The original 1984 Ghostbusters was simply a phenomenon in its time, a revelation of comedy and horror. From the director of Meatballs and Stripes, Ivan Reitman’s third go-around with Bill Murray struck absolute gold. It had much sharper wit and creativity, and the entire cast seemed born for their roles. But this franchise has already seen two more iterations, and even five years later, the first sequel basically felt like cozy nostalgia. But rosy memories are best left unaltered. The 2016 reboot was predictably maligned. However, it also managed to completely misunderstand the essence of the original. So, let’s list some things that the 2020 sequel needs, and some issues we can definitely do without.
10 Needs: Genuine Scares
Although Ghostbusters II fell adamantly into a family-friendly atmosphere, the original didn’t start off that way. Our first encounter with the librarian ghost is pretty unsettling, and probably gave kids nightmares. Comedy works best when there’s contrast. If everyone is joking all the time, it has less value and effect. So, if there’s no sincere horrors to poke fun at, then it’s not going to work. And despite some dated effects, probably unconvincing for the time, the Zuul “Terror Dog” was pretty intimidating. Its hellhound appearance was very effective. Ultimately, the first film had the playful attitude of a haunted house. And, that’s still all we really need.
9 Avoid: Vulgarity
The original film wasn’t exactly flawless. There’s definitely some cracks in its armor, and one of the scenes that still feels pretty out of place is Aykroyd’s relations with a ghost. Some of the other sensuality in the film works on a kooky level, but outright sex doesn’t fit. Certainly not for the target demographic of its time. Paul Feig, director of the 2016 reboot, is known for successfully using raunchy humor. Bridesmaids and even Spy are great examples of that. But similar jokes didn’t work in 2016. This series was always meant to be silly enough for kids and adults alike. It should be nestled between edgy enough and going too far. The comedy should be witty, not raunchy, even if that direction could work.
8 Needs: Modern Parody
Before Cabin in the Woods, which feels more like a judgmental roast than the ribbing of a horror fan, we had Ghostbusters. It turned the entire horror genre on its head, simply by understanding it so well. The story deconstructed various tropes, without being blatant and condescending about it. It wasn’t quite an outright spoof, like one of Mel Brooks’ classics. There hadn't been anything like it, really. And now, horror has evolved. It’s come a long way, and it’s absolutely ripe for the picking. We want to see what modern sensibilities can be mined for fresh jokes that speak to us, the way the original spoke to 80’s fans.
7 Avoid: Caricatures
When you’re making a parody, it can be very easy to accidentally lose the reins. There are dozens of parodies that end up yielding to the same issues that they intended to mock. Somehow, Ghostbusters managed to toe that line. It was goofy, and it absolutely went overboard, but it was controlled chaos. That’s due to the actors. They need to feel like actual people. They can be silly and strange, but they can’t just be caricatures. That was a serious problem in the 2016 reboot. Our original protagonists each felt like an everyday person, caught up in something extraordinary. All of the adventures and jokes can be outrageous, as long as the characters themselves are rooted in some form of reality.
6 Needs: Deadpan Bill Murray
The original is absolutely Bill Murray’s movie, from beginning to end. The entire thing was basically a vehicle for his blase comedy. Murray refuses to take any of the horror seriously, while everyone else plays it straight. This is decidedly the highlight of the ‘84 movie. He didn’t even take the romance seriously. Somehow, he was still charming enough to get away with stalker behavior, in this fictional universe. The story was literally designed for Murray to just be himself, and even in Zombieland, this was put to great use. And although we feel that he should be in every movie, Murray’s absence in this franchise would be an absolute travesty.
5 Avoid: Blatant Messages
Ah, yes, the most divisive thing these days. The tiniest of comments can label your entertainment outrageously political. The truth is, not everything has a conspiring agenda. Everyone has become more sensitive to opinions in general. For example, being inclusive is not a tragic offense, it’s just a better mirror of the American population. However, the 2016 reboot definitely felt out of place by wearing its opinions on its sleeve. Messages are best absorbed by subtext. If you organically include your ideas, whatever your politics, it feels less like force-feeding. But either way, you don’t even need any. There’s simply too much of it these days. Leave any kind of politics out altogether, and you won’t instantly alienate copious portions of your audience. You probably felt uncomfortable getting through this paragraph.
4 Needs: Balanced Effects
If there’s one thing that can be said for both the controversial 2016 reboot and Ghostbusters II alike, it’s that special effects aren’t everything. That particularly goes for the most recent installment, where everything was so bloated. The visual effects splashed the screen like a Saturday-morning cartoon, for an impatient child that’s hopped up on last night’s Halloween loot. Effects shouldn’t just be a crutch. Every supernatural entity in the original had its own personality. The librarian is nothing like Slimer, who is nothing like Stay Puft or Zuul. Just keep CGI down to a minimum, and prioritize practical effects. The movie will age better, and it won’t feel so gimmicky or plastic.
3 Avoid: Poor Marketing
A lot can go wrong if you start playing with people’s expectations. There’s been more than a few trailers out there that completely spoil the final scene of the movie. But even worse, there are some that make promises the movie can’t keep. Time and money are precious, and it’s no wonder that Hollywood keeps relying on familiarity.
They don’t want to risk their own jobs on something original. But whatever your movie is, you should absolutely own it. If your trailer can’t find any reason for the movie to exist, it probably doesn’t have one. But the marketing for the 2016 reboot was totally misplaced, poorly conceived, and executed. People hated the movie before they even saw it. Make sure the 2020 sequel owns its personality, whatever that may be.
2 Needs: Innovation
The first sequel to Ghostbusters was something of a retread, in and of itself. And that was back in 1989. The last thing we need is a trip down memory lane, a story fueled purely by nostalgia. Modern Hollywood has enough of that already, and it misses more than it hits.
While fan service can be a lot of fun, the original film is always noted for its novel ideas. It paved the road, even while basking in the concepts of horror history. The best thing a new sequel could do, to stay true to the original, is continue that innovation.
1 Avoid: Unsatisfying New Characters
If there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that the new film will probably try to pass the torch in one way or another. It can introduce the smallest of characters, as an aside, that would allow for more sequels if 2020 proves successful. That’s just the way it is. But the characters have to be original, rather than mere reiterations. They have to be cast well, and have their own personality. Fortunately, we already know that actors like Paul Rudd and Finn Wolfhard are joining the crew. But new characters don’t just have to deliver the comedy. They also need to bring something endearing, sympathetic, or creative. And they definitely need to feel like they fit in the original universe of the franchise.