Why do film studios bother to remake classic films?

Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Erin (Kristen Wiig), Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty (Leslie Jones) in the new Ghostbusters film.
Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Erin (Kristen Wiig), Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Patty (Leslie Jones) in the new Ghostbusters film.
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Old meets new in Ghostbusters. Film Critic Tony Earnshaw considers the evolution of this comedy classic.

The talk about a Ghostbusters remake has always been skewed towards one question: if the original cast isn’t in it, can it be any good?

Moreover it’s a question that’s cropped up repeatedly over the past two decades and more, particularly since Bill Murray, allegedly the most reluctant of the star foursome to be involved, was reported as telling co-star Dan Aykroyd that “no one wants to pay money to see fat, old men chasing ghosts”.

Aykroyd has since denied that comment was ever made. And since he, Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver all turn up in the new reboot it might suggest that all past reservations have been dealt with.

Well, not quite. American chat show host Jimmy Kimmel pulled off a major coup a few months back when, during an interview with new all-female cast members Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, he introduced “the OGB” – the original Ghostbusters as personified by Aykroyd, Murray, Hudson and Potts.

The moment was notable for the reactions of the new Ghostbusters cast – a mixture of surprise, delight and wariness. But the OGB actors’ performances were a study in OTT support. “Oh, really, really happy,” gushed Aykroyd. “First of all these women performers are great. Oh, and by the way… all the guy performers in the movie are just fine, too! The manifestation in the third act is outstanding.”

Murray dealt with it rather more subversively. “Let’s not rush by that: there are both men and women in this film. Speaking as man who’s dressed as a woman… I couldn’t be happier. These girls did a really good job – and I can call them girls because I am a boy!”

If he’d been somehow press-ganged or shanghaied into appearing then he was doing so under his own flag.

Talk of litigation has surrounded the new film for years. It appears to date back to a 2012 interview given by Aykroyd in which he suggesting that Murray had abrogated his rights to the project by repeatedly rejecting calls to be in a remake.

Then a leaked email made public by the Sony hacking scandal of 2014 suggested that Murray might be the target of “aggressive litigation counsel”. Observers asked whether this was geared towards silencing Murray, who had openly mocked the scripts he had seen of various mooted Ghostbusters remakes and sequels, or to secure his appearance in the new movie.

Then, lo! Murray is the first of the OGB cast to appear in the new film, playing a notorious debunker of the paranormal. Potts pops up as a hotel clerk, Aykroyd is a cabbie (nabbing the line ‘I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!’), Hudson is a funeral director whose hearse gets appropriated and Weaver materialises at the very end of the film as McCarthy’s mentor. None of them play their former characters. And so the path has been smoothed.

Director and co-writer Paul Feig, who previously worked with McCarthy and Wiig on Bridesmaids and has made The Heat, Spy and now Ghostbusters with McCarthy, has talked up the potential in his ensemble.

He refers to the new foursome as an “amazing group” and specifically to what he calls “four different comedic energies in service for the same kind of comedy”.

McCarthy echoes his words, sidestepping talk of the previous films to focus on the new one. And the first thing she does is to compliment her director’s vision.

“What Paul does so well is that he assembles a cast that always seems to work, and it’s always outside the box. All four of us women had different energies and styles. The real trick is that Paul knows that when we come together they all work so well together. That’s the true magic that you hope for.”

Part of that magic, if it exists, is in making skilful choices in what to incorporate from the past. Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Zeddmore are neither present nor referenced. Instead Feig and his cast rely on the gizmos and ghosts: the proton packs, the car, the 
logo and geysers of green slime, plus the appearance of Slimer himself.

In truth they had to be a part of it all. But some of the references seem somewhat laboured. McCarthy naturally disagrees. “I love that you see the origins of where these things come from. [It’s] for people who love the original like myself and all of us who made it, or those who say, ‘It’s 32 years ago’. There’s a massive amount of people that will be seeing this for the first time.”

Part of the crossover from 1980s to today comes courtesy of the viscous slime. Wiig gets the benefit of most of it, which pleased McCarthy. “We were super excited to get slimed. It was like, ‘It’s happening!’” she grins.

The ingredients are there and hint at a potential franchise – or at least a sequel. Patient patrons who stay until the very last credit has rolled will be rewarded with a pointer to Ghostbusters 2 as Jones asks, ‘What’s Zuul?’ – a reference to the dog demon from the original movie.

Given the overwhelming negative reaction to the film prior to release, Sony may be hedging its bets over a sequel. Still, with Murray and Co on board they may just clinch it.

‘Everybody from the first movie is so excited,” says McCarthy. “They’re in it, they’ve seen it, they loved it. They screamed at it like a sporting event. That was the only blessing I needed.”

Ghostbusters (12A) is on general release.

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