Ghostbusters fans got a genuine surprise at San Diego Comic-Con last week, when producer and director Ivan Reitman announced that a new film is in the works for the franchise’s 35th anniversary. The 2016 reboot's poor box office showing put the brakes on Sony's shared universe, but there's still plenty of life left in the spectral franchise.
During a Q&A , fans asked Reitman what to expect from the next outing. While he was vague about a larger role for the classic team, he didn't exclude the possibility. After the loss of Harold Ramis, who played super-scientist Egon Spengler, any reunion would surely be bittersweet - but Reitman says even Egon isn't out of the picture entirely. Just as Lucasfilm resurrected Grand Moff Tarkin for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a CGI Spengler isn't off the table. But is it a good idea to bring Harold Ramis back? More importantly, would doing so be a tribute to his legacy, or would it be disrespectful?
The first Star Wars anthology film featured several scenes with Death Star commander, Grand Moff Tarkin (played by Peter Cushing, who died in 1994). Cushing's estate granted Disney permission to use his likeness, and Industrial Light and Magic used computer generated imagery (CGI), as well as motion capture technology (of actor Guy Henry) to bring the Imperial dignitary to life... sort of. ILM created a very convincing likeness of the British actor, and while many applauded their efforts, others criticized the studio for ghosting Cushing.
Of course, recreating an actor for several vital scenes in a big budget science fiction movie is one thing. The Ghostbusters live in world almost indistinguishable from our own (aside from the rotoscoped ghosts, anyway), and Egon wasn't a supporting cast member but a lead player. He contributed to the comedic dynamic, playing the straight man to Bill Murray’s snide Peter Venkman and Dan Aykroyd's cornball Ray Stantz, and that kind of comedic back-and-forth (not to mention all the running around that the Ghostbusters tend to do) would be much more difficult to recreate than a character standing mostly still while delivering his lines.
After last year's Ghostbusters reboot fell flat, however, the studio may choose to start from scratch with their latest specter-fighting brigade. Even if Reitman gives Ray, Winston, and Peter some serious screen time - which has a certain Tough Guys meets Ghostbusters appeal - the dynamic is wrong sans Egon. For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume Sony puts the spotlight on the original team. In that case, the filmmakers either need to explain Egon’s absence, or give him a post-mortem role. The best option would probably be to write him out of the next film, but if Sony does implement a CG-Egon, his presence in the movie should be minimal.
Going back to Star Wars, Cushing’s doppelganger received a substantial amount of screen time. However, his relationship with Director Orson Krennic and his connection to A New Hope (which chronologically follows Rogue One) is paramount to the plot. Spengler, on the other hand, isn’t "necessary" to future entries in the Ghostbusters franchse - even if he’s one of the keys to their team's camaraderie.
Of course, Ivan Reitman stepped away from the director's chair on Ghostbusters 3 after Ramis passed away. So, his interest in resurrecting the character may arise from a pragmatic point: Sony may want to use the original cast in its entirety. Or, he may simply just want to give his real-life friend a proper cinematic send-off. Either way, he has a few somewhat respectful options.
Egon could appear in a brief cameo or cut scenes, just enough to give his character a brief nod. Also, the ‘busters could consult with him while he’s doing research in a faraway land like Timbuktu or Utah. If Dr. Spengler is resurrected through a mo-cap actor, he could show up for just long enough to make a smart quip about getting too old for paranormal investigation and elimination. Or, if Reitman desires a truly franchise-worthy moment, Egon could appear as a ghost — a friendly one, naturally. The studio could even write in a quest for the original team, one where they have to rescue their deceased friend from the big bad before releasing him into the spirit world.
However, the wholesale revival of Harold Ramis for an entire movie or even a significant number of scenes seems like one step too far. Much like Cushing, the longtime humorist possessed his own style, comic timing, and mannerisms. The best digital artists might be able to replicate his outward appearance, Sony could cast voice talent that sounds like him, but it wouldn’t be Ramis. Despite the incredible advancements in digital imagery, CG people still look a little, well... computer-generated.