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Ghostbuster II Paved The Way For Everything We Hate About Sequels Now

Ghostbusters is a magical mess, and Ghostbusters II is a cold miscalculation.


1984 was an incredible year for movies, and Ghostbusters is arguably the best from that year. It gave us an enchanting alternate reality and has spawned five films, two animated television series, a bunch of documentaries, and so many toys. So why does it always feel like the subsequent movies we get are a pale imitation of the original? The first sequel, Ghostbusters II, was an early hint that things were never going to work out quite the same way again, and looking back on it from 2024, it feels like the kind of studio-run, bean-counted project that we expect to see in theaters even today.

The first Ghostbusters was an accident

The original film we got, an almost perfect mix of science-fiction, horror, and comedy, was not the Ghostbusters Dan Aykroyd had in mind when he first envisioned the project. The original script, set in 2012, had multiple teams of "ghost smashers" traveling between planets and dimensions. The Ecto-1 car was a black vehicle that could disappear. The original cast would have included not just Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, but also John Belushi as Peter Venkman. Belushi's passing forced a recast. Eddie Murphy was considered for Winston before Ernie Hudson stepped in. Both John Candy and Sandra Bernhard turned down the roles of Louis Tully and Janine Melnitz, respectively. Candy wanted to give Tully a German accent and a pair of dogs. Even New York City didn't play a huge role in the original idea, as the team was to be based out of a New Jersey gas station The script underwent extensive rewrites by Aykroyd, Ramis, and director Ivan Reitman to turn it into the movie we know today. Even then, the movie was on such a tight schedule that prints with unfinished visual effects were sent to theaters.

Ghostbusters is such a huge movie that it's basically a part of American culture at this point--. But the pieces that fit together so perfectly came out of necessity, budget control, and improvisation.

Ghostbusters II is a photocopy of the original

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The sequel, however, is something else altogether. In nearly every scene, we can see the signs of the creators fighting with the studio, or maybe even just the creators struggling to come up with another compelling idea of what the Ghostbusters could be.

If we look at the movie from a thousand-foot view, they're essentially the same film. Something spooky happens to Dana, and she goes to the boys for help. The boys are successful and popular, but there's a mean government guy with a vendetta against them. They get waylaid by the system and things get worse and worse. A weird guy gets wrapped up in the evil stuff and unwittingly makes things worse. There's a montage of spooky happenings and people screaming. The mayor gets the boys on the case. Things go badly at first, and then they get exciting when a monstrous figure stomps through the streets of New York (but it's a good guy this time). The boys face off against a weirdo who blasts them, and then they blast the guy creatively and the city cheers for them. That's the plot summary of both movies.

It doesn't stop there, though. There are so many little things about the movie that sound like studio executives saying, "Hey, the people want this." Peter puts the moves on a reticent Dana Barrett. There's a scene of them explaining the impending disaster in a holding cell. There are three separate Slimer cameos, all of which feel shoehorned into the movie. Ray gets zapped by the big bad ghost again because his enthusiasm for the subject makes him the most vulnerable. The big bad targets Dana and a weirdo who spends the first half of the movie hopelessly hitting on her. The big bad sends the boys flying backward with a ghost blast that leaves them all groaning on the floor. Peter goads the bad guy. None of these choices are inherently bad, but they start to look weirder the more of them we put together.

It feels like they changed many elements of the first movie, but just enough to make it hard to say it's the same movie. Still, when you line up all those similarities, it's impossible to miss.

Just about every decision Ghostbusters II makes feels like a response to Ghostbusters or calculated audience pandering. One of the most-referenced scenes in the first movie was Peter getting slimed, so they slime everyone except Peter. The movie pushes much deeper into slapstick humor when compared to the original--for example, the scene with the haunted rail line with cheesy-looking heads on pikes and Winston becoming frazzled by a ghost train--rather than the dialogue-driven humor of the first. It all feels designed to make the movie broader and simpler for bigger audiences, whereas the original film was more ready to let audiences figure things out for themselves.

Old, but New Again

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The movie isn't all bad; I still love the characters and the world they've created. In some ways, the story feels really modern. Despite how successful the Ghostbusters appeared at the end of the first film--and the fact that all of New York witnessed it--there are still people in absolute denial that ghosts are real and that the Ghostbusters are anything but a hoax. It's not hard to draw a line to that in the modern news. But while there might be ideas that work in there, it's all that other stuff that feels so much more modern. The first movie was this huge surprise success, and suddenly a bunch of people felt like they needed to put their fingers into the Ghostbusters pie to make sure they made their money back. In the process, they created a dull copy of the original with all of the fun edges shaved off.

And it's a trend that continues in the new Ghostbusters movies. They start from the idea of trying to continue the legacy of the original four Ghostbusters but struggle with expanding instead of revisiting. Slimer shows up again in Frozen Empire. Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon's characters get turned into demon dogs. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man shows up over and over in both movies. It feels like "Remember what Ghostbusters was" instead of "What can Ghostbusters be?" The most recent Star Wars trilogy is less a continuation and more of a greatest-hits tour despite the new characters, spending time fighting planet-sized lasers, dropping AT-AT walkers onto white planets, and revisiting the twin suns of Tatooine.

Following the same beats doesn't ruin a movie all on its own, but it means that the rest of the movie has to be entertaining enough to justify it. Ghostbusters 2 is still fun thanks to the stellar comedy performances of its cast and the sheer power of the driving concept, but it's hard to see it as anything other than a retread.

Eric Frederiksen on Google+

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