There’s this group of scientists, mavericks, their work widely derided and discredited. They’re interested in not just investigating the supernatural, but examining it, scientifically. They think they’ve figured out a way to use advanced particle physics to fight and even contain ghosts, if only they can get anyone to believe them.
At the same time, supernatural activity is on the rise in New York City (of course it’s New York, where else would it be?) because a man who believes this ruined earth is wicked and in need of a hard reset has built devices to collect and amplify psychokinetic energy until things reach a boiling point.
Drummed out of academia and out of other options, our “ghostbusters”, if you will, go commercial with their operation and enjoy some local success and celebrity as the artificial supernatural surge creates high demand for their services, though they run into problems with unsympathetic local and federal government officials, which results in some serious setbacks for them until the apocalypse is actually at hand, transforming an iconic creepy old building into a gateway to another realm as the amplifiers go critical.
In a pitched action climax, our heroes wind up ineffectually fighting a giant monster set on cleansing the world by force until they decide to focus their energies (metaphorically and literally) on the portal that allows it to operate on the physical plane. It’s a desperate plan, but this is a desperate time…
That, of course, is a rough outline of a lot of the major plot points of the all-male version of Ghostbusters that came out in 1984. It is also serves the same purpose for the 2016 version.
Oh, spoiler warning? Sorry! But not really. Because telling you this isn’t the same as telling you the story. If you’ve only seen the male version, and I told you that’s how the 2016 version goes, you’d probably be imagining something a lot more similar than it actually is. You might be reading it right now and thinking you’ll know how it goes, and still be wrong.
And honestly, chances are that if you’re even a little bit interested in this movie, you know the premise, and chances are you have an idea what the climax is going to be, at least in terms of the broad strokes approach I took above.
There’s been a lot of breath and ink and screen space expended over the past couple years about the precise difference between a “reboot” and a “remake”, and what the merits of each are, and sometimes how they compare to “retcons”. Frankly, that conversation bores me.
I think it also misses the point by a wide margin. Telling a story over again in a different way is not some new Hollywood fad. It’s a basic part of what storytelling is.
I told a dude on Twitter who was complaining that this movie wiped out the original that it hadn’t, that the boy version of Ghostbusters (and its sequel and all the spin-off media still existed). I told him I checked. Twice. Nothing was wiped out. His response was to say that is interesting and ask me if I’d heard something from Sony about a “DC-style multiverse”.
I told him no, that’s just how storytelling works.
The new Ghostbusters movie shares an outline and some phlebotinum and iconography with the guy one, but it is telling its own story. You could take the same basic premise and the same pile of elements and turn a dozen filmmakers or writers loose with it and ask them to tell their own version, and get a dozen different stories.
Which one’s the real one? They’re all stories. They’re real stories. But they’re stories. None of them is what happened. Unless you believe in the Sandman version of the multiverse, where all stories are true somewhere, in which case: all of them are what happened, somewhere. But that question honestly doesn’t interest me. They’re stories. They don’t have to be true, only true enough to themselves for you to get lost in them.
Are they all good? Is one of them best? That’s a matter of perspective.
We’ve already been down this road before, most of us who were kids when the male version of Ghostbusters came out. We watched the movie and accepted its reality, and then the cartoon came out, with all the same names but not the same likenesses, and a lot of the same gadgets and gizmos, but other ones, too, ones that didn’t quite fit the logic of the movie, and a lot of little elements here and there that made it hard to believe we were seeing a continuation of the story we’d seen on the big screen (or on VHS, or whatever).
And then the sequel came out, and it was very clear early on that as far as it was concerned, the cartoon did not exist. Had not happened. Yet the cartoon was still airing at that point, and it went through shifts as it went that made it harder to accept that even the cartoon was a single coherent story.
There have been Ghostbusters cartoons (plural) and comic books and video games and roleplaying games, all of which tell the same basic story or similar stories in different ways. A comic book of the cartoon might act like the cartoon (or parts of it) happened, but the cartoon doesn’t return the favor.
If you’re of a certain turn of mind, you might be pumping the air or slamming your desk and thinking, “Yes! She gets it! That’s so annoying. Why doesn’t anyone care about continuity?” But this? This here? These aren’t complaints, they’re observations.
I honestly don’t think being shackled to continuity does much for art. I honestly do think that looking for a single definitive telling of a story and elevating it to the point that we can’t try to tell the same story a different way hurts the art, hampers it.
So, irrespective of what I think of the Ghostbusters movie I just watched (and the short version is: it was amazing, and I will write a proper review by and by), I want to say right off the bat that I’m glad that it exists. I’m glad it got made. I’m glad that the story was told again, a different way.