Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Not Gonna Call Ghostbusters

The PopCulteer
JuLY 8
, 2016

I don’t plan to see the new Ghostbusters movie when it’s released next week. I have many reasons, which I will lay out later in this post, and I realize that I’m late to the party when it comes to commenting on this film on the internet, but there has been a very disturbing twist to the marketing of this movie that needs to be addressed.

The producers, director and Sony Pictures, the studio financing the film, have mounted a bit of an attack campaign, portraying anyone who doesn’t absolutely love this movie as a mouth-breathing, sexist and misogynistic fanboy who has no life, lives in their mother’s basement and only hates the movie because the new team of Ghostbusters are all female.

This is cynical and reeks of desperation. It’s like they know that they have a deficient product, so their only hope is to somehow turn liking the movie into some kind of political cause and then they can trick Social Justice Warriors into shouting down their critics. The viciousness of the attacks has been pretty severe coming from an industry that has spent more than the last decade pandering to mouth-breathing, sexist, misogynistic fanboys.

So for the record, I breathe quite well. I am a happily-married adult who loves and accepts people of all types and while I do love what some folks call “geek culture” (I personally hate the term), I have a pretty well-rounded and full life. I own my own home and I think the idea of an all-female team of Ghostbusters is intriguing, if done right.

It’s that last part, “if done right,” that makes me not want to see this new movie.

Let me explain first, I am a student of comedy. I have been for my entire life. Way back when I was a toddler, before I got into comic books, animation or music, I rabidly devoured comedy of all types. I loved the classic comedy of The Marx Brothers and Jack Benny. I listened carefully to every stand-up comedian on the Ed Sullivan show, from aging Borscht Belt types to then-young Jackie Masons and George Carlins. I never missed the best of the golden age of televison variety shows like The Dean Martin Show, The Carol Burnett Show or Flip Wilson. Before I entered first grade I was well-versed in the political satire of The Smothers Brothers.

As I got older, I was in the front lines supporting Monty Python, National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live, SCTV and anything comedically cutting edge. When Ghostbusters was announced in late 1983, I was geared up for it as a big fan of Murray, Ackroyd and Ramis from their prior work. I really wanted to see their take on the “comedy team vs. ghost” premise that had previously been done by The Three Stooges, Hope and Crosby and Martin and Lewis.

I was not disappointed. Ghostbusters was a great movie and the fact that it’s still beloved more than thirty years later is no surprise.

The originals. Can’t beat ’em.

Five years later they made a sequel. It was not nearly as good as the first, but it was still fun. Attempts to make a third movie were stymied by Bill Murray’s insistance that it have a really good script. Following the death of Harold Ramis, the idea of making a sequel was abandoned.

However, Sony Pictures, who acquired the rights to the movie when they bought Columbia Pictures, was intent on exploiting the renewed popularity that their property had achieved during its 30th anniversary year. They decided to go ahead with a new movie, and make it a reboot so that they didn’t have to cater to the surviving original actors.

Thanks to Sony’s hacked emails, we can trace the development of this movie and see that, perhaps, the wisest decisions were not made. Then studio chief, Amy Pascal, aggressively pursued director Paul Feig (seen right), despite his relunctance to make this film. Feig was coming off a string of hits following Bridesmaids, and was a hot commodity in Hollywood. Pascal essentially told him “Just make a Paul Feig movie, and we’ll slap the Ghostbusters name on it,” then she backed up the money truck to his front lawn and dumped ten million bucks in his driveway (this is a simplification of the Hollywood movie-making process).

So the genesis of this movie already comes from a studio head cynically trying to exploit an existing property with little regard to that property’s legacy or its loyal fans. To Feig’s credit, he seems to have tried to make a movie that hewed closely to the original Ghostbusters. Sadly, it seems to have been beyond his reach, and one of the complaints from people who have read the script and seen early previews is that he copied too much of the original without injecting anything new…or funny.

That all plays into why I don’t intend to see the new Ghostbusters. I don’t expect that I will like it. My reasons are quite rational, and I will present them to you:

The main reason is that the film is a reboot, and not a continuation. In order for me to suspend my disbelief to accept this film, I have to pretend that the first movie, which was excellent and has entertained me greatly for more than the last three decades, never happened.

Even though everything on the screen in this movie will be completely derivative of the first movie, the audience is expected to not notice, or not care about that.

It’s asking too much. There is no reason that they could not have made a movie about the daughters of the original Ghostbusters taking over from their fathers. It would have been a better story than what appears to be a simple-minded remake, and they could have a touching “passing the torch” scene.

So that’s one major strike. This is not the same world in which the original Ghostbusters lived, so why should fans of the original movie care about it?

Next up we have my personal tastes. As I mentioned earlier, I am a student of comedy. I’ve watched it and studied it my entire life. Occassionally I run across a performer whose work I simply do not like. This is not a knock on the person or their professionalism. I just can’t stand some comedic performers, many of whom are extremely successful and popular.

When I come across a performer like this, I don’t wish to pay money to see them perform. Why would I pay to see someone whose work I don’t enjoy? This does not seem to affect their careers. The comedians I don’t enjoy watching have been very successful without my patronage. People like Adam Sandler, Rosie O’Donnell, Larry the Cable Guy, Tom Green, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Jim Parsons, post-1980 Joan Rivers…these are all people who have had very successful careers and made lots of money while I withheld my financial support. I don’t claim to be an arbiter of taste here. I simply know what I don’t like.

And I don’t enjoy the work of Melissa McCarthy.

I have seen enough of her work to know that I am unlikely to enjoy any of it. I don’t find her to be funny or entertaining. Her presence in the Ghostbusters cast is a huge deterrent for me. Having said that, if this had been a sequel and not a reboot, I would have considered seeing it, despite her being in the movie. I know that Sony is counting on me being in a tiny minority, and they may be right. In terms of box-office appeal, casting McCarthy looks like a safe bet on paper.

Likewise with director, Paul Feig. He’s been very successful teamed with McCarthy and Sony seems to think that they, as a team, are bigger even than the Ghostbusters franchise. And they may be right. However, I have been underwhelmed by Feig’s previous movies and don’t consider him to be the comedic genius that others do. Again, that’s my opinion. I could cite specific reasons why I don’t like his work, but it’s still just my opinion. I just don’t find the guy’s work to be that funny.

Because of my distaste for the work of Feig and McCarthy, and my disappointment that this movie will not tell the story of the Ghostbusters that I care about, I will not bother paying to see this movie. If it’s really good, it’ll still be good when it hits premium TV channels. If it’s awful, I will not be surprised. I do know that Sony is nervous and some of their merchandising partners are panicking.

I am not rooting for this movie to fail. I am simply disinterested. I hope that the loyal fans get something that makes them happy. I have many friends among the ranks of Ghostbusters WV Division, and I would not want to see them disappointed.

What I hate, though, is Sony and Feig’s campaign to attack and discredit anyone who doesn’t support them 100% as being sexist pigs who don’t know anything about making movies. Of course there have been some despicable and horrid things said about this movie on the internet. It’s the freakin’ internet for Christ’s sake. You can find despicable and horrid things said about anything from cotton balls to Mother Theresa.  Meanwhile, some of the things being said in defense of this movie are astoundingly nasty and unjustified too.

If a movie studio has to resort to villifying the die-hard fans of a property that they are preparing to release a big-budget movie based on, you know that something’s fishy.

This is damage control. Sony has sunk a quarter-billion dollars into producing and promoting Ghostbusters. Signs do not point to them making back that money.

Last week, some Target stores put the toys based on the new movie on clearance. This was more than two weeks before the movie hit theaters. This sort of thing hardly ever happens, and even with Target’s aggressive markdown policy, it’s seen a major vote of “no-confidence.”

Last night I noticed that Toys R Us also had their Ghostbusters toys on sale, again before the movie opens.

This is unprecedented for a movie with this big a budget. Even a bomb like The Lone Ranger actually made it into theaters before retailers started trying to dump the toys based on it.

Originally projections for the opening weekend box-office of Ghostbusters were in the $100-million range. With each passing week, and each new trailer Sony has released, those projections have dropped. The latest estimates are that it will earn somewhere between forty and fifty million dollars in its first weekend, and wind up with a total gross of less than its 150 million dollar production budget.

Let’s talk about those trailers for a moment. The first trailer that Sony released wound up with more “dislikes” than any other clip in the ten-year history of YouTube. Even the stars of the movie openly discussed how bad it was. Now, to be fair, this could simply be a case of someone making a bad trailer for a good movie. In reality, that hardly ever happens. Movie Trailers usually bring you the best moments out of a film. Their job is to make you want to see the movie.

The gut reaction of people seeing this trailer was that, if that’s the best they could come up with for the trailer, it must be a really horrible movie. That is a reasonable assumption. Subsequent trailers were not as awful as the first, but still weren’t very good.

The reaction of the director and his friends does not indicate much confidence that the movie will live up to expectations. These unfortunate statements seem to be the first act in a “cover your ass” defense where the typical Hollywood finger-pointing that comes in the wake of a huge financial flop will be choreographed to pin the blame on a few early vocal critics, who were not able to articulate their objections to the movie in a calm and rational manner.

It’s like the studo and the filmmakers know that this movie is going to be a flop, and they plan to blame the loyal fans, rather than accept any responsibility for making a movie for all the wrong reasons. It won’t be their fault for making a really bad movie. It’ll be those damned Neanderthal woman-hating Ghostbuster fans who ruined it for everyone.

That’s all conjecture on my part. My guess is that the movie will open big, possibly bigger than current projections, then sink rapidly. I don’t expect it to be good by my standards because I don’t care for the work of the director and one of the stars. I would like to be pleasantly surprised. I hate to think that Ghostbusters could flop so profoundly that we never see anyone else get a chance at making a Ghostbusters movie.

Rumor has it that, if this movie flops, Sony might sell their film studio and get out of the movie business completely. That would be bad, especially if they wind up just getting absorbed by Disney or Warners. All the grand history of Columbia Pictures would be wiped out and there would be one less creative outlet in Hollywood.

All I know is that I’m far more interested in the studio fallout and box-office performance of Ghostbusters than I am in seeing the actual movie. That’s never a good sign. As for being sexist or misogynistic, well the comedy that I’m actually looking forward to seeing on the big screen this summer is Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, so I don’t think that charge will hold up.

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Popculteer note: This was originally written and intended the PopCulteer two weeks ago, but was delayed due to coverage of the floods and their related benefit efforts. It has been substantially re-written for publication today.

That’s it for this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for fresh content every day, and be sure to check out our new programming at our revitalized and relaunched internet radio Station, The AIR.

3 Comments

  1. Thomas Wheeler

    Rudy, I agree with everything you’ve said. I have zero interest in this movie, and the latest publicity campaign, if it can even be called that, is just plain nasty. The only good things to come out of this fiasco are the return of Ecto-Cooler Hi-C (if I could find it locally), and Walmart’s Classic Ghostbusters action figures, which — maybe if THEY hit clearance, I can afford them.

  2. Carol

    Why would you comment about something to this degree without seeing it. I laughed through the whole thing. It was great. Melissa McCarthy played the straight man and understated. She carried it. And all the women played off each other beautifully. It was family friendly, not the F word every other word. It paid homage to the former Ghostbusters movies in great ways.

  3. rudy panucci

    That is a good question, Carol. Normally, I would ignore something that seemed as repulsive to me as this reboot of Ghostbusters did, but it’s my job to comment on Pop Culture in this blog, and I would have been remiss in my duties to ignore one of the biggest pop culture stories of the summer, which was not the movie itself, but the marketing campaign, which turned a person’s decision whether or not to see it into some kind of Bizarro-world social cause.

    So I was not writing about the movie, but the furor surrounding it. It’s fascinating how such a lousy movie could be made with a big budget by a major movie studio and have such an inept marketing campaign. Stories of Hollywood screw-ups are hugely interesting to me, and this was a big one.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. I have heard from plenty of other people, many of them fans of McCarthy, who found it to be a huge disappointment. I have also heard differing opinions as to the family-friendliness of the movie, but since I don’t plan to see it, I’ll leave that to other people to discuss.

    The movie has been in theaters for forty days in this country, and will probably disappear soon. It has not quite grossed $125 millon dollars as I write this, which is less than half what was spent making and promoting the movie. And keep in mind that the movie studio doesn’t get to keep the full gross amount, so the performance of the movie has been notably dismal.

    Despite Mattel’s strange press release, the toys have been a major flop. The overseas boxoffice has been worse than here in the US. It’s highly unlikely that the movie will ever turn a profit, even after DVD and Blu Ray sales are figured in.

    Like I said, the most notable thing about the new Ghostbusters was all the behind-the-scenes drama. It wasn’t on the screen. The stories about how the movie came together, how wrong the approach was from the start and how thin-skinned the director and cast were is much more interesting than the movie itself. The entire contrived “it’s all sexism” angle collapsed when the movie failed at the boxoffice, only to be easily bested a few weeks later by the female-led Suicide Squad, which had negative reviews that were way more brutal than even those of Ghostbusters. But audiences proved that they will go see a movie with a strong female lead, as long as it respects the original source material.

    And that is where I must disagree with you. You say that the new Ghostbusters paid homage to the original. That is not what I’ve heard from people who have seen it and many of even the positive reviews. The consensus is that the movie went out of its way to pay cheap lip service to the original, to the point of distracting the audience.

    But that’s all sort of moot at this point. The movie actually peformed worse than I predicted. It won’t be the biggest flop of the summer. Paul Fieg should be sending a thank-you note to the producers of “Ben-Hur.” It looks very doubtful that Sony will move forward with a sequel to this mess. I just hope that they don’t give up on Ghostbusters entirely. It’d be a shame if we don’t get to see a good movie by someone like Max Landis, who actually knows and loves and understands what a Ghostbusters movie should be.

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