It looks like it’s finally going to happen. After more than a decade, the Ghostbusters are suiting up to do battle with occult forces, and this time they’re training a whole new crop of nerdy, atypical hero types.
This is good news. The first Ghostbusters movie is a comedic classic, a kind of movie they rarely make anymore where plot, character, and comedy are perfectly balanced in an adventure story that should be unbelievably silly…but isn’t.
More than that, “Ghostbusters” is bigger than a single story. With their first go-round we got an origin story, but after that there are an unlimited number of adventures they can get into. When shit goes bad, you call the Ghostbusters. And a new movie begins. For once, a sequel actually makes sense.
The question, then, is how do you approach creating a new story (with new characters) that satisfies fans of the original but offers more than a basic retelling of the original story? While I love the first sequel (creatively dubbed Ghostbusters 2), I admit that it has its flaws, and one of the biggest of these is that it stays far too close to the formula and structure of the original film. You have a segment of the guys getting together (again, after a long layoff), then you move into the Ghostbusting montage while the main plot and villain are slowly revealed. Venkman pursues Dana Barrett (again, though now with baby Oscar in tow), and finally there is a huge ghost-ridden crisis that involves on ancient evil being. Instead of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, we get the statue of liberty walking through the streets of New York.
When watching the movie, you have this weird feeling of “Haven’t I seen this before?” For me, though, this is forgivable. The Ghostbusters are just cool, and one more adventure of a similar nature is just fine with me.
But a third? That’s pushing it. We basically got a third Ghostbusters film with the Ivan Reitman directed Evolution, a movie that followed the aforementioned formula to a tee (but had David Duchovny yucking it up in place of Bill Murray). Now it’s time to take what works best about the Ghostbusters and plug it into the current comedic climate.
Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about Apatow. Not Apatow the person, but Apatow the brand. From Superbad to Pineapple Express…Knocked Up to Role Models…there is a slowly evolving comedic sensibility that people, including myself, can’t seem to get enough of. It’s a rolling, improvisational and irreverent style, filled with clever dialogue, free-flowing interaction and a lot of heart.
And you know what? Whenever I watch an Apatow-style movie, I am reminded of Bill Murray in Stripes, meandering through military training with a reluctant Harold Ramis at his side. That character would be perfectly at home playing opposite Seth Rogan or, better yet, verbally sparring with a wild-eyed Jonah Hill…
Maybe teaching him how to trash-talk an overgrown blonde Carpathian trying to take over the world? You see where I’m going with this.
With Ghostbusters 3, we need something that embraces the fun and spirit and adventure of the first movie as well as the comedic timing and style of team Apatow. If (and that’s a big if) it’s all tied together in a certain way, very carefully and with attention to pacing and structure, the result will be something we haven’t yet seen.
The goal of this movie can’t be just to cash in on a once-profitable property one more time. It has to be to make something new but familiar, and creating a new beginning to a story that could continue on.
We know the story will involve the old guys training a new crop of recruits, and that’s more than fine with me. But there will be a temptation to go about this the wrong way. The absolute worst thing the filmmakers can do is attempt to find young versions of our original heroes. We don’t need characters that line up perfectly with the original cast. Instead it’s time to find new characters with a new dynamic. I already mentioned Jonah Hill, but what about Michael Cera as a neurotic and insecure young college student strapping on the proton pack for the first time. The list of current comic personas goes on and on. The key, though, is to let them do what works instead of trying to shove them into some pre-determined box that aligns with Venkman, Spengler, and Stance.
Okay, so casting is kind of a no-brainer, and finding the right tone is just a matter of working closely with talented comedic actors to find a rhythm that allows for the adventure and plot of “Ghostbusters” as well as the free-form improvisation that audiences have come to expect.
But what about plot?
It’s tricky. You have to avoid a proven (but tired) formula but give an audience something compelling and fresh. That kind of magic is hard to define. One thing is clear though…Zuul should not be part of the equation. It will be tempting to bring back the villain from the first film, but it’s tired, finished, and irrelevant. If possible, they need to find a villain that isn’t as cut-and-dry as the previous two.
All right, enough with the hypothetical preamble. Time to kick this into a level of arrogance rarely seen by mortal men. I’m going to give you my “pitch” for the new Ghostbusters movie…
We open in the middle of a shit-storm. The Ghostbusters (Venkman, Stance, Spengler and Winston) are doing badass battle with a giant ghost-monster the likes of which we’ve never seen. The whole thing has a “not again” feel with the Ghostbusters operating like a well-oiled machine on the streets of New York. It’s a friggin’ war movie, hand-held and unexpected (but still fun).
Eventually they stop the monster with some daring and creative act of heroism and destruction–like bringing down the top level of a building or wrapping the monster up in the cables of the Brooklyn bridge a la the atrocious Godzilla remake.
We end the sequence on a joke, the first joke of the movie, which is much more original than “We’re getting too old for this shit” but conveys the same kind of sentiment.
Title Card: Ghostbusters 3: The Wrath of Khan (working title).
The first thing we see after this is Paul Rudd in a business suit sitting at a table, telling the Ghostbusters how amazing they are. How legendary. How he’s dreamed of being a part of them since he heard of them as a kid. Which is why he’s buying them out.
The guys are none too happy about this, but it’s time for a change. They can’t go on like this forever, and they need new blood to ensure that the Big Apple is protected from specters and spirits for decades to come.
So we have a different dynamic than ever before. Rudd’s millionaire “wants to be cool and accepted but can’t pull it off” character is constantly trying to gain equality with and respect from his heroes the Ghostbusters, and they are struggling with letting him into their little club and giving up control to him.
And they’re simultaneously auditioning new ghost busting talent to replace them.
Of course, the overall plot of the movie involves all parties calling on their strengths and coming together to kick some supernatural ass…the new crop gaining respect for their long-time heroes and the old ghostbusters, a little jaded and cocky with years, rediscovering the joy of camaraderie.
Wow, when I type it all out it looks a little cheesy. But imagine some of the aforementioned talent, a few montage scenes, and a lot of trial and error with bumbled ghostbusting and mis-used equipment. It might just work.
I left out a lot of details. Paul Rudd should pick up a proton pack in the end (finally achieving some modicum of self-respect) and Louis Tully should be puppydog-sad that none of the new guys know who he is. Really, though, this needs to be about the legend the Ghostbusters have built for themselves and the ability of a new, wide-eyed group to bring back the pure fun and camaraderie.
Because that’s what’ best about the Ghostbusters–the “buddy” feeling that is totally organic and believable. That’s what the movie needs to reestablish, and that’s what it needs to be about.
Dan Aykroyd, you can find my email on the “about” page. Shoot me a message and I’ll whip this into a kickass treatment free of charge. Hell, I’ll pay you (just kidding?).
Really, I just want this to work out and be good. It doesn’t have to be what I’ve written above in order to work (I’m not that arrogant, contrary to popular belief), but it does need to be fresh, new, fun, and clever. It’ time to go back to the drawing board on this one.