Thursday, October 08, 2015

Who Ya Gonna Call? That Ship Has Probably Sailed Already...

As a huge cross-section of the movie-going population is already aware, audiences are soon to be subjected to yet another remake of a beloved cult/classic film, with Ghostbusters slated for release next summer. Except it’s not a remake, it’s a re-imagining, which is the current trend du jour in Hollywood for an increasing number of individuals and entities for whom the only goal is reaping boatloads of cold hard cash. In order to keep the conversation moving, it's important to make the distinction between three interrelated terms: remake, reboot, and re-imagining.

A remake is a movie that takes a previous film as its primary source, updating the story and altering small details, but basically telling the same basic story, with the same basic characters and elements. Kind of like your drunk uncle recalling the time he spent following the Grateful Dead on tour; all of the basic elements are there, and the goal is authenticity by adhering as closely as possible to the original narrative, but there is some small creative license taken. Arguably, The Magnificent Seven and The Departed might be considered examples of remakes, but a case could be made for them being re-imaginings, so purer examples might be True Grit or Oldboy.

A reboot is to movies as retcon is to comics. Typically, the term "reboot" is used only in reference to a series of films where the latest entry picks and chooses what elements it wants to keep and ignore moving forward, establishing a new continuity, basically because whoever was in charge couldn't figure out how to, you know, do their fucking job and either work within previously established continuity or, seeing that there was nowhere left to go, ended that narrative with grace and created something new.

A reboot is like going to Harvey's, ordering your burger, choosing all of the fixins yourself, then going back to your table and picking off all of the onions and pickles that you just ordered and forced some minimum wage schmuck to slap on that grilled disk of semi-meat for seemingly no other reason than your own perverse pleasure. Think Casino Royale as an example of a "soft" reboot or Batman Begins as an example of a "hard" reboot. Or just think about them anyway, because they're both fucking awesome and the result of when things sometimes go horribly right on Hollywood.

A re-imagining is the most amorphous of these three terms, and it represents a grey area of sorts, a spectrum that either a remake or a remake might find itself lurking along. A re-imagining is basically a new work taking the barest minimum of elements from its source material to warrant using the name for marketing and brand recognition purposes, but then reshaping and molding them into something sort of new-ish? Think of your same uncle recounting stories about his time following the Grateful Dead on tour, except now he's a burnt-out junkie whose mind has been fried by decades of acid use, and the story he's telling is a jumbled mix of sexual encounters and cold, lonely nights playing a heated game of Pictionary with Urxonyl the Infinite from the Justiquarn Nebula in a battle for the immortal souls of everyone on planet Earth, which, in all honesty, is a far more likely scenario. (I mean the burned out uncle and obviously not playing board games with one of the Infinite Ones with the fate of the word hanging in the balance. Because that would be crazy. Why? What have you heard?)

One of the best (as in quality) examples comes from TV land with the re-imagined 2004 Battlestar Galactica. One of the worst examples (as in, of anything) is Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes. Again, this is kind of a grey area as somebody out there might argue (because the Internet) that it's a reboot of the original Planet of the Apes franchise, but it seemed like Burton was making a standalone film, because it was mostly incoherent gibberish that mortal man was not meant to understand. (I'll leave that to Urxonyl.) It is also into this third category, re-imagining, that--based on what we know of the film so far--I will situate the upcoming Ghostbusters movie for the purposes of rational discussion and random movie references. If somebody asks you if you're a god...

The term “re-imagining” is particularly insidious to me because it seems to be shorthand for using just enough familiar iconography from the original property to justify invoking the brand to manipulate audiences through nostalgic appeals and just merchandise the shit out of said property to the point where you can’t turn around for months on end without seeing every inch of empty space of your life filled to the brim with advertisements, poorly constructed action figures, and delicious yet completely unrelated frozen dairy treats. I mean, yeah, Dairy Queen's Jurassic Smash Blizzard was fucking delicious, but what the hell did peanut butter cookies and chocolate chip cookie dough have to do with Jurassic World or dinosaurs in any capacity?

It’s basically like having your cake, shitting all over your cake, trying unsuccessfully to wash all of the shit off your cake with a garden hose, and eating the soggy mess of shit-infused sugar and flour that, though technically containing all of the same elements that made up your cake--and a few extra you didn't really ask for--couldn't really be considered cake any more in any true sense of the word.

I think it would be a fair assessment to say that I am not particularly anticipating the upcoming Ghostbusters film. I don’t think it’s going to "ruin my childhood" or cause a widespread societal breakdown. I do think  that its existence is indicative of a particular--and troubling--trend in Hollywood of ivory tower executives mining intellectual properties and trying to develop formulas with the sole goal of maximizing profits and in the process greatly increasing the chances of squandering potential and sacrificing quality while pandering to the lowest common denominator of the audiences’ natures.

I know I'm not entirely alone in these sentiments towards the Ghostbusters re-imagining or remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings in general (except for THAT Reboot), but the truth of the matter is that no matter how terrible the idea or end product might turn out to be, it’s possible to spin shit into dolla, dolla billz. The latter half of Adam Sandler's career is based up this very concept. The thing we, as movie-goers, have to ask ourselves, though, is do we really want an entire breed of Adam Sandlers dominating the cinematic landscape? Don’t we owe it to ourselves, our children, and our culture to limit the level and scope of Sandlerization going on in the motion picture industry?

Paul Feig, director of The Heat, Spy, and, perhaps most notably, Bridesmaids, is once again the big swinging dick behind the camera for the re-imagined Ghostbusters film. I will be up front and say that after watching The Heat and Bridesmaids, I'm not a huge fan of Feig's work. However, with that being said, even though I haven't been impressed with any of his work, I do actually admire his efforts to empower female actors, giving them more and better opportunities to work on the same level as their male counterpoints and helping give a larger platform for more diversified voices in film.
Yeah, so we're four grown men enjoying each other's
company, covered head to toe in white goop, grinning ear
to ear. Not sure where you're going with this...

With that being said, I've been having trouble digesting the whole ongoing public dialogue. There has been a lot of backlash to the new Ghostbusters flick, to the point where Feig has thrown his hands up in exasperation and told told his legions of critics in exactly as many words to go fuck themselves. Which isn't really a constructive contribution to an ongoing dialogue, but on the one hand it is sort of understandable. Sort of.

The Ghostbusters re-imagining is a unique beast in that it is tackling a property that is almost universally beloved by audiences the world over and is also starring a headlining cast of women. Women starring in a movie in 2015 shouldn't be an issue (unless said women are part of an international diamond smuggling ring) and yet here we are. Let me be clear, though: I am not some kind of reactionary Luddite who believes that the Internet is one of the signs of the end times and that technology is somehow tearing us apart, Lisa.

It is undeniable, though, that just like in nearly every other social context within the public sphere, women are faced with many more challenges on the Internet, ranging from run-of-the-mill misogynistic and derogatory comments when attempting to do, well, anything all the way up to extreme breaches of privacy and genuine threats to personal safety. And yes, before the typical reactions from the requisite apologists pointing out that "men get abused on the Internet too," I will cut you off at the pass and acknowledge that while yes, no one is spared from the possibility of emotional or physical harm either online or off, the simple fact remains that women are at far greater risk than men by a wide, wide margin. Let's say that a Twinkie represents the normal amount of hate and anger on the Internet. For women, it would be a Twinkie... thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.
Yes it's true. These women have no dicks.

In an earlier interview with Variety, Paul Feig identified the problem with the backlash against the all-female Ghostbusters cast and his frustration with such a response:

“The Internet is really funny--I love it, but I hate it at the same time... The first wave when you make an announcement like that is overwhelmingly positive. Everyone’s so happy and you’re like, ‘This is great.’ Then comes the second wave and you’re like, Oh my God. Some of the most vile, misogynistic shit I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Which brings us to the problem surrounding the dialogue surrounding the Ghostbusters re-imagining and why we can't have nice things. Mixed in with any genuine concerns that many fans have with a remake of one of their favourite movies is actually a lot of fucked up repugnant sexist shit. This has led Paul Feig and many other voices out there to simply dismiss all criticism as being grounded in some kind of misogyny, and basically issuing a blanket denial of accountability like that bullshit mentality of "haters gonna hate."

Now, basically all dialogue has ground to a halt. I think what Feig and others have failed to recognize is just how beloved amongst fans of all stripes the original Ghostbusters (and for some of us valiant few, Ghostbusters II). Feig himself hits upon this very fact, if tangentially, in the same Variety interview:

"The biggest thing I've heard for the last four months is, 'Thanks for ruining my childhood.' It's going to be on my tombstone when I die," notes Feig. "It’s so dramatic. Honestly, the only way I could ruin your childhood is if I got into a time machine and went back and made you an orphan."

The orphan reference is kind of harsh, but it could be Feig's subconscious desire to be Batman
Suck it, da Vinci.
manifesting itself verbally. Regardless of Feig's probable Baman sexual fetish, there's a clear middle ground to be had between Feig and the legions of disgruntled audience members, though at this point it has become a no man's land (Pun intended. Fuck I'm good.) safe for neither man nor ghoul. It is possible for fans to respectfully voice their displeasure and film makers to acknowledge that there may be legitimate reasons why some sectors of the movie-going public might have certain trepidations about messing with the gospel according to Venkman.

But now, to raise any voice of criticism against the impending Ghostbusters silver screen revival is to be lumped in with all of the morons out there pumping out their sexist (and occasionally racist) commentary at rates faster than they can be processed and adequately and thoroughly rebutted.

For my own part, I'm going to step out past the barbed wire and try to take back some of the war-torn territory and the intellectual high ground (which is a great place to set up sniper nest of rational thought). 

First of all, obviously, I'm going to outright dismiss any criticism of the new Ghostbusters movie based on having it star women as unequivocally bullshit and completely invalid. Done. Second of all, I'm going to dispute Paul Feig's apparent assertion that there is not valid criticism of the movie and its existence, because everything is open to criticism and should be subject to critical investigation. It's a human right to question anything and everything going on around us as frequently and as publically as we desire.

I guess there really are fates
worse than death.
The fundamental problem as I see it with the Ghostbusters re-imagining and re-imaginings in general is that they're predicated on misappropriation to maximize profits based on brand awareness. In his specific example, only the premise remains the same: what if there where supernatural beings, some that were harmful, and some humans figured out how to capture them. Everything else about the upcoming Ghostbusters will be different: different characters with different back stories in, as far as we can tell at this point and most likely, an entirely different plot not following the continuity established by the previous Ghostbusters films. This new movie didn't need to be called Ghostbusters any more than R.I.P.D. needed to be made.

If the new Ghostbusters film is going to be "new" and "fresh" and "its own thing," then why use the name and the iconography in the first place? Why have the Ecto-1, and proton packs, and the distinctive (and stylish) brown coveralls? If you really wanted to distinguish yourself and your new film, you'd probably make... a new film.

But the re-imaginings or the remakes or the reboots in instances like Ghostbusters are so disingenuous because any of the artistic potential they may have had has already been co-opted for concerns related purely to making money. You slap the brand on not because the movie has anything to do with anything that came before it, but purely because you want to capitalize on the existing recognition for wholly financial reasons. And I understand that there's a business component to show business, but Hollywood also has to understand that when they approach film making this way, when they approach culture this way, they're approaching from a fundamental place of disrespect and ambivalence.

That's not to say that you can't claw your way back and earn some street cred by making an even halfway decent film (see: Total Recall, 2012). But the concept is insulting on two levels: it's misappropriating a cultural artefact that, yes, has real significance to some or many) people for the sole purpose of turning a profit, and it's an implication that what they're trying to shovel down our throats can't stand on its own merits and will only be able to go down with a spoonful of brand recognition and/or a shot of nostalgia. Actually, there's somebody who summed up the problem with re-imaginings/reboots/remakes better than I other could, so I'm going to let Dr. Ian Malcolm take it from here, because he kind of sums it up perfectly:

"If I may... Um, I'll tell you the problem with the power that you're using here, it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it, you're selling it..." 

Er, ah, uh, ah-hem, uh... Ha ha! Eh, aa...
I'm not going to try to tell you that the upcoming Ghostbusters re-imagining has that much of an effect on me. Unlike some other people, I don't think it's a sign of the end times, you know, fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. You know, real Old Testament shit. And I'm not even going to try and argue that it might not be a thoroughly entertaining movie, because it might very well be and I have yet to see it so any judgement in that regard would be premature and purposefully incediary. It might end up being the Citizen Kane of ghostbusting movies for all I know. What I will say it that sometimes it's not necessarily about the ghosts you bust but how you bust them, and that a little bit of mutual respect and ectoplasm can sometimes go a long, long way.


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