Unless you’ve been living under a very large rock, on the side of some mountain somewhere, you are probably aware that there’s a new Ghostbusters movie in-development. All the old cast is back, and we’ve got Eliza Dushku signed on. (Well, Rick Moranis isn’t back. He made so much money off of the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids franchise, he retired from filmmaking and is entirely disinterested. Which I think is pretty cool of him actually.) Anyway, whether or not we’ll ever actually see this new Ghostbusters film is always a bit uncertain. Douglas Adams said that making a movie was like trying to cook a steak by having a succession of people walk past the meat and breath hot air on it. And he’s pretty much right. It’ll absolutely happen, unless it absolutely doesn’t.
But that isn’t our concern today.
No, we are gathered to advise. Because increasingly, in the past ten years, this new Ghostbusters film finds itself working in a tradition. Who knew? And what is this tradition?
It is the tradition of much-later-on-sequels.
We have had three Star Wars prequels, coming to us quite a long while after the original trilogy was finished, raising generations to think that the only reason we couldn’t levitate our Batman action figures was merely because we had not succeeded in our self-training with the Force. And we have had a new Indiana Jones film, long after the original trilogy appeared and more or less raised a generation (mine) to believe that wearing a terrific hat and going around the world getting hit in the face was actually a great career move.
These new sequels were all met with iffy success and reviews, and whether or not they were any good is a dividing question in some groups. But regardless, we’ve now got the Ghostbusters coming along, in the next one of these attempts. And I’d like to give it some advice.
First, I want to differentiate two things. In an effort to avoid confusion, we’re going to play with two words, and they are going to be Sequel and Relaunch.
Now, a Sequel is what we’re mostly talking about here. In this case, a sequel is Indiana Jones 4, it’s Star Wars, Episode I, or II, or III. These are later-happening sequels. And of these, I would point to the Indiana Jones film as being the most prime example of what I want to talk about. In this case, it’s the same old stars coming back for another adventure, in the same spirit as the films we adored years ago, and still love today.
A Relaunch is something else. This is Superman Returns, and this is the new Star Trek film by J.J. Abrahms (although the difference between Superman Returns and Star Trek is like the difference between poop and a work of art…my apologies to you if you actually liked the Superman film. I felt like I was watching creepy fanfiction.). A relaunch is where you take the idea, you put some new stars and special effects and ideas into it, and you go at it again. You say “What if Star Trek had been created in 2009?” and then you go from that premise. And while I can see an argument for the above Star Wars prequels going into this category…and I can agree with it, sort of…I’m still going to put Star Wars in the movie Sequels area.
(And I’m excluding James Bond. That’s its own thing, and if it operates in anyone’s vein, it’s Doctor Who, in which we just don’t worry about changing actors and time periods, it’s just sort of built into the series and not worried about).
Now, here is what I want to tell you, new Ghostbusters film.
You need to understand what you are, because the others haven’t, and if you do, you’ll succeed.
When you make a new Ghostbusters film, when you make a late sequel to a beloved franchise, the unspoken hope and desire is that it will capture the spirit (ha ha! get it?) and energy of the original piece. What we want out of a new film like this is more of the same, essentially. We want another installment that we can watch with the same level of pleasure and fervor that we’ve been previously watching the other films with.
Therefore, the filmmakers of all these films need to understand…you are not making a new film for 2009.
What you are making is a period picture.
Still with me?
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which is a fun movie, and I like re-watching it) is a good example of this, in that the action sequences are not, to me, nearly so interesting as the ones out of the previous films…even though this fourth film has bigger action sequences. They’re utilizing full modern technology, and so you have a lot of racing around green screen jungles and over waterfalls and so forth. It’s bigger but, to me, it rings less true than some of the simple-but-amazing sequences out of the earlier films.
And someone will point out that those earlier films, they used modern technology at the time! Well, true. You can see the fuzzy blue screens now and then.
But the point is, if you’re making a period picture…then you should emulate what was done back then.
In other words, if you want to relaunch Star Wars the same way that Star Trek was just relaunched, then you can make it look all new and exciting and graphically ambitious, you can do huge battles and all that jazz.
But if you’re making a later-on-sequel (like Indiana Jones, like Ghostbusters), then what you need to do is cleverly use modern technology to emulate the movies at that time.
Much in the same way that Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow worked so slavishly to make a film that looked and acted like it had been made in the 1930s. From the cartoonish radio tower on top of the world, to the scene transitions (wiping away the picture, zooming out of the picture, all that) which was all true-to-the-time.
You need to do the same thing. And what you do is, you use modern technology to do is faster and cheaper and with less stress and costs. And you could probably clean up some rough edges here and there. Make a product that looks, in terms of special-effects, like a polished film much like the original.
With Indiana Jones, the fourth one, I would have loved to have seen all the great action sequences mostly done through clever stunt doubles and amazingly set-up set pieces. The long fight sequence on the tank, in The Last Crusade was brilliant and will never look dated. Or the wonderful sequence on the rope bridge, in The Temple of Doom. A wonderful thing about these sequences is not only watching them happen, but nipping off into the special features and seeing the amazing and incredibly difficult things they had to do, to make it happen. The carefully set and timed explosives, the mechanical flailing bodies designed to fall, and so forth. And we got a hint of this, in the fourth film, with the motorcycle chase scene, early on. No way to do that but to film it, and they did, and it felt accurate and enjoyable and right.
In other words…don’t try to pretend your actors haven’t aged, and you don’t have to set the film in the 1980’s or 70’s. But you have to make the sequel consistent with the earlier two. Make it look like the previous two Ghostbusters. If each story exists in its own world, then you need to keep all parts of that world consistent. Not just story-wise, or character-wise, but effects-wise too.
That is my advice to you, Ghostbusters film. And of course, it doesn’t help with the other hurdles you’ll have. You need a funny, clever, terrific script. You need to let Bill Murray go once in awhile, because he’s hilarious. and you need to have fun. And you need to play Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song, because it seriously never gets old.