You don't want to see 'Ghostbusters 3,' even if you think you do
I want to ask you a question.
Do you really want to see "Ghostbusters 3"?
Before you answer, I want you to consider every angle. I don't want the knee-jerk response, because I know what the knee-jerk response is, and so does Columbia, and so do Dan Aykroyd and Ivan Reitman. The knee-jerk response is easy. After all, I love the original 1984 film "Ghostbusters," and I'm more than willing to cop to a fondness for the admittedly-lesser sequel. On the surface, the thought of more "Ghostbusters" is appealing. Undeniably so.
I won't lie. When I was 21 or 22 years old, my writing partner Scott Swan and I had an elaborate written treatment for "Ghostbusters 3" that I was convinced I was somehow going to get in front of the right people. After all, when I was 21 and 22 years old, I had almost constant access to Joe Medjuck, Michael Gross, and Ivan Reitman thanks to my job at Dave's Video. I never found myself in a position to connect those two dots, though, and 43 year old me laughs at how painfully earnest the younger me was about this sequel idea.
Part of the reason I was so insistent was because I felt like "Ghostbuster 2" got the shaft from people, way out of proportions to the problems the film actually has. Part of the reason was because there was an exchange of dialogue in the first film that basically laid out the entire idea for the franchise in a few quick lines of dialogue. It's right after Ego and Ray and Venkman walk out of the bank, and Ray is still in shock about what they've just done to get their business lone. It's starting to sink in, and he's about to panic, and to calm him down, Venkman says, "The franchise rights alone will make us rich."
Obviously, then, if you're going to keep making the movies as a series, you open other offices. Why not an LA branch of the Ghostbusters? A Florida branch? I can only imagine what the ghosts of Texas would look like, and if you want to go international, I'd watch sequels about the Chinese office, the London office, or pretty much any other spot on the globe. What they'd have to do each time would be put together a murderer's row of comedy talent, four guys who you simply want to watch in a room together. You have the original Ghostbusters show up in supporting roles to train the new team, and you set the new team free. Maybe in the first film, you introduce four new teams. You show that there's even more paranormal activity now, like the more Ghostbusters you hire, the more the spirit world seems to push back. And whatever team is the most popular with the audience becomes your stars of the next movie, while you continually work to make other use of the large world you've created. All of that is suggested in the line that Venkman delivers, and it could be a great way to keep things fresh, as each city has its own identity. LA's ghosts would be either Hollywood legends or the desperate and forgotten, and you could really give it a different flavor from the first two movies.
One of the things the first film gets right is that these guys aren't superheroes. They're more like plumbers. There is a tangible problem. They deal with it in a very messy and tactile way. They dispose of the waste. It's a blue collar gig. They may start the film as scientists (Venkman's telepathy test is one of my favorite Bill Murray scenes ever), but once they make the jump to being the Ghostbusters, they roll up their sleeves and wade into the muck. That first film's attitude is spot-on perfect. They get a little bit of celebrity, sure, but the second film had to knock them down in order to build them up again. They put new roadblocks into the Dana/Venkman relationship, they started from the idea that the first film's ending had bankrupted their business, and they basically made the same film twice. I think that's the most valid complaint about the second film. It doesn't take enough new risks.
And here's where we get to my issues about a third film. It won't take risks. Not in the age of franchise management. Variety recently published a piece about how financial analysts boiled Sony's biggest issue down to "not enough franchises." There was another recent piece that talked about a Mike De Luca promotion at the company, and how part of the job they're handing to him specifically is figuring out "Ghostbusters." I've liked De Luca and his taste for as long as I've known of him, and I am sure he's going to hire great people to work on "Ghosbusters 3" as he continues to push to get it made.
But honestly, as a "Ghostbusters" fan, I think the moment passed. And I don't think the people that would work on the film today are the people who worked on those first two films. That doesn't mean their work today is less, just that it's different. I think Bill Murray has continued his evolution from funniest man alive to international treasure, and I completely get why he wouldn't want to strap on a proton pack again. His work these days is on a whole different level of subtle and rich and sad and wonderful, and I don't see how you ask him to roll things back to when he was still "that" Bill Murray.
The real tragedy here is that I think we were denied a whole lot of fascinating Dan Aykroyd. If there is anyone alive who deserves to be show-running a massive franchise about how freaky the paranormal is, it's Aykroyd. This stuff is not a joke to him, which is another element of the first two films that I think is so interesting. His interest in and love of the occult is something that's been part of him as long as he's been doing creative work, and it is unfortunately a rare thing to see a movie that is a full expression of Aykroyd's voice. Some of the greatest lines in the two films are these small little references to real things, to actual texts or ideas or schools of thought. When they're walking into the library and Venkman says to Egon, "Do you remember when you tried to drill that hole in your head?"
"That would have worked if you hadn't stopped me," Egon snaps, and it always make me laugh. They're talking, of course, about trepanning, the act of drilling a hole in your head to help achieve a different state of consciousness. You get a sense of just how much genuinely weird stuff is bubbling along just below the surface in an Aykroyd script, and his original ambitions for "Ghostbusters" were to do a gigantic "Star Wars" sized paranormal adventure through other dimensions. I always imagine a studio guy running a budget on the first Aykroyd draft of "Ghostbusters" and having a seizure when he saw the $500 million price tag in 1982. If they had kept making these movies and if they had done it in a way that allowed for them to experiment and break the mold a bit, we might have eventually caught up to Aykroyd's vision, and we might have some really freaky and far out "Ghostbusters" films in the collection by now.
I honestly thought "Ghostbusters" was a dead issue years ago. There was a point when Michael Gross told me he was out of the movie business, retiring, leaving the country to paint and relax. It took five years to work out the first film, both in terms of the script and the business end of things. At this point, it's been twenty-five years since the second film. It feels like they just plain waited too long.
I am still raw from the loss of Harold Ramis. It seems surreal to think we won't see more work from him. Without Egon, I really don't think I want to see the movie. I'd feel the same way about Ray or Venkman, too. The three of them in one frame, the conversations between them, the pure comedy pleasure of those three characters in a situation having to handle it, no matter how absurd or terrifying… that's really the only thing of value a new "Ghostbusters" could give to the audience. Beyond that, it's a franchise management decision, pure and simple. It's about money. We know the title, so they're determined to make one.
When I wrote that fan treatment all those years ago, I was still really naive about the way this business works. I wrote that because I loved those characters and I loved that world and I wanted more. So I get it. I totally understand the first answer to the question I asked at the start of this piece.
Do you really want to see "Ghostbusters 3"?
If you say yes, even after really considering what sort of film they'll end up having to make to justify the budget they'll have to give it to justify the marketing campaign they'll have to pay for, then I can't argue with that. If you really want to see it, then I hope you get your wish.
And I'm not saying that if they do make it, I will refuse to see it. I'm sure I would go if it was screening. And I'd try to go with as open a mind as possible.
But do I want to see it? No. Because I'm afraid that it will end up being a disappointment, and I don't want to spend a year before-hand and a year after the release talking about a mediocre or disappointing or even perfect fine but uninspired "Ghostbusters" movie. I don't want one just for the sake of wanting one. If I felt like there was an urgent story for the original filmmakers to come together to make, that would be exciting, but this project has just been grrrrrrrrrrinding its way through the system at a pace that is excruciating to witness, and the rumor mill keeps on churning and churning and non-stories get written and quotes get blown up into promises and none of it seems to have actually gotten them anywhere close to actually making this film.
At this point, unless they hired Miller/Lord to direct and gave them free reign to start fresh, I think it's going to be very very hard for me to get excited about the prospect of a "Ghostbusters 3," and I think people are answering without thinking about all the times in just this last ten years that we've been disappointed when they brought back something old to do a new version of it.
There were indignant reports that Sony has already had a meeting about the fate of "Ghostbusters 3" since Ramis's death, and they may have, but honestly, what's the rush? It's been twenty-five years since the last one. You won't have it done in time for this year's anniversary. You've lost one of the real Ghostbusters. You still don't seem to have a clear vision of what the film is. So why do you need to already be meeting about it?
Maybe Sony's closer to saying yes than anyone realizes. Whatever the case, I'm curious to see how you feel about it.
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