Why there’s no point worrying about the Ghostbusters reboot

There's going to be a new Ghostbusters film, and Bill Murray isn't going to be in it. Time to panic? Andrew says no.

So, Ghostbusters, a much-beloved franchise of TV and film, is to be rebooted. The director, Paul Feig (Freaks And Geeks, Bridesmaids, The Heat) has announced his intention to cast women in the main roles. It’s hard to say which one people are more annoyed over, but it’s worth making the distinction between the aspects of this film that people are complaining about.

The following are legitimate complaints:

• That Ghostbusters is to be rebooted• That you don’t like Paul Feig films and do like Ghostbusters

The latter is one of those things, really, that happens in entertainment. It’s pretty hard to argue against a studio’s logic in hiring Paul Feig, based on his critical and commercial record ($288 million box office for Bridesmaids, $230 million for The Heat, good to great reviews for both), even if those weren’t to your personal taste. That Ghostbusters is to be rebooted is part of a wider trend, seen as an easy cash-in in a Hollywood bereft of storytelling originality.

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It’s not true that a reboot is a more cynical attempt to bring in cash than a sequel in this case. It’s not as if either would be a small art house picture made from nought but the purest intentions, they’d both be products with tie-in merchandise no matter what. The sequel started because the original team wanted to make one, and Paul Feig’s involvement comes along as a direct result of this. That it’s a reboot is more to do with storytelling than it is cash.

If anything, sequels generally seem to do better than reboots at cinemas anyway. Grown Ups 2 made more money than 21 Jump Street, and Star Trek Into Darkness made over twice as much as Total Recall. Anchorman 2 made more than The Muppets, and while the latter is not a reboot, it is a beloved property with a long cinematic absence, in a very comparable position to Ghostbusters. If anything, reboots have to work harder to win over the inevitable scepticism.

Paul Feig’s reasoning for not doing a straight up sequel is that he didn’t want to screw it up, and add a duff movie to the original two, so elected to make one with enough detachment to the originals to preserve their legacy. Not everyone is regarding this move as successful. A reboot still invites comparisons with the originals. If screwing it up is a concern, the property could be left alone but inspire a new film. However, Sony offered a Ghostbusters movie to Feig, and he had an idea based on that. Without the franchise, the idea isn’t there, and while it may evolve into something else we all know where it came from now, and the connection will still exist.

The director is excited by the possibilities of a continuity-free universe, and who can blame him? It’s a great playset, with many possibilities. However, so are Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. We’ve seen the pressure that the latter is under before any footage has been seen, and we’ve seen with The Amazing Spider-Man that producing forgettable three-star-at-best fare is not good enough to keep audiences interested. Start again with basically the same story, as with Spider-Man, and audiences are over-familiar (though Ghostbusters is less familiar than Spider-Man, and has the capacity to mine recognisable aspects for laughs as the Jump Street films did). Tinker, and people complain that you’re changing things. Really, though, there’s no point in rebooting something well-known if you’re not going to do it differently.

So, why a reboot rather than a sequel? Why a reboot rather than a new, distinct film series? It’s primarily down to the story Feig wants to tell, having been legitimately invited to do so by Sony and previous Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman. He wants to tell a story free from continuity, because that’s the one that interests him. In terms of the creative process, if he has an idea that he likes and it involves rebooting it, that’s more likely to result in a good film than forcing a story set in the same universe, or something that isn’t a Ghostbusters story. Feig’s idea is presumably too involved in the concept to detach it and rework into something else. It’s almost like licenced fan fiction, if you will; much like Doctor Who has been since the ’90s.

[related article: Making Sense of Ghostbusters 3]

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Also, the Ghostbusters name brings with it an audience. True, some of them are typing some very angry sentences about refusing to see this movie, but many people will go to see a reboot out of curiosity. If it’s a bad film, then word of mouth and reviews will probably make it unsuccessful. If it’s a good film, then that’s potentially more people seeing a female-led movie, and one with franchise possibilities.

The statistics (from a report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film) for women’s representation in movies are depressing. From 2002 – 2011, the number of female protagonists actually went down (from 16% to 11%). Only 30% of speaking characters were women. This despite The Hunger Games, Gravity, and Bridesmaids proving there is a large audience for female-led casts. The Cinema Exhibitors’ Association statistics show that, unsurprisingly, UK cinema audiences have an almost 50/50 split between men and women. So, one group is under-represented.

There are two immediately obvious solutions:

1. If you want to see more films with a female protagonist, make damn sure that you go and see the ones that exist. The higher the numbers, the more quickly the industry will take note.2. Positive discrimination. Gender swaps.

I used to think that a meritocracy would be fairer, and that women should get these roles based on being the best person who auditioned. Except that we simply don’t live in a meritocracy. Casting calls (have a look at the Casting Call Woe tumblr, for general proof that being an actor is harder than it looks) usually specify a gender, and based on the number of speaking roles available, most of these are written for men. I doubt aspiring actors would want to risk loss of income and career advancement by getting a reputation as a disruptive influence and auditioning for roles ear-marked for others. It takes positive discrimination to counteract this, to have someone involved in writing, directing and casting to change things.

The risk is that, if the film doesn’t do as well as hoped, or flops, then it’ll be taken as an example of why it shouldn’t be tried. Rebooting, as opposed to something new like The Heat or Bridesmaids, adds to that pressure, and dissenting voices that are – in this case – more about Ghostbusters than gender would add to the volume.

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An unemotional outlook suggests this reboot is a risk (name a comedy reboot that’s been popular, there aren’t many), and if it comes out as well as The Heat it’s going to result in divisions between ‘This is a decent film on its own merits’ and ‘It’s an act of desecration’. It really needs to soar.

Overall, this isn’t an option that’s playing it safe. From an objective point of view, that’s to be applauded, but don’t expect any comments sections on this one to be peaceful.

The most important thing to remember amidst any new version of a beloved story is this: unless you are a child, this film cannot destroy your childhood.

Ghostbusters will remain exactly the same film no matter what happens.

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