The first “Ghostbusters” (1984) is a classic. It’s iconic, funny, sometimes scary and features strong characters, a great script and of course, an immortal theme song.
“Ghostbusters II” however, is not perceived in nearly the same light. While I am a personal fan of the film, it is easy to see the flaws in comparison to the original.
And then there’s the recent remake. Between all the feminist hoopla and controversy surrounding it, what seems to be lost is that the end product was just terrible.
So could superior sequels/reboots have been made? The answer is, always, of course.
- Come up with an original story
“Ghostbusters 2” is a fun movie. It feels almost exactly like the original. That’s because it pretty much is exactly the original.
The biggest single problem with “Ghostbusters 2” is that it follows the exact same plot as the first film. They both go like this: Some schleps that no one believes in investigate a paranormal phenomenon surrounding Dana Barrett that ends up with them busting a ghost and going on a musical montage. A plot to destroy the world is uncovered and is only exacerbated by a public official prick. The mayor needs to believe enough in the Ghostbusters to let them do their thing. The Ghostbusters work together and the power of the common love of New Yorkers saves the day.
The general rule with a sequel is “be the same, but different.” The film focuses too much on the same and fails to do anything new. The plot needs to be different. It is too much of a coincidence to have another supernatural global threat surrounding Dana. You need to build themes rather than retread prior ground.
Another global threat is fine, but rather than use a very similar plot structure to the previous film, perhaps have the Ghostbusters in another locale. Rather than a big city, perhaps a rural area or a foreign country.
And rather than have the Ghostbusters need to get together and prove themselves to the city once again, the film should start right off the heels of the last film and expand on a new story, with new characters and new themes. Perhaps the Ghostbusters try to franchise and set up other ghostbusting agencies. Perhaps by saving the world they unleash another paranormal demon they need to track around the globe. Perhaps, like the Beatles, their newfound fame creates tensions that force them into breaking apart and they need to come together to save the globe.
2. Advance the characters
In conjunction with a new plot, “Ghostbusters 2” spends too much time retreading similar character developments from the previous film. In the first film, the Ghostbusters seek recognition from the world in regards to their paranormal investigating, and Peter must prove himself to Dana. In the second film, the Ghostbusters seek recognition from the world in regards to their paranormal investigating, and Peter must prove himself to Dana.
The sequel needs to pick up where the original left off and develop those themes towards their next step. It should go deeper.
Rather than having the whole world forget about the events of the first film (seriously, how does no one remember a giant stay puft marshmallow man walking down the street?), the sequel should deal with a world that fully believes in ghosts and paranormal activity. Perhaps the Ghostbusters are overworked and need to hire more and more people to keep up with demand as people freak out more and more about the upcoming apocalypse. Or since Gozer was defeated, there are less ghosts for them to investigate and the Ghostbusters charge more and more for their services to meet up with service costs and people look down on them for being less than their glory days.
The same with Bill Murray’s character. The relationship between him and Dana is pretty good in the second film. It shows that they had a relationship, had some problems and now are thrown together for the sake of saving her child. It could just go a little deeper. Perhaps Dana is kidnapped and Venkman is forced into a father role for Oscar. This would prove his ability as a parent to Dana and reconcile their relationship.
3. Raise the stakes
Sequels also must raise the stakes. If your film deals with the destruction of a city, your sequel should deal with the destruction of a country. If it’s a country, the world. If it’s a world, the universe. Or deeper, it could escalate from the relationship with a loved one to a family.
So in the original “Ghostbusters”, you deal with an apocalyptic god who creates a giant monster and threatens to destroy everything. The stakes are already pretty tall, but “Ghostbusters 2” deals with more of the same: a demon who tries to destroy the city.
So instead of another destroy the world plot, perhaps focus on an entirely different angle. Maybe you harken back to Dan Aykroyd’s original idea and have the Ghostbusters traveling in alternate dimensions to catch ghosts. Or have a stricter challenge from the ultimate baddie at the end, pushing the Ghostbusters towards the ultimate sacrifice.
Or go deeper internally. Focusing on the idea of a Ghostbusters breakup, maybe the test at the finale will force the Ghostbusters to band together as they once did and their reconcile gives the film a deeper emotional impact because not only do they have to overcome a supernatural force, but also their own deficiencies (an example of this would be the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy where the heroes have to save the galaxy again, but the emotional journey is more personal this time around).
4. Don’t make a sequel
This almost goes without saying, but given the success of “Ghostbusters”, don’t bother making a follow-up film. Comedy sequels are nearly impossible to pull off. Sometimes it is just better to leave well enough alone.
It is well-known that Bill Murray can be difficult to work with and his involvement with the second Ghostbusters film was cantankerous. Maybe just leaving the film franchise on the rocks and focusing on the cartoon would have been just fine.
How it Could Have Been
So how could a second Ghostbusters film have looked?
We pick up at the end of the original movie. The Ghostbusters are now celebrities. They have saved the city and quite possibly the world.
Venkman is on talk shows and does any hack job that gives him a check. He is so wrapped up in his celebrity that he shirks his Ghost-busting responsibilities.
He has started a relationship with Dana, but she breaks up with him as he becomes a prima donna. She starts dating a stiff, stuck up musician, someone so annoying that it’s hilarious. This plays off Murray’s comedic sense perfectly.
Meanwhile, Winston, Ray and Egon continue the ghost hunting responsibilities, but are out of sorts with Venkman’s departure. Perhaps Louis, after his possession by Vince Clortho, has become a sensor for paranormal activity, able to sniff it out and occasionally possessed by spirits randomly. He becomes a Ghostbuster but is so inept that you wonder why they bother keeping him around.
Through Louis, they discover a connection with the ghosts they catch and an ancient Carpathian demon. They travel to Carpathia (comedy ensues through their journey). Egon keeps pushing the limits of the ghost busting technology, giving the team stronger and stronger technology that Louis uses to blow things up. Ray is trying to broaden public knowledge about the dangers of alternate dimensions, but nobody will listen to him as he attempts to tell others that the danger they faced previously is still out there.
Winston is just looking to keep his job and is offered a better opportunity with his sister’s brother’s company. He doesn’t tell anyone, but he contemplates taking it.
In Carpathia, they discover that the evil demon dictator Viggo is planning an invasion from the netherworld. They try to confront him, but are sucked into an alternate dimension. In the ensuing chaos, Louis is killed, turning into a ghost.
On the road, Venkman feels lost. Perhaps he has an assistant (Janosz from the second film) who he bosses around and they quip off each other. He tries to get Dana back, but she confronts him with the accusation that all he cares about is himself.
Then Louis’ ghost shows up, warning him of what has happened and the impending doom that awaits the world. As demons and ghost start to invade the planet, Venkman is presented with a chance at redemption.
He suits up in his Ghostbuster gear and saves Dana from a monster that swallowed her boyfriend. He kisses her before going off to save his friends.
He makes Louis take him to the other dimension using his ghost powers. In the crazy, spiritual realm, he faces off against Viggo who rules the spirit world and hurls everything he has at him. The three Ghostbusters are possessed as slime creatures and Venkman has to fend them off and reach their inner selves to break them free of the curse placed on them.
Together, they take down Viggo and return to the normal world. With the world saved once again, the Ghostbusters reach a crossroads.
Venkman marries Dana, free of most of his ego and his need for fame and fortune, retiring from the Ghostbusters. Winston, realizing his connection to the team, turns down the other job offered to him to remain. Egon is taken back to the netherworld by Louis to investigate the supernatural further. Ray takes lead of the Ghostbusters to recruit the next crop of paranormal fighters.
- Tie into the first two movies
The first real issue with the 2016 “Ghostbusters” film is that the film has no ties to the first two films. When you are dealing with a property as beloved as “Ghostbusters”, you can’t create a straight-up remake. It is sacrilegious to ignore the work done by Reitman, Aykroyd and Ramis. Much like “Jurassic World” and “The Force Awakens”, you need to soft reboot, returning some of the original cast and continuing the story already set in addition to having new characters.
2. Don’t reintroduce everything
The other major issue with studio remakes today is that they for some reason believe that audiences need to be re-introduced to everything. They feel the need to go through what a ghost is, how the technology to catch them works, what they are up against, etc. I would imagine that most people going to see “Ghostbusters” 2016 have seen the original. It would be better not to waste everyone’s time by replaying the exact same movie.
3. Make a good movie
Harold Ramis is gone. Dan Aykroyd is a pretty strange fellow. Bill Murray is as cantankerous as ever. What they created together with director Ivan Reitman is lightning in a bottle, something that only they could have done. So in approaching a third film in the series, it is imperative for newcomers to realize their limitations. To recreate what those men had would be foolhardy. You have to take their bare bones and realize what you yourself can do. That’s why an entirely different approach was needed. Ramis, Aykroyd, Reitman and Murray did Ghostbusters their way; in making future films, make it to your strengths.
Director Paul Feig and stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon rely too much to what had come before. And their attempt at humor is the lowest common denominator (fart jokes, sex jokes, chuckle gags). There is no wit, there is no charisma. When faced with creating a new Ghostbusters film, it seems as though they panicked, churning out the easiest, cheesiest jokes and plot to satisfy the masses. In that, they greatly undervalued what made “Ghostbusters” work. It’s not just a comedy. Its story, its characters, its plot twists and its heart all made it more, and Feig and co. never really understood that.
How It Could Have Been
So how could a “Ghostbusters 3” have gone? Ignoring my own personal interpretation of “Ghostbusters 2”, if a third movie were released about 27 years later from the latest movie, it should follow in the footsteps of past soft reboots and incorporate pieces of the original while branching off on its own adventure.
The Ghostbusters are on their last legs. There haven’t been ghosts to hunt in years. Many believe that the fight against paranormal activity is over.
Venkman and Dana have gone on to live their life. Egon is gone. Ray has retired. Winston runs what is left of the shop, checking in on old housewives who hear spooky noises in their attic.
A young paranormal investigator (let’s call her Sarah) grows up idolizing the Ghostbusters. Her parents tell her that the paranormal threat is over, but this doesn’t stop her from pursuing parapsychology. Her paranormal hunting leads her to a house out in the country that has reported some sort of ghostly activity. Sarah goes to investigate and discovers a gateway to Hell.
She tries to tell everyone, but no one believes her. She finally gets in touch with Winston running the downtrodden Ghostbusters, but he doesn’t believe her either; he has no confidence in what he does anymore.
Sarah finds some way to convince him and Winston puts out an ad for a new team. They run through several candidates to hilarious effect and add three more members (let’s call them Greg, Alice and Paul). Each of these members has their own personality quirks and personal journeys they must embark on throughout the film.
The newly-formed Ghostbusters consult Ray who tells them that what made the Ghostbusters special is their belief in their destiny together, and they embark on a quest to the supernatural destination. They are put to the test as a team (fighting amongst each other, issues with ghosts), but in a huge display in front of the world, they believe they defeat the supernatural threat.
The world believes in ghosts again and the new Ghostbusters go out to work in this new world. They follow the advances in technology (ghosts in cell phones, ghosts using Facebook and Twitter) and hunt down the supernatural phenomena that have sprouted in the world once again. Winston runs the department from the confines of the studio, basking in the Ghostbuster fame once again as he retires from the field.
What the team doesn’t realize is that the entity they thought they eliminated back at the farm is actually inhabiting Paul, controlling him. This ghost learns all the secrets of the team and works to destroy them from the inside out. With the team broken up, the evil spirit unleashes demonic entities across the world, with a central hub deep in New York City.
Sarah has to bring the team back together. She uses the knowledge that Winston taught her and the team overcomes their deficiencies to defeat the evil spirits. The Ghostbusters are back.
“Ghostbusters” will always be a classic and nothing can change that. Its sequels do not detract from its strength. They only prevented it from franchisement. But it’s fun imagining how those sequels could have been better.