Not that we were really expecting rumors of Ghostbusters III to die out any time soon, but Total Film has a few tidbits about the project, which has been in development hell for at least the past six years, and both tidbits are actually somewhat good news for those of us who have been viewing the possible sequel with no small amount of skepticism. The first is that Bill Murray is still not completely ruling out the possibility of a return; he hates the scripts that have been submitted so far, but has said “We’ll try again”, suggesting that he’s still open to the general idea of a third movie if the right script comes along. This is welcome news for those of us who heard the rumors that they might press on without him, as the idea of a Ghostbusters film without Bill Murray would be a cinematic abomination. The other bit is that Dan Aykroyd, who has been the big driving force behind Ghostbusters 3, appears to agree with Murray, and has announced that they are bringing in a new (as yet unrevealed) writing team, to write a new script. Aykroyd states that he feels there is no point in doing the film “unless it’s perfect”.
It’s interesting that they’re bringing in different writers for this; not just the new writers, whoever they are, but the team they’re replacing, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. Both of the existing Ghostbusters films were written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis themselves. But then, as Ghostbusters II was rather disappointing (still enjoyable, but a definite letdown), perhaps they want some fresh ideas; speaking personally, my biggest complaint is that so much of it seems like a rehash of the original.
To be honest, I’m skeptical about even wanting a third Ghostbusters film. But, operating on the assumption that it’s going to happen anyway, how would I want it approached?
For starters, I think it’s imperative that they bring back all four of the original Ghostbusters, and keep them as the focus of the movie. I don’t want to see “some Ghostbusters”, I want to see the Ghostbusters. Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore, and especially Peter Venkman. It doesn’t work as well if any of them are missing, and it doesn’t work as well if you don’t have Venkman. Bill Murray has been the big holdout here, as all the others have expressed interest (hey, it’s not like Ernie Hudson is doing anything anyway). But if Murray won’t come back, that should be it. It should be dead in the water. Peter Venkman was arguably the main character of the first film, and he’s certainly the most charismatic. He provides the most energy in the film, and it’s going to feel pretty hollow without him. It would be like making a sequel to The Blues Brothers without John Belushi; even if no other mistakes are made (and mistakes certainly were made), there’s a fundamental flaw in the basic premise. You can’t leave out the major characters and have it still feel like it’s part of the same franchise. (There was also a rumor at one point that he’d be showing up as a ghost, but Murray has stated that was just him joking around.)
While they’re at it, it would be nice if they beefed up Winston’s role a bit. In both movies, he comes across as a bit of a tag-along, and he doesn’t get to do much of consequence. I know he was a hired hand rather than a PhD scientist like the others, but it still seems as though he should matter as more than just one-more-gun. This is something that I feel the cartoon, The Real Ghostbusters handled well, and it would be a good move for the third movie to treat him as more of an equal to the others. Even without the PhD, by this time he’s been doing the job long enough that he should have as much a handle on the practical aspects as anybody.
The other characters from the first two movies should be relegated to cameos and small roles at most, if they’re used at all. Sure, Annie Potts should certainly reprise her role as Janine, but she’s not a major character in the films, and it’s hard to say that she should be. As for Dana Barrett and Louis Tully, I’m not sure we really need to see them at all. Aykroyd has expressed interest in trying to get Rick Moranis back into acting, and has said none of them want to do the film without him, but truthfully, Louis felt like an artifact in Ghostbusters II. He fit in the courthouse scene, and was great there, but afterward he felt more like he was there to act as comic relief. You don’t need comic relief in a film that’s already a comedy. He felt awkward and out of place in the rest of the movie, and I think that would just be highlighted further in a third movie. Similarly, as good as Sigourney Weaver is, we don’t really need to see her character again, and she certainly shouldn’t be the focus of the supernatural threat a third time. It strained credibility in the second film that she (well, her kid) was the target again. And I think the Peter-Dana dynamic is pretty well played out by this point. If Dana and Louis show up at all, it should be as cameos, not as significant roles.
The other aspect of casting I want to talk about is the ever-present rumor of new Ghostbusters. Several of the possible scripts have involved the Ghostbusters recruiting a new team to take over for them. Rumored actors for the parts have included Ben Stiller, Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Alyssa Milano, and Eliza Dushku, and probably more I’m forgetting right now. A couple years ago, Aykroyd mentioned the latter two in connection with his then-current script, which was a “passing the torch” movie with a five-person team of new Ghostbusters. I’m not going to deny that, if new Ghostbusters are brought in, it’s probably time to include a female team member; I also won’t deny that Milano and Dushku would both look good in a jumpsuit, though I’m more than a little skeptical of their comedic acting skills. I’m even going to be charitable and not cast too many aspersions on Carell or Rogen, as I suppose it’s conceivable that in a good script they could play entertaining characters who stood out from the existing ones. (I won’t countenance Ben Stiller in a Ghostbusters movie, though; charitably, he does one thing well, and that’s the bewildered loser everyman. That doesn’t work for a Ghostbuster.) Though personally, I’m not too sure that any of today’s comedic actors would quite fit in with the comic sensibilities of the original films.
There’s also the problem that five new people, on top of the four originals, is simply too much. There won’t be any way to do justice to all the characters, and it would be very easy for all of the new ones to be ciphers, or one-note caricatures instead of having fully-developed personalities. For this to have a chance of being done right, they have to be as well developed as Ray or Egon, if not Peter. So, at most, there should be only one new Ghostbuster, maybe two on the outside. I just don’t see it working with more than that because of the need to devote time to each character.
That’s one problem with the “new team” concept, but there’s a bigger one, and it’s more to do with the core concept. Put simply, I for one don’t want to see a “passing the torch” movie. I’m not buying a ticket based on new Ghostbusters, I’m buying it based on the Ghostbusters. Those are the guys I’m wanting to see. Anybody remember Extreme Ghostbusters? Anybody remember it failing really quickly? Even kids a generation later didn’t want to see some other guys step into the roles as Ghostbusters. Maybe today’s kids are different, I don’t know, but I would hope that most people want to see the characters that made the original movie great; otherwise, there’s no real need for it to be Ghostbusters at all instead of just some other ghost-hunting movie. I’ve seen some people say the original cast is getting too old, but besides that being more an argument for not doing it at all instead of passing the torch, I’m not convinced it’s that big a factor. It isn’t like these guys were running marathons and dodging bullets to begin with anyway; this isn’t like The Terminator or Die Hard where they have to be in peak physical condition. Their physical condition wasn’t a factor before, why would it be now? I’d rather see four aging Ghostbusters we know and love than five new guys who we have no attachment to, and are unlikely to develop an attachment to with the likely-thin character development.
I’ll admit to a bias about “passing the torch” movies in general, but that’s because the concept has, to the best of my knowledge, never worked. I can’t think of one genuinely good “passing the torch” movie. And I’m not talking about films where the character picks up some legacy that was introduced just in that film, like Obi-Wan training Luke Skywalker. I mean films where an already-established character or team passes the mantle onto a newly-established character or team. The best one I’ve seen is The Transformers: The Movie (the original animated one), and even that was mostly good for other reasons, and if I’m being honest with myself has a lot to do with my age at the time and nostalgia. Other than that… I am unaware of any good “passing the torch” films. Blues Brothers 2000? No. Star Trek: Generations sucked, and that was after the television series did the heavy lifting of making the “next generation” interesting characters. Mission: Impossible actively spat (or something with similar letters) on the hero from the TV series. I’m just not aware of any case in which it was handled well — both with a good movie, and with a good torch-passing. For the torch-passing to be good, it has to have the new character be interesting, and it has to still be respectful of the old character. And it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to be respectful of the old character while simultaneously saying they’re not good enough anymore… and any torch-passing implies they aren’t, or why would it be necessary to pass the torch?
Since this essay is approaching 2000 words, I think I’m going to stop it there for now. I do have other thoughts on what Ghostbusters 3 needs to do, but as those thoughts aren’t character-based, it seems like a good idea to cut this off here and leave the rest for another day.
What do you think about the possible characters in Ghostbusters 3? Who do you need to see? Who do you not want to see?