It's time to put a third ride in the old Ecto-1 to rest, and not just because Harold Ramis is gone.
The day after I heard the news that Ramis -- who was not just one fourth of the Ghostbusters, but also one of the most important and influential comedic minds of his generation -- passed away, I read a headline informing me that the script for the long-gestating third Ghostbusters movie would be reworked to deal with his death, and that the film was still set to happen. My immediate response was swift and profanity-laced. Then I read past the headline and learned that, according to sources, Bill Murray was also slated to return, alongside Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, and that the three would only have what amounted to a cameo appearance as they passed the torch on to a new, younger Ghostbusters team. I was also reminded that director Ivan Reitman is apparently returning to direct this third installment. My response was still swift and profanity-laced.
Here's the thing, though: I also wasn't sure, at first, why I was so upset and surprised about this. Yes, Ramis is gone, and that's incredibly sad, but the Hollywood machine has powered right through deceased stars (and not just cameo stars) in the past. Yes, Ghostbusters 3 has been in its own version of development hell -- which has included several variations of the story, a change from a tale of the original Ghostbusters to a tale of their successors, and constant wondering about the involvement of the always sequel-skittish Murray -- for years now, but if a studio exec sees enough money at the end of the tunnel, they push the project ahead anyway. Yes, it's now been 25 years since Ghostbusters 2, and the idea of revisiting that universe on the big screen once again feels blasphemous to many, but when have our feelings ever really been taken into account in this age of sequels, remakes and reboots?
So, why did I, a guy who makes a living thinking and writing about this stuff, react to Ghostbusters 3 pressing on with such surprise and fury? In an effort to figure that out, I rewatched Ghostbusters for the hundredth time, looking for answers in a film that's an old friend for me. Here's what I came up with.
First of all, and there's just no way around this, Ghostbusters -- as a work of comedic storytelling, as a work of cinema, as a financial venture -- is a perfect storm of a movie. What started as a clever notion Aykroyd had turned into a killer script when Aykroyd and Ramis refined it, then got even better when Ivan Reitman came on board to direct and the film assembled the cast of Aykroyd, Ramis, Murray, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver. That is what sports fans refer to as a deep bench. It's a lineup of titans, a group of people working at the top of their game to produce a masterclass in comedic collaboration. Then you have the design of the film -- the proton packs, the firehouse, Ecto-1 and more -- to bring everything home visually, and a string of endlessly quotable, perfectly delivered lines -- "That's a big Twinkie," "I collect spores, molds, and fungus," "mother pusbucket," -- to make it a film that, 30 years after its release, people like me still watch compulsively.
That kind of lightning in a bottle is not easy to duplicate. You know how I know? Because five years after Ghostbusters the exact same people got together again and produced Ghostbusters 2, a film that I still find perfectly fun to watch, but ... well, let's just say it ain't no Ghostbusters.
Now, is it possible that Aykroyd, Reitman and company could produce another brilliant script for Ghostbusters 3 and draft a group of brilliant young comedic actors to produce another brilliant blockbuster that defies all our expectations? Yes, it's possible, but I'm certainly not counting on it. I say that meaning no disrespect to Aykroyd, Reitman, the late Ramis (who was apparently set to return) or Murray (if indeed he would return), by the way. None of them owe me anything, they certainly know how to make a Ghostbusters movie better than I do, and the franchise is their baby no matter what, but the more I think about the prospect of dragging out the old Ghostbusters regalia again, even with a fresh cast, the more I think one simple point.
Sometimes, even in Hollywood, things need to end.
I say this while living in the midst of a trilogy of films based on a single, relatively short novel called The Hobbit, while we're waiting for Terminator 5, while there are fans who will likely keep clamoring for a Firefly reboot until Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion are well into their 80s. I say this in an age when we badger Netflix to bring back dead network shows of all kinds. I say this as no less of a sacred cult classic than RoboCop just got remade. I know I'm both preaching to the choir and calling for something that'll never stop in the industry as long as there's money to be made, but sometimes stories simply should end. It's OK to write, and to read, "The End," and something about the news that Ghostbusters 3 was still pressing on after 20 years of development and the death of one of the franchise's architects drove that point home for me harder than anything ever has before.
Give whatever reason you personally would like, whether it's out of respect for Ramis or because you think the movie will be bad or because you'd just rather not see anyone but the original four in those suits. My reason for setting Ghostbusters 3 aside is simple: Sometimes things need to end, and it's past time for this one.