‘Eagerly awaited” is how the pre-publicity invariably describes the forthcoming Ghostbusters film – which will be number four in strict total, after the original two and Paul Feig’s 2016 effort. But actually it will be number three from the Reitman family firm, since Ivan directed the first two and now his son, Jason, perhaps inevitably, has taken up duties on the latest one. And given that Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters was unquestionably well-intended but a solid three stars at best, I reckon we can all agree to just put it back in the ghost trap and focus on the Reitman contributions. So here we are, with the first trailer from Reitman fils. What do we learn?
Well, the first thing is that we are all very, very, very old. Not the kids in the trailer, of course – they’re so young their skin is like fresh dew. So young, they aren’t even supposed to be the children of one of the Ghostbusters but the GRANDCHILDREN. And, of course, that’s as it should be: after all, we’re so far from the the original Ghostbusters movies that one of the original trio, lovely Harold Ramis, is, heartbreakingly, dead, and the surviving ones are actual grandfathers in real life. But jeez: way to go making those of us who saw the first Ghostbusters on its release feel about as old as the screaming ghost librarian in its peerless opening scene.
The plot of said trailer is as follows: two kids and their mother move to a weird old house in the middle of nowhere for that universally relatable reason, Convenient Plot Device. The house used to belong to their grandfather, who, says their teacher (played by Paul Rudd – who may be 200 or 20 years old, no one can tell anymore), was a Ghostbuster. Cue revving up the old Ecto-1 as the kids chase ghosts and whizz round their new town, which looks, confusingly, like Hill Valley circa 1955. That’s a reference only us grandparents will understand.
But what we learn from the trailer is that the new Ghostbuster is not really Ghostbusters: it’s Stranger Things, the movie version. Like Stranger Things, it’s about kids in a small town, and it’s rooted in an homage to an 80s movie. In fact, from what I’ve seen of the trailer, I’m not actually sure why the film exists, given that Stranger Things was surely going to get on to Ghostbusters at some point, having already riffed on Stand By Me, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, and so on.
This brings me to my biggest quibble with the new movie. The main reason why Feig’s version didn’t work was that it lacked Ghostbusters’ secret special ingredients. No, not special effects and comedy but friendship and specificity. The original Ghostbusters is still so adored because viewers can sense the very real bond between the three leads as they ad-lib and riff off one another. They are grownups but fun, which means kids and grownups alike can enjoy them. And then there’s the specificity. Although people think the stars of the first Ghostbusters were Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, the real star was New York City. It was, above all, a movie about the city, filmed right out there on the streets. Even the slightly absurd (but still underrated) sequel was very much about Manhattan. Feig’s movie, by contrast, was clearly filmed on a studio lot and felt poorer as a result – synthetic where it should have been grubby, anodyne where it should have been real.
This latest one is filmed, as far as I can tell, in Anywheresville, USA. And it’s a shame. I get that it’s not easy to film in cities: Ivan Reitman had to shut down almost half of Manhattan to film the last scene of the first movie. Also, studios think specificity limits appeal whereas generic makes a movie more relatable. But they’re wrong. Specificity and in-the-know references make a movie seem real and give it texture. It’s the difference between a real New York chili dog and bland porridge. And while I may be a lifelong vegetarian (imagine how much Venkman would disapprove), even I know a chili dog beats porridge. I hope Reitman the Younger proves me wrong. Lord knows he got the genes to do so. But for now, I’m keeping faith with the originals.