saved by the Bell: The New Class, or any of the Star Trek continuation shows, it’s very hard to duplicate the chemistry between the characters from the original. Even if the special effects with the ghosts are done better with CGI, they won’t be effective (or as realistic as the makeup and animatronic work of the original films) unless you have the human talent to find the humor in confronting them. Most of all, the long-awaited sequels of the late 70s through early 90s (i.e. Star Wars Episodes I-III, Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Rambo, Live Free or Die Hard, Terminator Salvation, etc.) have been met with critical disappointment not only because they try too hard to please today’s generation of moviegoers but also suffer on a creative level from the long gaps of time since their last franchise entries.So my childhood playtime of watching Real Ghostbusters and playing with the toys afterwords is nothing more than a long distant memory I cherish forever. A time even a new sequel or remake will never fully recapture. Whether we like it or not, the movie will be made by Sony within the next few years. The question is will we be ready to believe again?