Who you gonna call?: Sony, “Ghostbusters” and intelligent rebooting

Ben Fritz, in his article for the Wall Street Journal about Sony naming Tom Rotham its new head of movies, made an interesting observation. He said the difference between Rothman and outgoing Amy Pascal is that Rothamn is known as a hard-nosed businessman who clashes with talent, whereas Pascal had been a talent-friendly, go-with-your-gut kind of studio head. I don’t know if Pascal is more David Selznick or Irving Thalberg, but it’s an interesting observation because it comes amid a gradual tightening of the Hollywood belt. The Journal also reported DreamWorks Animation is cutting back on its features. And Adam Goodman, Paramount Film Group president, is getting ousted from his company during a review of its “creative organization.” The question–especially at Sony–is how this will impact creative control. There is always the old artistic integrity angle, but that’s been in the picture business since silents. I’m worried about something newer: the “Ghostbusters” reboot.

There have been a few people who have suggested that an all-female Ghostbusters team sounds a bit like a gimmick, which is not all that odd considering there were complaints at the notion of earlier “Ghostbusters in high school” reboots. But gimmickry in the casting isn’t the real danger of this rebooting. We all knew there was going to be some recasting–Bill Murray’s lack of commitment coupled with the death of Harold Ramis cinched it. No. There’s something else slithering below.

For the horror fan (which writer-actor Dan Aykroyd clearly was), the original “Ghostbusters” was more than a clever comedy. Author Barbara Hambly, in her essay “The Man Who Loved His Craft,” noted that the film’s gruesome and comic mixture was “marvelously Lovecraftian.” She’s right, of course. From the awakening of an inter-dimensional god to the alien geometry of an apartment building in New York–designed by a Babylonian witch cult in the 1920s no less–“Ghostbusters” was Loveraft-lite, Lovecraft for the masses before his name was so commonplace. Cthulhu even popped up in a couple of episodes of the animated “The Real Ghostbusters.” It is that horrific heritage that the filmmakers should be focusing on.

There’s no question that it’s possible to have a smart (and “marvelously Lovecraftian”) “Ghostbusters” with an all-female squad. But, quite frankly, it’s also possible to have an smart reboot with the Ghostbusters in high school. It just has to be handled intelligently, with a respect for the creative talents involved and the source material, even the eldritch sources.

I don’t mean to sound like a die-hard fan, one who refuses to see anything if his precious characters are so much as touched, because I’m not. I have no problem with as major an overhaul as an all-female Ghostbuster squad. But I do have a problem with a “Ghostbusters” that becomes so caught up in its efforts to appeal to an emerging fanbase or some idea of what sells that its loses touch with what made the film great in the first place: gruesome fun (and alien geometry, of course). If studios want to cater to fans of an established franchise, that’s what they should be shooting for: intelligent, rather than convenient, rebooting.

Now, about that “Blade Runner” sequel…

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