The Ghostbusters Reboot, Internet Comments & Ruined Childhoods

Can a new film really ruin a childhood? A look at the controversy - and comments - surrounding Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot...

You don’t need me to tell you that last week’s reveal of the new cast for the Ghostbusters reboot caused “some conversation.” Our unscientific reading of said reaction is that most people are against Paul Feig’s 2016 movie, many vehemently so. Furthermore, the casting of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones as the lead quartet caused further consternation.

It would be fair to say that some news stories have been better received.

There are, without doubt, legitimate criticisms and concerns here. Notwithstanding the fact that not a frame of footage has been shot, and that very, very few people have read Katie Dippold’s and Paul Feig’s screenplay, there nonetheless can’t help but be fan concerns.

The bulk of them center around the fact that Ghostbusters is a film that’s very precious to many of us. Certainly for those who grew up with the cinema of the 1980s, it stood out as a landmark feature. Not that Ivan Reitman’s film was supposed to: nobody making the movie had the sense that they had a blockbuster on their hands, and it was a mixture of factors – not least an excellent feature – that turned it from a hit into something bigger and more important.

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Such was the reputation of Ghostbusters that all concerned approached the sequel with some caution, and it was widely regarded as a bold move by then-Columbia Pictures head, the late Dawn Steel, to greenlight it at all. Unlike Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II was expensive, and came with high expectations. As such, its reputation has never been quite as strong, although we launched our own defense of it here.

The Concerns

I love Ghostbusters. I really like Ghostbusters II. I dearly wish that Hollywood would back more original projects over sequels, remakes and reboots. But that said, I’m not pathologically opposed to the 2016 movie.

The problem, and the reason that’s happening at all, unfortunately partly rests with us though. I can’t help but invoke the Edge Of Tomorrow example, where a big studio pumped big money into a standalone sci-fi blockbuster. Said film then garnered some of the very best reviews of the summer, only to find that the critically-reviled Transformers 4 outperformed it. The latter took three times as much money at the box office, and the power of a franchise was demonstrated.

Granted, it’s a crude, standalone example, but you don’t have to look further for more. I’ve not seen Jupiter Ascending, for example, but there’s a queue of people already slamming the film, which again is one that sees Warner Bros. pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into a standalone sci-fi feature. It’s being widely shot down by many who haven’t seen it.

Warner Bros. has done its bit to battle the status quo, and yet the status quo remains. So, as to the question of ‘why does the new Ghostbusters film have to be Ghostbusters,’ it’s because firstly, it’ll instantly make a lot more money, and secondly, if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t all be talking about it as much.

It’s a little simplistic to say that we hold all the cards – distribution, marketing and access to films has a large part to play – but had Sony any belief that we’d go and see the film in as big numbers if it didn’t have the Ghostbusters name attached, it wouldn’t be a reboot. But that’s not how the world works. I don’t like it either.

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What I do take issue with though is the comment – which I’ve seen many times over the past week in particular – that a reboot or remake has somehow ‘ruined my childhood.’

No. It hasn’t. If you cease to love the original Ghostbusters, and it’s not as special to you just because of a reboot you don’t have to see anyway, then it can’t have mattered that much to you in the first place. If a remake of Back To The Future was announced, I’d openly weep, change my name to DarthSimon5353 and post all over the Internet, but it wouldn’t make the original Back To The Future any the less special. Not. One. Jot.

It’s a kneejerk reaction phrase, and I do get the sentiment behind it. But it can’t help but remind me of a critic whose name I’ve forgotten, sadly, who when reviewing Robert Altman’s not-very-good Pret-A-Porter said that it made him like the director’s previous film, Short Cuts, less. It remains one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever heard in a review. And I’ve read the Amazon reviews of Mrs. Brown’s Boys.

However Feig’s movie turns out, the original Ghostbusters will still exist. Ivan Reitman hasn’t done a George Lucas on us and physically changed the film. The very same version that many of us queued up to see in the 1980s remains, frame for frame. And it will, even after July 2016.

The best way to show discord over the 2016 reboot? Just don’t see it. But I’d wager many people who threaten they won’t actually will.

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The Cast

And so we come to the casting.

It’s been known for some time now that Paul Feig’s plan was to cast a quartet of all-female Ghostbusters. Naturally enough, there wasn’t an uproar when the original Ghostbusters turned out to be male, but I do appreciate that that was different times, and a then-unknown movie.

It’s worth correcting one myth from the off. The cast of the film will not be all-female. I know this isn’t the point of many of the critics of the new approach, but it should be acknowledged that the film will have men in it.

There are many, however, who take umbrage with the fact that the lead four roles are now going to women, where previously they were going to men. In an earlier guise, this reboot was going to be a passing of the torch from the old Ghostbusters to the new, and names such as Seth Rogen, Jack Black, and Rainn Wilson were bandied around. I don’t remember those suggestions going down well, but then neither did they generate quite the level of uproar that’s been incited here.

So, what are the problems? I’ve seen the casting being described as a feminist hijacking of a beloved franchise, a gimmick, sacrilege and political correctness gone mad. I will make the point again here that you never read such reactions when an all-male cast of any motion picture is announced. But also, the truth is that we don’t 100 percent know why Sony went for this approach. What we do know is that Paul Feig was one of a few who pitched a project, his idea clearly had something to it, and here we are.

As for the individual cast members, their performances have been judged heavily before they’ve stepped on a set.

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I admit I share the caution over the inclusion of Melissa McCarthy. I think on her best day she’s very good, but then I’ve also seen films where her performance isn’t quite as well judged. I really struggled with Identity Thief, for instance. That said, I don’t buy the criticism that she only has one performance in her: her work in St. Vincent, for instance, was excellent. Plus, she stole whole scenes of Bridesmaids. McCarthy has a lot of talent, and we don’t know what her approach to her Ghostbusters character will be yet.

I think Kristen Wiig is an excellent choice, and I know next to nothing about Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. Time will tell how they all fare, and who knows, lots of people may be right. This may be the most disastrous casting of all time. 

But then it might not be. As of yet, the people who have read the script, the people making the movie, and Sony, reckon these are the four best choices for the roles. They have more information than me. That’s why they make the movies, and I pay to see them.

To be clear: I do agree with many that there are alarm bells when anyone touches such a well loved franchise and tries to do something different with it. Feig’s film isn’t a remake, and from what I’ve heard, he has no intention of retreading what’s gone before. That’s a good start for me. But until we at least get a trailer, those of us on our side of the fence have no certainty over how this is all going to turn out.

The Comments

What I do have certainty over though is that a slice of the reaction to the casting of Ghostbusters has brought out some of the more disappointing facets of Internet comments.

I think the issues of who has been cast, whether four women leading the film is a good idea, and of rebooting Ghostbusters in the first place, all warrant and deserve constructive discussion.

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A lot of that has taken place. Unfortunately, so has a lot of outright sexism.

Last week, and I rarely have to do this, I had to delete 30 or so comments from the news story on this site surrounding the new Ghostbusters. By the way our comments system works, many of those were innocent replies to an initial comment, but they made no sense once that first post had been removed. Hence, some of those innocent comments got removed too.

Since then, various questions of this site’s policy have been raised, and I think they’re worthy of discussion in the context of the Internet’s reaction to Ghostbusters. The specific criticisms of this site, and my responses, are thus…

Den Of Geek doesn’t allow free speech.

That’s true. You cannot come on to this site and have 100 percent carte blanche to say what you like. Just as we can’t in the articles. Offensive, discriminatory and trolling comments are removed. I appreciate we can be quite hard-nosed about this, but we’re also aware that what may not be offensive to one person can leave another distraught. Even that said, it’s overtly unpleasant stuff we delete. Constructive criticisms are left intact, whether we like them or not.

Then, one commenter wrote:

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“I didn’t like the way that any discussion on the characters and synopsis given was turned into some slamming as being sexist or closed minded.”

That didn’t happen. Lots of comments criticising the characters and synopsis are still live on the site. You’d genuinely be surprised – at least we hope you would! – at some of the stuff that we had to remove. I don’t think it’s sexist to be wary of the new Ghostbusters film. I do think some of the arguments being bandied around were. Very, in some cases.

And another:

“So no one is allowed to say anything negative about any woman anywhere anytime?”

Of course they are. To say, ‘I think Melissa McCarthy is a terrible actress’ or ‘Kristen Wiig’ isn’t funny or ‘I think there should have been a mixed cast’ is fine. To say ‘I don’t think Kate McKinnon is suitable for the role.’ Of course that’s fine. And heck, we’ve all got suggestions for people we’d like to have seen in the cast, who never got the nod.

But that’s not what some of the comments were saying. Some of them, sadly, were personal. Some of them were nasty. And some of them you simply wouldn’t say in person to another human being.

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I’m not criticising the commenters who asked questions over the casting, as I think there’s legitimate discussion to be had. And I do think some of the online chatter about the new Ghostbusters has been just that.

But also, it’s brought to the fore quite a lot of unpleasantness as well. And I think the debate should be about the film, and the capabilities of the people making it, rather than what they look like and whether they would make good bedtime companions. Unfortunately, as many can testify, it got a lot worse than that. We’re happy to tackle particular criticisms of how this site has handled those comments via our letters page (denofgeek at yahoo dot com) where we’ll have the space to answer them in detail. And we’re aware that we’ve far from perfect ourselves. But when it comes to keeping the Ghostbusters chat on a more constructive basis, surely someone has to try?

Ghostbusters arrives in cinemas in July 2016. Only then, in truth, will we find out if the many fears expressed over the past week have proven to be true. And even then I guarantee one thing: your childhood won’t have changed one iota.