May 24, 2013

Who You Gonna Call? Sorry, That Number is Not in Service

When a movie makes $230 million dollars and becomes the second highest grossing movie of the year, a sequel is practically guaranteed. That’s just science. So it came as no surprise that the team behind 1984’s Ghostbusters reunited five years later for Ghostbusters 2. It did come as a surprise that the follow-up lacked so much of the charm that made the first film work. But maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising. I touched on this when praising Bill Murray’s performance last year: Ghostbusters is a weird movie. Think about it. The premise is strange, the humor is dry, the tone is offbeat…the fact that it was such an enormous hit was kind of a fluke. It could easily have missed the mainstream and landed, at best, in the cult classic bin alongside titles like Time Bandits, Buckaroo Banzai and Remo Williams. But somehow, against the odds, the public embraced it and the movie took on legendary status and became a cultural touchstone.

Whatever had worked so well about Ghostbusters, the sequel failed to recapture it. Even with Ivan Reitman directing again, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis back on script duty and the entire principal cast onboard, Ghostbusters 2 didn’t have the ease of its predecessor. It wasn’t entirely devoid of laughs; Bill Murray was still pretty great and had some choice moments, while new cast member Peter MacNicol stole the show as Sigourney Weaver’s heavily accented boss who becomes possessed by an evil spirit. And it should be noted: the movie wasn’t a flop. It earned over $100 million and was the seventh highest grossing movie of 1989. But fans were disappointed and the movie is largely forgotten.

Which explains why, nearly 25 years later, after little-to-no clamoring from fans, we may finally be “treated” to Ghostbusters 3, talk of which has persisted — mostly courtesy of Dan Aykroyd — for the past few years, at least. For a while, it was just talk. “We’re trying to make it happen;” “We’re working on a script;” etc. But the talk seems increasingly likely to translate into action. Apparently there is a finished script, initially written by The Office scribes Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, now recently rewritten by Etan Cohen, whose credits include Tropic Thunder, Idiocracy and Men in Black 3. Ivan Reitman is returning to direct, and Aykroyd says the film will find the original Ghostbusters passing the torch to a new generation, making this both a sequel and a reboot.

This is a bad idea.

If you’re fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing, let me elaborate. First of all, Bill Murray is not returning. Do we even need a second of all? Murray’s involvement has long been in doubt, and while discussing his friend’s reluctance with Dennis Miller in 2011, Aykroyd said, “What we have to remember is that Ghostbusters is bigger than any one component, although Billy was absolutely the lead and contributive to it in a massive way, as was the director and Harold [Ramis], myself and Sigourney [Weaver]. The concept is much larger than any individual role and the promise of Ghostbusters 3 is that we get to hand the equipment and the franchise down to new blood.”

That may be true, to an extent. I would never say that Ghostbusters only works because of Bill Murray. But I will say without hesitation that it absolutely does not work without Bill Murray. He’s the key. As I said above, he was one of the few bright spots in Ghostbusters 2, and without him…c’mon. Anyone who thinks a third movie can work sans Murray is delusional. When I was finding clips to include in my Roger Ebert tribute, I watched Ebert and Gene Siskel review Ghostbusters. When Ebert says at the end that these characters could go on to star in a series of similar adventures, Siskel adds that it is Bill Murray who would make that work. And he’s right.

Now it’s one thing for me to say, as a fan of the movie, that Murray’s presence is invaluable, or for a couple of critics to say the same, but his contribution can actually be quantified. In December, Oscar nominated director/screenwriter Jason Reitman — son of Ivan — staged a reading of the Ghostbusters script as part of his immensely popular LACMA Live Read series. In preparing for the event, he discovered that much of Murray’s dialogue was improvised, and through access to his father’s materials, he put together a script for the live read that combined the actual shooting script and the stuff that Murray came up with on the set.

Strangely, when addressing the possibility of involvement from Rick Moranis, who has been retired from acting for years, Aykroyd said, “If we can get the script to Ghostbusters 3 right, then it would definitely have Moranis as a major component. None of us would want to do the movie without having him as a participant.” So…he would make the movie without Bill Murray, its star, but not without supporting player Rick Moranis? And what if Moranis  — who couldn’t even be lured into providing voice work for the 2009 Ghostbusters video game (something Murray did) — says no? Will Aykroyd be true to his word and put the kibosh on this ill-advised threequel? Speaking about the project’s slow progress this past December in Esquire, Aykroyd insisted that he has plenty going on in his life without this movie. “If it does not happen, the life of Dan Aykroyd and his family and friends will be quite full without Ghostbusters 3.” If that’s the case, then why not let it go? Is there really a groundswell of fan demand for a new Ghostbusters movie? I’m sure there are people who would like to see it happen — the comment sections of some of these linked articles support as much — but we’re not exactly talking about a movement here. And Aykroyd, of all people, should know better than to revisit hallowed ground years later, without the involvement of an original star, having subjected the world to the offense against cinema that was Blues Brothers 2000. Aykroyd spoke to The Telegraph in February 2012 and commented on Murray’s lack of interest, and while he sounded disappointed, he said he respects Murray’s decision and remains committed to the movie nonetheless…though I’m surprised that a studio would be willing to invest millions of dollars in a Ghostbusters movie that lacks the series’ MVP.

For Murray’s part, I have to applaud an actor who has the integrity to recognize that the magic has passed and that even the massive paycheck he would likely earn is not worth pissing on the legacy of a beloved movie. Or so I’m assuming; to my knowledge, Murray hasn’t actually clarified why he doesn’t want to be involved, so I’m choosing to call it integrity and good sense. When asked about Ghostbusters 3 during a GQ interview in 2010, he merely seemed skeptical that it would even happen, and unenthused about participating if it did. (The whole interview is worth a read; Murray is as dryly hilarious as ever.)

One thing I learned while writing this, which I had not known about and which saddened me to hear, is that Murray and Harold Ramis don’t really talk anymore, having apparently fallen out during the making of their classic Groundhog Day. In 2004, The New Yorker profiled Ramis while he was in production on his film The Ice Harvest, and a few pages of that article (starting at the bottom of this one) are devoted to his history with Murray and, vaguely, what happened between them. When The A.V. Club asked about progress on Ghostbusters 3 in 2009, Ramis offered a few additional comments about Murray. He seems sad that they don’t talk anymore, and perhaps their distance is one of the reasons Murray is reluctant to be involved. I hope they patch things up some day. I also hope it doesn’t take Ghostbusters 3 to make that happen.

But Murray or not, the movie seems close to getting made, and its fate may be determined within the next several months. As of last October, the script was approved and production was slated to begin this summer. About two weeks later, production was delayed until the fall, “at earliest.” This stall is what likely prompted Ackroyd’s wearied comments in the Esquire link above. Yet still he remains confident, offering a cryptic clue to the plot just this week. In the meantime, Reitman is now in production on the promising football drama Draft Day, which will likely occupy his time at least through the summer, if not beyond. Next year marks the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters, so if the parties involved are going to move forward, sooner would make more sense than later….though given the film’s likely visual effects requirements, a 2014 release is unlikely to happen if production doesn’t begin by September or October. Considering Reitman’s commitment to Draft Day, that seems impossible.

Take it as a sign, boys. The delays, the Murray refusal, the tight timeline…the universe is trying to tell you not to make this movie. Some things should just be left alone. The popularity of Ghostbusters endures thanks to its original fans passing on their enthusiasm to new generations, but that doesn’t equal demand for a new chapter. I’m sure that for Aykroyd, reasons to revisit the phenomenon range from the sentimental to the financial, but this is a recipe for disaster (not necessarily of the biblical, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together ilk, but still). If you couldn’t recapture the magic five years after the original, when you were all still in your glory days, what makes you think you can do it 25 years later, without Murray and Moranis around to contribute their unique brands of funny? Looking through the articles linked here and seeing comments not just from Murray, but even from Ramis and Reitman, it seems clear that nobody other than Aykroyd is all that enthusiastic about doing another movie. (Add Sigourney Weaver to that list. She seems willing to be involved, but sounds perfectly fine to let it go.)

On the chance that the sort of telekinetic energies that the Ghostbusters might investigate in the real world actually exist, please join me in sending thoughtwaves to the executives at Sony to let them know that because we love Ghostbusters so much, we want them to pass on this third movie. Proceeding would be like crossing the streams, only we’re all more likely to wind up doused in foul excrement than delightful marshmallow.


  1. I could see Bill Hader, Seth Rogan doing something in this world. But yeah overall, the story can’t really get any more ‘out there’ than the first two.

    Comment by jrmilt — May 24, 2013 @ 9:30 pm | Reply

    • I don’t know if you clicked on the link about Jason Reitman’s live read of the script, but he cast Rogen in the Bill Murray role, with Jack Black in the Aykroyd part and Rainn Wilson in the Ramis part. Good choices.

      Comment by DB — May 25, 2013 @ 2:08 pm | Reply

  2. Here’s a question: who owns the rights to Ghostbusters? Is it Aykroyd/Ramis? Is it the studio? If the studio owns the rights then they can simply make it with or without the original guys. Obviously the studio would prefer to have the original cast on board, but they wouldn’t be absolutely necessary if the plan is to do a reboot. Conversely, Ghostbusters was Aykroyd’s script – his baby. Hell, look at his writing credits on IMDB – 11 of his 25 writing credits overall and his most recent 6 are Ghostbusters-related. He clearly cares about it A LOT. If he cares about it as much as I think he does, then he would have to be involved regardless of Murray’s wishes and would certainly want to be involved to make sure the studio didn’t screw around with his baby.

    If Aykroyd himself has the rights and can choose whether or not to do it, then that’s a different situation, but – again – given how much he still seems to love Ghostbusters, if a studio exec told him “Hey, we want to reboot it and you’ll get tens of millions of dollars and you’ll also be back in the spotlight again” then I can see why he’d want to move forward with it. With the lack of creativity in Hollywood and its never-ending desire to find franchise films, why wouldn’t they throw money at him for something as iconic as Ghostbusters? Maybe this is me becoming a dad talking, but while I’d love it if he had the integrity to say “no,” I can totally understand the desire to have everyone love your creation; i.e. his baby, aka the Ghostbusters script. The integrity might make him more of an artist, but that desire for love and relevance makes him human.

    Besides, if they make Ghostbusters III with or without Murray, you know you’re still going to see it 😉

    Comment by dazizmor — May 24, 2013 @ 11:10 pm | Reply

    • Based on the Esquire article I linked to, it sounds like the rights are split between Aykroyd, Ramis, Reitman, Murray (unless he bows out) and an entity Aykroyd refers to as “the picture company,” which probably means the studio. From what he says though, Sony can’t make the movie without him and the other rights holders.

      Believe me, I know the temptation to revive the franchise and make a new movie must be strong for Aykroyd, but I still hold out hope in cases like this that the artist’s integrity will trump the human need for money and validation. More than anything, I just wish he could look at it with enough perspective to realize that the chances of it being any good are slim. He made a movie, it was a huge success and 25 years later people still love it. I wish he could be satisfied with that.

      Comment by DB — May 25, 2013 @ 2:19 pm | Reply

  3. But with our modern day CG, it’s going to make this latest installment even better, right? (cricket, cricket, cricket)
    I also can’t wait for the “I’m too old for this” jokes. Those are going to be funny.

    Comment by Antonio — May 25, 2013 @ 8:16 am | Reply

    • Yeah, right? One of them will throw their back out while trying to put on the proton pack, someone will make a joke about how much weight Egon has gained…it won’t be pretty.

      Comment by DB — May 25, 2013 @ 2:23 pm | Reply

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