I Ain’t Afraid of no Reboot

So, Dan Aykroyd thinks the Ghostbusters reboot is great.

Like everything surrounding the forthcoming sink-or-swim movie, it’s really hard to know how to interpret this information. Lots of folk are reportedly (always an important word in the era of click-bait and rolling news) up in arms, seeing it as a betrayal. For them, I suppose it’s as if Paul McCartney confessed that the Beatles were crap compared to Justin Bieber, or John Cleese proclaimed Adam Sandler the heir to the Monty Python legacy. I choose these examples because, while they’re beyond the pale, they’re not too far beyond the pale, depending on the arguments you choose (crappy arguments, for sure, but arguments nonetheless). Meanwhile, the pro-reboot crowd read Aykroyd’s words as vindication, that the film is a ‘proper’ Ghostbusters film, whatever that means.

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I think both groups are kidding themselves. But then, I’m not a Dan Aykroyd fan. Sure, I like a bunch of his films (Ghostbusters, The Blue Brothers and… Wait… No. Well, he was pretty good in Grosse Pointe Blank) but as writer, performer and rational human being, he generally leaves me shaking my head in dismay. Yes, it’s totally opinion. I may be right, or I may be wrong. My point is, Dan Aykroyd and I do not share a lot of common ground, so his blessing won’t win me over.

Am I angry? Good grief, no. If anything, I’m glad Aykroyd likes it. Ghostbusters is his baby (his alone, following the death of co-creator Harold Ramis) and he’s wanted another movie for a quarter century now. That’s a long time to wait and be disappointed. In fact, as it’s not my money riding on the film, I’ll even go as far as to say that it doesn’t matter to me if anyone else enjoys it, if it satisfies the one person with the greatest emotional stake in the material. An expensive gift, sure, but like I said, it’s not my money.

Don’t like the look of the new film? Nor do I. Didn’t find the trailers funny, didn’t like the style of the special effects and the whiff of corporate marketing hanging over the production makes me a tad queasy. The cast? Actually, I don’t care. I mean this left-handed compliment in the nicest of ways. If they’re great, they’re great. If they’re not, they’re not. Would I have preferred to see the original cast reunite? Of course. Do I care that the new cast is all-women? Not beyond the lingering stench I mentioned earlier. If the characters were still called Stantz, Spengler, Zeddmore and Venkman, maybe I’d find that a little weird. They’re not, so I don’t. I’m not interested in seeing the movie – especially at the cinema – but here’s the thing:

It’s not for me.

It’s a Generation Thing

Ghostbusters 2016 is not written, produced or directed for my benefit. It’s not meant to interest me. Columbia Pictures don’t care what I’d like to see in a Ghostbusters film.

This isn’t a new argument. I’ve seen it break out whenever the cast’s gender is raised, but for my money it goes deeper than that. It’s not about gender. It’s about generation. Ghostbusters is more than thirty years old. It’s still a great film. It’s the king of sci-fi comedy, and no-one’s ever going to take that crown away. But it’s still three decades old. How many thirty year old films did you want to watch as a kid? I mean really want to watch.

Do I agree that this generation should have their own Ghostbusters? No. Like I said, the original’s near-perfect (shame Winston was cut out so much, but he was still my favourite Ghostbuster back then, and still is now). I hate the concept of reboots and reimaginings. To me, they’re a sign of creative stagnancy. I also can’t deny that as a writer who knows a bunch of other writers, I know there are so many great new ideas out there that we don’t need to keep remaking the old ones.

Age of the Reboot

I often feel reboots are a challenge unique to movies. No one covers a song by keeping the title, the key signature and then replacing every single one of the notes and lyrics. No one expects to be taken seriously by rewriting Oliver Twist front to back, keeping only the themes and the title – at that point they slap on a new title and forge their own path.

Yes, I did just tangentially compare Ghostbusters to Dickens. Deal with it.

Video games? They’re on the slippery slope, but they’re safe for now (although Thi4f made me wonder). Sure, opera is reinterpreted every time it’s performed, and musicals invariably evolve, even mid-run. But they always keep the core, even if they add vampires. When was the last time you saw someone report on Von Batonwaver’s forthcoming reboot of Wagner’s iconic Flying Dutchman, rather than his production  of it? Things simply don’t happen that way in other spheres. Rebooting itself has become a brand, with all the good and ill that entails.

Is There a Choice?

But you know what’s not going to happen? Movie studios trying to give my generation what they say they want. And with damn good reason: passionate fans have a bad habit of claiming to love a body of work, where they actually only like a piece (or pieces) of it. In other words, you can’t please ’em.

Look at the royal family of genre sagas. We all know someone who claims to love Star Wars, but actually only really likes Empire Strikes Back. So at that point, is she really a Star Wars fan? Can she be, if she thinks the first movie is dull, Return of the Jedi is childish, the prequels are irredeemable, and Force Awakens is a mish-mash of earlier characters and plots? More to the point, how the hell does a studio make a film for that woman and the thousands like her? How much of Return of the Jedi can you rewrite before it stops being Return of the Jedi? At the other end of the scale, how much homage is too much?

Returning to the Ghostbusters franchise, I love Ghostbusters 2. Sure, it’s not as good as the first, but it still has plenty of good moments. The cartoon? Well, I have ambivalent memories. Lots of people are the other way around – they love the Real Ghostbusters, but hate Vigo the Carpathian (and his Carpathian kitten-loss). So if you’re a studio looking to make another sequel, which do you homage? Do you ignore one extant sequel, or both? Or why not ignore all of it, and start again? It’s safer that way, right?

Do you want a reboot? Because that’s how you get reboots.

Pastiche is Profit

So many things have been rebooted or remade over the years: Battlestar Galactica, Dungeons & Dragons, DC Comics, The Wizard of Oz, Doctor Who, Robocop, Total Recall, Sherlock Holmes, The Hardy Boys, Warhammer, Yes Minister, Clash of the Titans, Star Trek. The list goes on. Some I like, some I hate, and some I’m so disinterested in, I can’t be bothered to think of a joke to frame said disinterest. But if you and I compare our liked and disliked reboots, we’d probably not agree. Even if we both loved all the source material. Pleasing one means alienating the other. From a business perspective, that means you’ve just split your fanbase and potential audience, so why not ignore them entirely and find a new audience?

A reboot is a safe, easy way of monetising an iconic franchise in the same medium as the original. You don’t have to appeal to the existing fanbase. You’re not tapping into them – only the phenomenon that their fannishness (is that a word?) has created. The word of mouth. The brand. The legend. Even the largest body of fans makes up a teeny, tiny percentage of the potential audience – an audience swirling with different tastes, any one of whom might become one of your consumers.

As this is the internet, I’ll draw a parallel to cats.

There are three cats in my household: Marko, Shade and Theremin (long story, don’t ask). Marko is my cat – or more precisely, I’m his human. He pretty much ignored my wife for a year. He sleeps on my desk when I’m working. He tries to drag me out of bed to play when he’s bored. Shade, however, is my wife’s cat. He never wants her to leave the house. To him, I’m a spare human, for when he’s hungry or cold. And then there’s Theremin. To her, we’re both spare humans. Nothing we do will ever make her think better of us. We will always fail to meet her expectations. We should always have done it quicker, better, smarter. Theremin is a fanbase gestalt. I can try to please her, knowing that it won’t work. Or I can dangle a shoelace in front of Marko for a bit in the full knowledge that I’m now the best human ever.

Marko demonstrates his hard life. Theremin demonstrates her capacity for judgement.
Marko demonstrates his hard life. Theremin demonstrates her capacity for judgement.

No Future for Reboots?

If it helps, I suspect studios are on a hiding to nothing with reboots. People talk about the Superhero genre reaching its limit (a wilful mislabelling, as Superheroes is a theme, not a genre), but I think the remake/reboot fad is in greater danger, simply because so few equal or better their predecessors. Sure, some make money, but none grab the cultural imagination. With very few exceptions, they’re schedule filler, profitable but lacklustre. Thirty years from now, no one’s going to clamour for a new version of Clash of the Titans 2010. A new Clash of the Titans, maybe, but the original will be the touchstone. As with anything, a couple of big, stinking bombs, and this cycle will end.

In the End

Ghostbusters 2016 isn’t for me. It might not be for you. But it’s happening, and some people, maybe a lot of people, will love it. Only time will tell. Don’t begrudge Aykroyd his pleasure. Make your peace, and move on. Otherwise you’re just winding yourself up.

Instead, go watch that Ghostbusters film from 1984. I hear it’s awesome.

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