[tl:dr: great film go see it]
It all started with a moving candlestick flying across a room; that was how I got involved with the girly ghosthunter, who is now a parapsychologist with a Ph.D in apparitional experience. And today I took her to the cinema to see the new Ghostbusters movie, which starts with a flying candlestick, and leads one in to the world of female ghostbusters. It seems rather appropriate.
Many years ago I met Becky on a ghost night I was staffing for Richard Felix when she said she saw a candle fly across a corridor and strike the wall – that led to a correspondence, then we became friends, she started working with us, did her MSc in Parapyschology and Transpersonal Psychology at Coventry Uni and then her Ph.D in A Century of Apparitions, looking in detail at what people report happens when they experience a ghost. I think
Becky is a bit to academic for the press – no one seemed interested in talking to her, and she failed to get tickets to the launch, but there are a lot of other women in parapsychology. I don’t think Hannah Gilbert, Madeleine Castro, Ann Winsper, Hayley Stevens, Mary Rose Barrington, Patricia Robertson, Nicky Sewell, Val Hope or any of the others – and I have just named a handful from the UK – did either. Maybe because Ghostbusters is such an American thing? One of the new ghostbusters is called Hotzmann, and of course than made me think of Alexandra Holzer, daughter of Hans Holzer. I don’t know Alexandra personally but I hope it is a tribute to her. One of the great things about parapsychology and ghost research is women have been from Catherine Crowe in the 19th century onwards often at the forefront of it.
So I’m dating a female ghost expert, and Dr Becky and I went to see the movie. Now at this point I should note that I myself hesitate to lay claim to expertise about spooks, but I may know a little more than is common. You can read my thoughts here. However I am absolutely not a film critic, having only ever watched maybe 30 films, and perhaps half a dozen at the cinema. My favourite films are Dr. Strangelove, Kindhearts and Coronets, The Producers and if pushed The Magnificent Seven. My taste in such matters is not to be relied upon.
Furthermore actual knowledge of real world spooks is not helpful when considering the Ghostbusters films. The ectoplasmic entities of the film are pure fantasy – and they bear absolutely no resemblance to anything from the Census of Hallucinations or related case collections. Ghostbusters is a wild and fantastic take on spooks – and yet the central premise, that spooks are paranormal not supernatural entities, and obey (unknown at start) naturalistic Laws of Physics which allow for technological solutions to the spooks in the form of PKE meters, proton packs and lots of hi-tech gadgetry is one shared with the Parapsychological discourse, and quite separate from most religious or Spiritualist interpretations of ghosts. Anyway, whereas the original Ghostbusters were clearly in the mould of parapsychologists, the new female incarnations are experimental physicists, and the film is replete with sciencey sounding technobabble. (This may be the films greatest weakness – spooks are simply malign, with only one old friend from a previous film being allowed any degree of characterisation or personality – and having acquired a girlfriend. These are hungry dead, stripped of any link to the humans they were. The chief villain is an exception too – but even he is never really more than a two dimensional psychopath. The ghosts of the Ghostbusters franchise are really just monsters who need blowing up, not discarnate human beings…
You see – that’s what goes wrong! I forget the plot and get absorbed in the spooks. And where the new Ghostbusters is concerned that is a serious mistake.
Now – the women. They are superb. I like women, and make no apologies for liking the new team as much as I liked the old one. I think the accusations of racism levelled at the film are misjudged – seeing a Black working class character in the film was fine, just as there was diversity in the White cast, but I am not in a position to speak for Black women.. I thought the four core team members were all very different, and very very good. The massive campaign of hate that preceded the film based on the fact it was a reboot (or is it a sequel : you can read it either way) struck me as totally misjudged. I did not watch the trailers – but I rate the film as certainly better than Ghostbusters 2 – but I rate a bout of norovirus in the middle of a hot date as probably preferable to watching Ghostbusters 2 again.
I remember, many many years ago, walking to school along Fornham Road in Bury St Edmunds and seeing a poster with what I know now to be a Ghostbusters logo on a bus shelter. I had no idea about the film in those pre-internet days, and certainly no intention of watching it. I had no idea it was a film. “Coming to save the world”the tag line read – I assumed it was some kind of cult. A few weeks later I was sitting in St. John’s Place reading The Haunter of the Dark by H.P.Lovecraft in my grandmothers garden, casting occasional glances at the louvre boards of St. John’s steeple, when my sister Ingrid arrived. She took me to see this new film Ghostbusters, and i was not that keen – I wanted to read – but within minutes I was transfixed
I thought it was a GREAT film – not just good, but brilliant. My criticism has remained solid for thirty years – it starts so well, and then it becomes more and more fantastic and outrageous, and finally ends in silliness. My favourite bits are the first Act, where they are setting up, being thrown out of the university, and building their business. Ans yes it is a Thatcherite/Reaganite wet dream – small business entrepreneurs face off against Evil government bureaucrats from the Environmental Protection Agency and leave a useless Public Sector to achieve greatness by capitalism “no fee to big; no job too small. Perhaps its really sending up rags to riches films – whatever the case, I love this film, and so do many other people and I can imagine they will be angry at me for critiquing it. The fact when I first saw it I was doing my O Levels (old people speak for GCSEs) has enshrined it in my heart as a forever golden classic.
Now of course none of the Ghostbusters franchise can ever be as roll on the floor till I nearly choke laughing so hard funny as The Exorcist, which may be among the funniest films I have ever watched. Still Ghostbusters 3 of whatever they are calling it is maybe 70% great, 20% OK and 10% weak. This is a solid 8 out of 10 to me.
So the good: the casting, the shot but shot remake feel of the first half yet never actually doing that – if you have watched the latest Star Wars movie, it has the same relation to Star Wars: A New Hope as this film has to Ghostbusters. It often cleverly adopts a visual cue, a scene or a trope from the original film, then puts a spin on it. At times it seems very self aware – the jokes about the firestation costing too much, the explanation as to why they drive a hearse, the Ghostbusters logo design – even how they come to name themselves Ghostbusters. Mostly though this shows up in the references to online trolls, comments and critics – and most spectacularly in the closing scene where the line “That was not so terrible” caused a real laugh in context of all the hate the movie has provoked.
Also very good are the constant references to ghost pop culture that has developed since the original films. There is a nod to the Most Haunted etc style of paranormal programming when they see a snatch of a show called “Ghost Jumpers” and are outraged – and there is a villain who is a skeptic and debunker who reminded me more than a little of James Randi in his younger days. The physicists have replaced the parapsychologists and knowing psychical research in-jokes of the original movie which even references a very little known element from the Enfield Poltergeist case -I wonder how many of you can spot that one? It’s a name and is mentioned in Guy Lyon Playfair’s This House is Haunted. Oh OK, the name Gozer was given my a medium as the name of the “wicked black magic chap” she said haunted the Green Street house). From the viewpoint of an SPR member it is probably not as satisfying for those reasons.
Also the physics and technology has changed. The ghost containment device is only invented at the end, along with the ghost trap. Yes they fire beams from backpack nuclear reactors, but one never hears of a warning about crossing the streams and bizarrely “unlicensed particle accelerators” have been replaced by “nuclear lasers”, and total protonic reversal and destruction of all life is no longer highlighted in this day of public fears about CERN – and guess vacuum collapse is not something I want to laugh about – but ther eis a mention of I think total positronic reversal at one point in a fire fight. And yes, and this is one of the weaknesses – the film becomes an action movie for the last third – a pretty, high powered, colourful and fun action movie, but still a special FX and loud explosions kind of shebang, which is really not my thing at all. Worst of all, they now basically shoot ghosts, rather than capturing them and containing them in a trap. This means you can have big budget shoot ’em up sequences, but its not as much fun, and means the film is way more violent and involves bigger and bigger spooks for diminishing returns.
It turns out that the explanation for why the ghost tech has been developed twice is that one of the characters wrote a book about it years ago – but the whole film males more sense if you assume the events of Ghostbusters 1 & 2 actually occurred, and were suppressed by the Mayor’s Office. The book provides a way of downplaying that element, but all but one (Murray’s) of the cameos make sense perfectly if you assume this is a sequel set in the same universe.
The cameos were fun; I won’t spell them out here, but only one person was missing as sadly Harold Ramis died recently. I did not notice an In Memory of Harold Ramis notice on the film credits or opening titles anywhere – I’m not sure why not, as one would have expected that. Perhaps the poor expectations of the film led to it being felt best to leave that off? Bill Murray appears with the largest cameo – but my favourite was the part played by Dan Akroyd. This clearly shows my future career prospects I suspect, if I can learn to drive…
The soundtrack is also better than the original movie using only the famous main theme throughout but with different versions and to good effect. (Watch Ghostbusters again – much of the music is not so good). There are little homages to the 80’s like Debarge’s Rhythm of the Night, and a bit of gross humour. The end gets lost in special effects, and one character Kevin is just a bit annoying – could have been handled better – but improves as the film progresses. The villain looks great and was rather charming, and — look go see it.
The films weakness is not enough time is spent on the characters, rather than on Special FX and action, and the plot (more Doctor Who or pulp meets H.P.Lovecraft than classic ghost story as normal for the franchise) isn’t as engaging as the original. The bimbo male secretary eye candy idiot is annoying, but maybe that is making a Feminist point. It’s a shame because Janine never fulfilled that stereotype, so there was no reason to reverse it here — but my housemate Lisa just went to see Tarzan simply ‘cos the main actor is hot, so let us not underestimate the importance of pretty boys as visual appeal.
I often see a film and love it, and then see it again when it is on TV and really don’t enjoy it – The Full Monty is a classic example – but I’m hoping this one will be a keeper. Clearly there will be a sequence, and you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs – but ZUUL! Becky loved the film too, so put aside your prejudices, go watch it, and I think you might have a great couple of hours.