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On the New ‘Ghostbusters’ and All the Hate for Comedy Remakes

Ghostbusters-2016-Post-Credits-Scene-ExplainedThe new Ghostbusters has finally arrived. The remake/reboot/what’s-it-really has opened to medium-cool reviews and decent box office—it’s by no means a dud, but hasn’t exploded in enough of a fashion to justify all the controversy and warrant the reported succession of sequels Sony hopes to put into the pipeline.
A third Ghostbusters movie has been on the drawing boards since the release of Ghostbusters II in 1989, with more script rewrites and false starts than just about any other franchise picture you can name.

2z6xr0hFor years, the hypothetical Ghostbusters III seemingly hinged on the participation of Bill Murray—he was in, he was out, he hadn’t read the script, or he was waiting for a rewrite, then he was back in, and then he was definitely back out.

When Harold Ramis passed away in 2014, the enthusiasm amongst the original cast and crew justifiably deflated, especially where director Ivan Reitman was concerned.

A new movie seemed dead in the water.

Alas, the death of Ramis and the recusal of Reitman as director couldn’t stop Sony Pictures from plowing ahead on development of a new Ghostbusters movie. A glimmer of hope remained when it was reported that Reitman would stay on as a producer, and I was totally all-in on director Paul Feig taking the reins, even before it was announced that the new movie would be recast with ladies in the lead roles, and that most of the original 1984/1989 players would pop up in unrelated cameos.

After the disastrous response to the YouTube debut of the first trailer—yes, it’s the most hated trailer in the website’s history—the filmmakers and the studio were quick to call the naysayers misogynists, totally overlooking the fact that their first trailer just wasn’t particularly funny.

Why all the hate for Ghostbusters?

Well, for me, it’s got little to do with the all-estrogen cast—I like every one of the female foursome. Rather, my hostility towards the new movie has everything to do with the filmmakers’ temerity to make this picture a flat-out reboot rather than a sequel that exists in the same universe. Why call the new movie Ghostbusters, rather than Ghostbusters III, or The New Ghostbusters, or even Ghostbustiers? Why is it necessary to “erase” the continuity of the 1984 film? Why not make the new lady Ghostbusters the daughters of the original characters? A passing-of-the-torch movie would have been met with far more audience warmth. Such a tack was surely considered at some point during the writing phase.

And, lest we forget while getting uppity about the new movie encroaching on a supposedly sacred franchise, the 1989 sequel pretty much sucks in comparison to the original, so it’s not like Paul Feig and company are crapping on a venerated franchise. It’s simply their wanton disregard for the 1984 classic in rewriting the origin story that has kept fans in a frothy tizzy since the new Ghostbusters movie began production.

Perhaps fans are weary of yet another remake of a movie from 1984—Hollywood’s track record for raping that calendar year has so far been zero-for-four, counting the risible retreads of The Karate Kid, Footloose, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Red Dawn among the casualties of the perpetual remake machine. The vitriol levied against the new Ghostbusters has a lot to do with the cold hard fact that audiences have grown sick of remakes in general, not merely of comedies but of pictures of every genre.

Remakes are a constant reminder that Hollywood has run out of good ideas and that the studios would rather churn out products that can coast along on name/brand recognition and earn enough box office and home video dollars to justify their existence, regardless of the insult the cynical spawns bear upon their progenitors. But there’s something particularly enervating about remaking a comedy because, historically, remakes of comedies fail—and fail miserably—to live up to their predecessors. There are a few rare exceptions, but the general trend is that a remake of a comedy cannot hope to replicate the same recipe for laughs because, more often than not, the comedic elements in the original are inextricably linked to the era in which the movie was made. One simply cannot capture that same lightning in a bottle again.

Having not yet previewed the new Ghostbusters at the time of this writing, I will merely recount the precious few good but many more awful comedy remakes that serve as ample reason to give any sensible movie-lover pause over this remake/reboot/who-gives-a-toss of Ghostbusters.

Qualifier: for simplicity’s sake, I will focus only on remakes that recycle the exact same title of their predecessor—remakes in general are inherently despicable, but there’s something far more insidious about claiming the same name for a remake which goes way beyond the actual sin of merely remaking. This means I will also ignore American remakes of foreign movies, which usually undergo a title change.

The Few Hits…

The Ladykillers (1955/2004)

ladykillersThough it’s considered to be one of the lesser Coen Brothers efforts released between their high points of Fargo/Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men, it’s nowhere near as bad as its poor reputation suggests. Tom Hanks is sly and slippery as the charming leader of a ragtag gang of Southern misfits who attempt a robbery under the nose of their elderly but razor-keen landlady (the hysterical Irma P. Hall). The remake is no match for the revered Alec Guinness/Peter Sellers/Herbert Lom original, but there’s a lot of fun to be had…even if the cat Pickles steals the whole show.

Ocean’s Eleven (1960/2001)


Steven Soderbergh’s spry casino robbery caper is the rare example of a modern comedy remake that bests the original and surpasses its success—so much so that Soderbergh and his cast reunited for not one but two sequels. The 1960 version features “Rat Pack” superstars Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, with Angie Dickinson on hand the main moll. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon headline the modern crew, which sees Julia Roberts co-star in the first two films of the trilogy.

The Nutty Professor (1963/1996)


Another rare example of a remake surpassing the original, with Eddie Murphy in fine form as shy, fat and loveable inventor Sherman Klump, who devises a potion that turns him into a slick, slim scoundrel. It totally eclipses the Jerry Lewis original, though a great deal of the modern movie’s success is due to the superb digital split-screen technology that allows for Eddie Murphy to share the screen with multiple versions of himself (and herself). Though it was a massive critical and commercial hit, the inevitable sequel four years later is quite repugnant.

The Many Loathsome Misses

The In-Laws (1979/2003)


The original 1979 version of The In-Laws is revered as one of the greatest comedies of all time, and for good reason. Peter Falk and Alan Arkin make for one of the silver screen’s most perfect odd couples, and few comedies before or since approach the escalating madcap lunacy of Andrew Bergman’s screenplay. That didn’t stop the filmmakers and the studio from attempting to cash in on name recognition with a wholly unfunny remake, starring the usually likable Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks in the lead roles but with both failing miserably to suspend our cherished memories of Falk and Arkin.

Vacation (1983/2015)

VACAYAfter a string of four movies of varying degrees of likability, 2015’s Vacation is something of an anomaly in this category in that it’s both a reboot of and a sequel within the existing series. Points for centering the new movie on a grown-up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) and also featuring his original parents (Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo) in glorified cameos, but for all the juvenile gross-out gags, you’d think this was instead a sequel to We’re the Millers, which likewise owes more than just a little debt to the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation.

The Pink Panther (1963/2006)


It’s hard to fathom what’s more inconceivable: that a reboot of the 1963 Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers series would work, even with an admirably game Steve Martin as the new Inspector Jacques Clouseau, or that the remake was enough of a hit to warrant 2009’s even more deplorable Pink Panther 2.

The Longest Yard (1974/2005)


Burt Reynolds stars in the vulgar R-rated original as a pro quarterback-turned-convict who leads a team of fellow inmates in a brutal game against the prison guards. Adam Sandler steps into Reynolds’ jersey as the lead in the tamer PG-13 remake, which at least tips its hat towards the Burt Man by casting him in a supporting role as the team’s coach.

Arthur (1981/2011)

arthurWhoever thought grating comedian Russell Brand could muster one iota of Dudley Moore’s hapless charm should be subjected to watching this appalling remake on auto-repeat for infinity. The remake’s one clever touch was in recasting John Gielgud’s valet Hobson for Helen Mirren, though the film is far beneath her dignity.

The Bad News Bears (1976/2005)


The original starring Walter Matthau and directed by Michael Ritchie (the guy who’d eventually make Fletch) is a scrappy classic that holds up well today, despite—or, perhaps, because of—the kids’ salty dialogue. The remake drops the “The” from the title, substitutes Billy Bob Thornton in the lead, and marks a stunning low point for indie director Richard Linklater as a studio hack for hire.

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