Call it fate, call it luck, call it karma, but after years, nay, decades of waiting, Ghostbusters fans are finally getting a proper sequel to the original Ghostbusters via Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife — at least, judging by that incredibly cool (and incredibly cheesy) new trailer.
Except, I say “proper sequel” loosely as Afterlife more closely resembles a big-screen version of the amazing The Real Ghostbusters animated series that ran from 1986-1991 than the 1984 classic starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and the late Harold Ramis.
That’s not a bad thing.
Look, the original Ghostbusters is an adult comedy filled with sex jokes, double entendres, and characters who drink, smoke, swear, chase women and belittle their secretaries. The story follows a standard rags-to-riches formula, but never once posits its paranormal investigators as anything more than a couple of dudes doing their job. As Peter says, they are basically just exterminators looking for a giant cockroach.
Oh sure, New York City worships them like heroes, but we never see Peter, Ray, Egon, or Winston mingle with young children. During the “hero montage,” director Ivan Reitman cleverly cuts to a sequence in which Ray gets a, um, special visit from a very “pesky poltergeist” who unzips his pants and … well … yeah …
These aren’t “heroes” in the traditional sense so much as they are a group of guys who happen to fall ass-backward into a lucrative (and decidedly dangerous) venture.
Peter, in particular, loves playing up the media and certainly enjoys the attention, but uses his newfound fame to meet women and make money, as he did while working at Columbia University. The guy literally suckers Ray into pulling out a third mortgage to fund the operation and gives two squats about the very costly interest:
Later, during the big climax, NYC cheers for the Ghostbusters, and Peter, characteristically, soaks up the limelight, but then the film cuts to the exhausted team walking up a flight of stairs just to remind us how out of place these guys are in this particular situation:
Even Ecto-1 is presented as a clever visual gag — it’s a 1959 Cadillac hearse driven by guys who literally bust dead people. Get it?
The big climax features dogs, a flattop-sporting woman and a giant marshmallow man. Peter and the gang aren’t saving NYC because they’re heroes, they’re saving the city because there’s literally no one else who could do the job — that’s the joke!
In fact, as this brilliant commentary reveals, their whole ghostbusting enterprise is based around very specific supernatural events relating to Gozer. So, their business only comes about because there just happens to be an evil god who is going to drop in on Central Park West and start tearing up the city. Once they zap ole Gozer, there are no more ghosts needing to be busted and no more story.
Here’s the thing, though: after Ghostbusters premiered, some marketing genius somewhere decided that the whole ghostbusting concept would play really well with kids and created The Real Ghostbusters in 1987. That thing was huge. Or, at least, I remember it being huge. There were Ghostbusters toys, merchandise, t-shirts … but all of it tied to the cartoon. As a kid, I liked Ghostbusters the film, but absolutely loved The Real Ghostbusters. When I busted evil demons and ghouls with my friends, we imagined fighting villains from the cartoon; and were less concerned with which character we embodied than we were trying to keep our umbrellas-cum-neutrino wand from falling off our backpacks-cum-proton packs.
I always thought the coolest episodes of the animated series were the ones in which our titular heroes had to call on Stay Puft for help because, as a kid, I thought the big guy was cool. In fact, it was only years later that I actually got the joke and started to recognize the giant marshmallow man as a visual gag and not a Godzilla-sized superhero.
The cartoon series always had the Ghostbusters helping out and mingling with kids and using their weapons more as a means to help society than exploit it. The show featured cool gadgets, cool villains, moral messages, and awesome action — and it completely destroyed the big screen Ghostbusters franchise.
As many of you will recall, 1989 saw the release of Ghostbusters 2 and the results were, well, not quite as spectacular as they were five years earlier. Tonally, the decidedly lighthearted sequel, which culminates with all of NYC learning to be nice to one another, contrasts sharply with the original’s “four horny slobs get rich exterminating funny-looking ghosts” synopsis. There are a few “scary” scenes, notably that bit in the subway tunnels:
Mostly, though, Ghostbusters 2 is a lot more kid-friendly than its predecessor. There’s less cursing, no drinking (from what I recall), no smoking, no sex jokes, no raunchy humor … Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston are all shot in a more heroic light. In fact, Venkman’s need to bed woman is suddenly replaced by an urge to not only marry Dana, but be the father to her bastard child, Oscar.
Even Elmer Berstein’s classic comedy score was replaced with Randy Edelman heroic fanfare:
In other words, Ghostbusters morphed from an adult comedy to a generic children franchise practically overnight. Gone were the slobs who drank cheap beer, chased ghosts, and danced the night away with some of the lucky ladies who witnessed the disturbance.
Fast forward to 2021 and we have Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which, in all honesty, looks more like The Real Ghostbusters than, well, Ghostbusters. Obviously, trailers can be misleading, but Afterlife treats its subject with the same giddy exuberance as I treated the cartoon back in the late 80s. The proton packs look cool. The ghosts look cool. Hell, Ecto-1 has a friggin’ jump seat and looks more like this:
So far, the first two trailers have prioritized the classic weapons, gadgets, and vehicles over the characters, new or otherwise. While the ending does tease a cameo by some of our old friends, in all likelihood the emphasis of the film will be on ghostbusting rather than the Ghostbusters, if that makes any sense.
Plot twist: I’m good with this direction.
Look, in my opinion, Ghostbusters is a perfect movie. In terms of comedy, you can’t get much better. I love the concept. I love the characters. I love the weird FX. I love it all. Yet, I recognize that the original film doesn’t set up a franchise any better than, say, Animal House or Caddyshack.
The ghostbusting concept, by contrast, has plenty to offer in terms of franchise potential. The Real Ghostbusters recognized this and racked up 140 episodes over the course of five years. Five years! Ghostbusters 2 also saw the potential, but faltered in its attempts to mix old with new — the film was neither adult enough for older audiences (fans of the original) nor spectacular enough for youngsters (fans of the cartoon).
Ghostbusters: Afterlife looks like a franchise starter. The film features teenagers (one of them from Stranger Things) driving cars, shooting lasers and battling demons; and also boasts the always likable Paul Rudd, larger-than-life spectacle, heroes, villains, awesome visual effects, cool action and plenty of other material to attract audiences.
Yeah, yeah, Peter, Ray, and Winston will appear in some way shape or form, as will Stay Puft and Gozer (probably) as a means to attract fans and older audiences who have waited so long for a proper sequel.
Honestly, though, I think they’ll be disappointed because there is no way to deliver a proper sequel to Ghostbusters. It can’t be done.
So, instead of expecting an outright follow-up to Ghostbusters, prepare yourself for a remake that uses the basic concepts of that film as a jumping-off point to a much larger world.
In other words, prepare yourself for The Real Ghostbusters: The Movie — which means a lot of this:
And very little of this:
It may not result in a classic film, but it might make for a really fun franchise.