10 things that Ghostbusters 3 would need to get right
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Who ya gonna call? Shadowlocked, with handy tips for New York City's favorite parapsychologists to help avoid sequel-itis...
Nostalgia. It's a powerful thing. All of us have experiences in our life that we look back on with something beyond fondness, often wishing, sometimes desperately, that we could go back and relive those moments. Numerous scientific studies have shown that the mind tends to amplify happy moments into something far larger than the actual events. So in that vein, nostalgia tends to work as a reward system for the brain. Happiness is a natural state for human beings. We want to be happy and, when we take part in experiences that make us happy, our brain loves revisiting and magnifying those times so that it can be made happy again.
Movies in particular evoke an incredible amount of nostalgia among the movie-going public. And lo, we come to one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film franchise of the 1980s - Ghostbusters. The NYC comedy about the adventures of four parapsychologists captivated kids of my generation, as well as adult fans of SNL alums Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray, writer Harold Ramis, and actor Ernie Hudson. Now, over two decades since the proton packs were holstered for the last time, Ghostbusters has become a template for that Hollywood rarity - the near-perfect comedy - remembered with nothing less than fierce and protective nostalgia. Naturally, with the news in recent years that a possible Ghostbusters 3 may be inching closer to reality, fans such as myself have strong opinions as to what should and should not be contained within, so as to avoid a disappointing return to an old franchise (see Tron: Legacy). Here are the 10 things that I think the cast and crew of a potential Ghostbusters three-quel would need to do to make the film not only a success, but a worthy successor to the franchise's legacy.
1. Don't leave New York City
Inexplicably, under the pretense of "keeping things fresh", some film franchises have ultimately elected to send their beloved characters from the settings that helped make them famous. The result? Near-universal disaster. I know it's not exactly in the geek genre, but a great example of this is Sex and the City, a New York franchise through and through. Sending the four main characters to Dubai in the TV series' second film foray elicited none-too-subtle Ishtar references and rightly so. Also, does anyone remember what actually happened in Home Alone 2? No? Not exactly a shock. The second film was a pale shadow of the first and one BIG reason for that was sending Kevin McAllister and the Wet Bandits to the "big city". Gee, I thought the name of the movie was Home Alone. One of the absolute worst things that a successful franchise can do is take a setting that moviegoers expect and are comfortable with and completely change it. If the Ghostbusters scriptwriters are suicidal enough to think about sending their heroes on some kind of ill-advised road trip to other climes, the third film is certain to tank.
2. Keep the deadpan humor
Ghostbusters, along with many other successful 1980s comedies, employed a more subtle humor than today's younger generation is generally used to. Something as minor as an arched eyebrow, a turn of the head, or a frozen smile was enough to attract laughter, because the comedy or absurdness of the situation needed nothing more. Yes, there was some physical comedy, largely provided by Rick Moranis as goofy nerd Louis Tully, but it was just an added facet and not something the film had to constantly rely on as a crutch. If you write a comedy properly, you will often find that you needn't include a dozen shots to the groin, imbecilic line screaming posing as humor, or over-the-top pratfalling slapstick. Suffice it to say that I am not going to be pleased if Dane Cook or Jack Black end up in the GB3 cast. Black can be funny, but I'm not interested in his particular brand of humor in this instance. And no, Dane Cook is not funny. Pretty much ever.
3. Write in a pro-active villain
Before Lord of the Rings villain Sauron's physical form was portrayed as a giant eyeball stuck at the top of a tower, reduced to looking around his neighborhood somewhat impotently, there was Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II. He was that guy who spent 90% of the film trapped in a painting. Now, as lame as that idea is, the cast was certainly game, pumping up Vigo's murderous reputation at every opportunity. Unfortunately, the climax left a lot to be desired, with actor Wilhelm von Homburg clumsily feeling his way through the role a la Hercules in New York era Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not even a Max von Sydow voice dubbing job could manage to steer Vigo's characterization away from its accidentally-comical outcome. A return to the Ghostbusters franchise will require villainy on a much larger scale than Vigo the Painting Guy. And with that being said...
4. Bring back Gozer the Gozerian
A far more challenging opponent than Vigo, Sumerian god Gozer the Gozerian nearly turned Manhattan into a rest stop for the entirety of Hell's incorporeal demons in the franchise's first go-round. Only a last-second and desperate plan to 'cross the streams' destroyed Gozer's dimensional portal and fried its latest incarnation as the giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. But who said Gozer was out of the picture forever? (I realize that Gozer's history was fleshed out in subsequent videogames, but they aren't exactly canon, now, are they?) A huge selling point for a potential screenplay is that Gozer is a shape-shifter, so another visit by The Traveler could assume literally any form that the production desires. Why not envision Gozer finding a loophole and making its way back to Earth in another form, looking to wreak revenge on the puny humans that banished it previously? Done right, it would be a tip of the hat to the first film and help bring in a new generation of younger fans that may not be all that familiar with the Ghostbusters mythology.
5. Talk Rick Moranis out of retirement (and get Annie Potts, too)
In my view, no Ghostbusters film would be complete without quirky accountant Louis Tully, played with hilarious perfection by Rick Moranis. Sadly, the death of Rick's wife Anne in 1991 struck Moranis incredibly hard and he retired from live action film soon after. In the ensuing years, Moranis has dabbled in music and taken a handful of voice-over jobs, but he hasn't acted onscreen since Honey We Shrunk Ourselves in 1997. News regarding his possible return hasn't been good, as sources as close to the potential production as Harold Ramis have claimed that Moranis is wholly uninterested in rehashing Louis Tully.
Another minor character that is integral to Ghostbusters canon is Annie Potts' sharp-tongued, but lovable, receptionist Janine Melnitz. Especially since Louis and Janine began an awkward courtship in Ghostbusters II, both are nearly crucial to a truly satisfying return to the franchise. Of course, if Moranis and/or Potts ultimately decline to reprise their roles, their absence can be written off by claiming that Tully and Melnitz married and moved away, but that is hardly what legions of fans want to see. If and when Bill Murray reads and approves the script, the entire ghost-busting team, along with Sigourney Weaver, will reportedly be on board. Hopefully, a green light from all involved will be enough to temporarily prod Moranis out of retirement and convince Potts to sign as well.
6. Do NOT mention the World Trade Center
Ghostbusters was filmed in 1984, Ghostbusters II in 1989, and the World Trade Center towers were destroyed in 2001. So now in 2011, we must make reference to the changed Manhattan skyline if another film is to be made, right? Absolutely NOT. Cinema patrons watch films to escape from reality. If somebody were to watch Paul Greengrass' United 93, for example, they'd know what they were about to experience and (presumably) prepared themselves for said experience. So imagine enjoying yourself in a return to a light-hearted adventure with the parapsychologists from NYC and suddenly a somber explanation about the Twin Towers' absence barges onto the screen like a nine-billion pound elephant. Talk about killing the mood. Everybody and their grandmother knows what happened on 9/11 and I'm sure as hell not looking for a reminder while watching a Ghostbusters movie, of all things. As important as it would be for GB3 to heavily feature New York City's spectacular urban scenery, the WTC disaster is not something that belongs in that particular parallel universe.
7. Just get Dana and Peter together already
The first film saw a charismatic, albeit pushy, Venkman continuously attempting to charm Sigourney Weaver's Dana Barrett and getting rebuffed at every turn. However, in classic 'guy gets girl' Hollywood fashion, Venkman and the rest of the busters save Barrett and Louis Tully in the end and the two share a smiling kiss. But by the time the Ghostbusters II plotline rolls around, Barrett has been married, divorced, and had a baby boy and her ex-husband/baby's father is not Peter Venkman. Once again, the paranormal professionals save the day, this time rescuing Dana's son Oscar from demonic possession, and once again it seems as if Dana and Peter might finally be an item. But are they? I can't say for certain, but they should be. Opening GB3 with yet another "Peter and Dana like each other but aren't together" subplot would be a bit much by this point. I think the proper course of action would be to finally throw the two together and allow the screenplay to explore a bit of relationship humor when the situation allows. Hasn't Peter waited long enough?
8. Don't overdo the special effects
The proton pack beams in the first two films were nothing necessarily groundbreaking, but they looked great for their time. Happily, they also hold up quite well even under present scrutiny. Not only are the effect great, but the interwoven orange and blue beams motif is an iconic image. Rightfully or not, diehard fans of a franchise expect certain things out of future installments, and Ghostbusters fans are no different. One of the puzzle pieces of a GB3 film that would be most heavily critiqued would be the special effects. If there's one thing that recent Hollywood blockbusters have taught us, it's that a focus on style over substance can lead to cinematic catastrophe (I'm looking at you, Star Wars prequels). No amount of eye candy can properly take the place of a great story. So don't "update" the proton packs, special effects guys, or turn the Ecto-1 into KITT from Knight Rider. Sharpen the edges, brighten the colors, and then leave it alone, so you can focus on writing a worthy narrative. It's what the fans want.
9. Pick the right guys for the new team
Many opinions have been bandied about concerning what the possible plot in a third Ghostbusters film might be, but one thing that seems almost universally agreed upon is that the old team will be retiring and passing the torch to a younger and fresher crew. As the rumors have flown with ever-greater velocity pertaining to possible Ghostbusters 3 casting news, it seems as if dozens of new cast members have been rumored to be strapping on the proton packs. From Bill Hader and Will Forte (pictured above) to Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Anna Faris, and more, there is no end to the possibilities. It is here that the screenwriters may be tested most thoroughly. The new team needs room to shine, but not enough that they upstage the Ghostbusters that we've come to know and love. And not only will the screenwriters need to be careful of how they draw up such an event, but the actors will need to be of the proper cloth. Excessive mugging for the camera, a propensity for overt physical comedy, and an inability to play off Bill Murray's famous ad-libbing are traits of actors that need not expect a second phone call during auditions. Wooden relationships between characters and implausible, forced interactions between actors that are just wrong for the part will sink a third movie as surely as the worst villain or shoddy special effects.
10. Dead or alive, give Venkman a chance to shine
Another famous rumor regarding Ghostbusters 3 is that Bill Murray was quoted months ago as saying that the only way he would participate in the shoot was if Venkman was killed off in the first reel. He later allegedly modified that somewhat to saying that he wanted Venkman dead and wandering about for the rest of the film as a ghost. Whether his opinion has again changed or not is unknown, but what is certain is that Murray is currently the lone roadblock to getting the ball rolling on production. No disrespect meant to the rest of the brilliant original cast, but Murray is the undisputed star of the franchise and he needs his opportunity to shine. In the years since the Ghostbusters films ended, Murray has, if anything, emerged as an even more famous and indecipherable figure, with amazing stories of popping up uninvited at frat parties and taking all job offers through a secret 800 number becoming part of Hollywood legend. If the series' third film does indeed get off the ground, whether Venkman is alive and kicking or a collection of ectoplasmic goo is beside the point. Filmgoers will have one last shot to see Murray don the famous gray jumpsuit and go "we came, we saw, we kicked its ass" on the worst that NYC's apparition population has to offer. It's Murray's movie and everyone else is just along for the ride. So give him what he wants, Sony, and I'll think you'll happily find that it's what we want, too.
(With bated breath, cast and crew await Bill Murray's thumbs up or thumbs down, and will then either begin or scrap production on Ghostbusters 3. If Murray agrees to participate, filming is scheduled to begin sometime in the Spring of 2011.)
The merits or otherwise of revisiting franchises have been explored at length at Shadowlocked. Take a look at these:
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