So many of my friends are over-the-stars about the new all-woman Ghostbusters that I decided to see it a second time to see if my first reaction was wrong. They sing it’s importance in the fight for female equality.
I just thought it was a good summer movie. Entertaining.
I laughed the first time I saw it. I laughed a bit more the second time. The chemistry between the female leads (Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones) works and Chris Hemsworth’s comedy is really wonderful. I didn’t feel that I wasted money either viewings.
But the differences between 1984 and now are pretty stark even outside of the gender switch of the Ghostbusters. It’s does show the differences in what we accept in popular culture then versus what we will now.
After seeing the 2016 version, I went back and watched the 1984 original.
What stood out to me was how differently the comedy felt. 1984 is a simpler movie. The plot is straightforward.
Bill Murray’s Venkman is a lech with some decency in him (see scene with Dana/Zool). Ackroyd’s enthusiastic non-cynical Stanz and Harold Ramis’ scientific Spengler are a team. They know instinctively that each man, including new Ghostbuster Winston Zeddmore, has their backs when they go up against Zool. There’s no discussion of it.
The New York City of 1984 embraced the Ghostbusters, (a Chinese restauranteur gives them food in payment,) and the city’s political establishment just kind of ignores their existence until the walls start to bleed. Their greatest enemy is the Environmental Protection Agency. (I mean, seriously? The EPA? Though I loved watching the agent get soaked in marshmallow creme at the end.)
By 2016, it’s all become more complicated (rather like life itself.) Here the political establishment and Mayor actively disavowals and mocks the Ghostbusters. The Department Homeland Security comes down on them for reasons DHS never gives as far as I saw. Hey, DHS why not get them a National Security Letter and have done with it? Or does this mean that DHS has a Ghostbust-ing office? Maybe run by Scully and Mulder, formerly of the FBI?
Unlike the men, the women have to struggle to be taken seriously. Wiig’s Erin Gilbert is trying to get tenure in Physics at Columbia University and her recommendation from Princeton is put down by the (male) head of the committee. McCarthy’s Abby Yates is working on paranormal studies, along with McKinnon’s Holtzmann. Their university doesn’t even realize they exist – despite paying them salary. Oh, really? Yates can’t even get the Chinese restaurant to give her more than one wonton in her chicken soup. In a lovely bow to the earlier flick, in 2016, the Ghostbusters look at the firehouse but with soaring 2016 NYC rents, end up above a Chinese restaurant, that of the one-wonton soup delivery. It’s a good touch. Subway worker Leslie Jones’ Peggy Tolan has apparently chased off the subway’s graffiti artist more than once — hell, she knows him by name — since he doesn’t respect her.
In 1984, the men basically shrugged off the need to be taken seriously. They just set up their own shop in a fire house, after being chased out of the university, (based on Stanz’s taking three mortgages on the inherited family home,) and go out busting.
2016 has many more scenes of McKinnon’s scientist/creator of ghost-busting nuclear power packs, testing the equipment — which pad out the plot with special effects and side moments. You didn’t see that much in 1984. It didn’t need them. The emphasis was on the plot not CGI special effects that had to outdo other summer movies.
1984 has a competent woman receptionist; 2016 has dim-but-decorative Hemsworth (a.k.a. Thor at 1:46) in a role that shows you his comedic chops and decorative pecs. (This has been a fine year for men’s half-naked torsos. See “The Legend of Tarzan.“)
The differences define our times as well as cinematic advances and need for modern marketing. In 1984, the movie was just viewed as maybe selling a few costumes, patches, posters. In 2016, it’s all that, plus worldwide social media interest, new female role models and more. Movie studios need to feel the beast so their film will live more than just one week in theaters and, in this case, overcome ignorant-of-movie negative Internet buzz. Both movies were summer releases.
Cinematically, 1984’s special effects were fairly simple. 2016 has whirlpools of psychic energy, recreations of a past NYC, flying hearses and re-imaginations of characters from 32 years of Ghostbuster productions (see the ghost Slimer.)
So at the end, I guess that I end up where I started. I enjoyed the 1984 because it reminded me of the flawed, gritty NYC that I lived in. The new 2016 film stands out for humor and originality. It might even have legs to stay in theaters into August.
But a game changer in Fight for Equality? Not feeling that right now.