In which I once again attempt to put right what once went wrong.
Imagine for a moment that it is 1984. Ghastly pastel colours are everywhere, Britain agrees to return Hong Kong to China, and every pop culture event that happens misses out on providing material for a future Bowling for Soup song by one year. Amongst these happenings, a little comedy film about ghosts takes the movie going audience by the collar and shakes them until every spare nickel falls out of their ridiculously parachuted pants. Ghostbusters, released in early June, becomes a surprise hit, and would go on to be the second highest grossing film of the year. So, if you are the creators of such a blockbuster, what do you do?
If you are the cast and crew of said film, you move on. If you’re Murray, you take a few years off to recentre yourself. If you’re Aykroyd, you make Driving Miss Daisy for which you are nominated for an Oscar. If you’re Sigourney Weaver, you make Gorillas in the Mist and Aliens and solidify your professional reputation as a badass. If you’re Ivan Reitman, you make Twins, and do the same by making Arnold Schwarzenegger funny. But if you are Columbia, you don’t do any of this. If you are Columbia Pictures, you obsess over making all that sweet bank again by making a sure-fire hit of a sequel. The problem being, no one else involved wants anything to do with it. They all have new projects to work on and stories to tell. Even Aykroyd, who is obsessed with ghosts and had laboured on the original screenplay for years, wasn’t interested in bringing the ‘Busters back.
Eventually, Columbia got everyone in a room, and a (presumably very lucrative) deal was hammered out. Aykroyd and Ramis would write the script again, Reitman would direct, and the movie would make lots of money. This was in mid-1988, with a summer 1989 release date. The tight schedule meant a script was needed before the end of the year, with filming to happen over the winter. Ideas were a plenty, ranging from the Ghostbusters achieving high success years later, to the sequel picking up with the group still covered in scorched marshmallow. But, between the disinterest of all involved and the increasingly harrowing schedule, maybe it is of little surprise that the route they went with was to basically copy the beats of the original film with a slightly different dressing and a loose continuity.
The end result is a film that… is not great. It certainly lacks the inspiration and enthusiasm of the original. It contains really only one truly great scene, the courthouse sequence, but the rest of the movie just kind of muddles its way to the fastest paycheque, and once again move on (it was only in the mid nineties that Aykroyd, whose starring roles had dried up, starting pushing a third film). History has had its foggy way with the sequel because, until this week, it was one of only two Ghostbusters we had, and as bad as it is, it is still entertaining, and certainly could have been worse. But it also could have been better, and that is the idea I’ve chosen to linger on for some time. Imagine it is now 1989, and Ghostbusters 2 has just been released. But, in this alternate 1989, everyone involved actually cared about the film, and set out to make the best one they could. What might that movie have looked like? We’ll never know, but I’m an imaginative bloke, and thought now is as good a time as any to take a shot at a little revisionist history.
But first, The Rules. Yes, as always with my little flights of fancy, rules are what keeps the world from spinning madly on its axis and falling on its face, like Uranus. Except this time, the rules are few and far between. Unlike with Revenge of the Jedi, there aren’t a pile of unused drafts that contain material worth plundering. All drafts of Ghostbusters 2 were written essentially under duress, and contain only the barest hint of encourageable ideas. And unlike Prometheus or Batman v Superman: Back in the Habit, the existing plot isn’t close enough to salvageable to just jostle the narrative back into place. Uniquely, Ghostbusters 2 has provided me the opportunity to invent everything essentially from whole cloth. Which is dangerous, and leads to excess. A rule is needed in order to ground me. So, The Rule: the proposed film shall hem as close as possible to the tone and established concept of the original film, while expanding upon it in a manner that would have been conceivable in 1989 cinema. Additionally, since we’re playing absolute make believe, I will be casting with period and genre appropriate actors, to add to the sense of realism. I honestly have no idea how this is going to turn out. How exciting!
Open on: A New York City subway station. A lone maintenance worker enters the tunnel and begins progressing further and further into the darkness, the beam from his flashlight the only source of light. But he’s a New Yorker, and he ain’t scared of no dark. A rat runs over his foot, to no effect. Then another. And another. He points his light down to see hundreds of rats all scurrying away from where he is headed. He presses himself against the wall, and from his body language, he is a little disturbed, yet he proceeds. As he moves off the wall, a thin string of slime draws between his shoulder and where it touched, as if the walls are seeping. He continues to a power coupling, shorted out. As he arrives, he sees that it is covered in slime as well. The floor of the tunnel is too. He follows the trail of slime to a recess in the tunnel, into which he shines his light. From the recess’ perspective, we rear up towards him, bubbles of slime visible on the periphery of the shot, as the worker screams in terror.
As a way of catching the audience up on what has happened in-universe, the movie opens with a pair of expositional scenes. First, with Peter Venkman appearing (and not for the first time) on Late Night with David Letterman. Venkman has used the notoriety of the Gozer attack to become a minor celebrity, in New York if no where else. Witty banter and sexual innuendo follow, showcasing that Venkman has changed very little since the movie, and if anything the fame and attention has made him worse. Dave concludes the scene by asking how the ghostbusting business is, and Venkman saying it’s great.
Ray entering a room, PKE meter extended. Slowly, he investigates a room. Over the walkie-talkie, he checks in with the others. Egon and Winston are conducting their own searches of other rooms, an attic and basement. They each take their time, building suspense as they go. The meter blips and pulses, but doesn’t go wild. Winston, in the attic, hears a noise in the corner, pulls his proton gun, and approaches. The others move to converge on his location, but the disturbance turns out to be a raccoon. Cut to Ray giving the owner of the building a card for a pest exterminator while the three leave dejected, and in need of a drink.
In a bar, they drink their sorrows. Ray complains that it’s their own fault and in five years, the four of them have managed to eradicate everything higher than a class two ghost in the five boroughs and New Jersey, and they’re lucky to get a job a week, and mostly then its just flickering lightbulbs or floating candles. Egon calculates that at this rate, they’ll be out of money by the end of the year. Winston bemoans that they were too good, and that Venkman barely even shows up anymore. Venkman then immediately appears, asking the bartender to turn the channel to Letterman, barely noticing that the others are miserable. As they explain it to him, he seems unaffected, and that its time to move on to the next thing, and not linger on the past. Ray and Egon seems to see the sense in this, with only Winston insistent that they can find a way to save the business.
The next day, over the course of a squash game, in the locker room afterwards, and walking through a club lobby, Venkman explains the Ghostbuster’s troubles to Lyle Probst (as might have been portrayed by Kevin Kline). Probst seems genuinely concerned, and states that he believes he might have a solution. While the pair is in the showers, the plumbing fails, which Probst mentions to the security guard in the lobby as he leaves. The building maintenance man descends into the basement to check the pipes. The seals around the pipes ooze with slime, the same slime from earlier. He opens a valve, and a considerable amount belches out onto the floor, and crawls away into the nearest drain.
At the firestation, Probst makes his pitch: Ghost Tourism. Extermination is all well and good, but it requires a replenishing supply to remain viable. However, with their technology, they can make ghosts accessible to everyone, in theme parks. Containment units can keep the harmful ones under control, while allowing close encounters like at a petting zoo with the less aggressive ones, or interacting with the ghosts of famous people. Egon doubts that it would even be possible to sustain such interaction. Probst counters that it doesn’t matter; what they can’t do they’ll fake. “Have you seen what they can do in movies nowadays?” he’ll ask. “The schmucks won’t even know the difference.” If they make Probst a partner, he’d have investors lined up by the end of the day. Venkman seems enthusiastic, but everyone else has reservations, and Ray asks for a couple days to think about it. Probst assures them that he understands, and leaves. Outside, in his car, his business manager Lisa Wexler (whom I’m thinking would be someone like Jamie Lee Curtis) asks him how it went. He drops his act, and confidently explains that the Ghostbusters are idiots, having squandered their market penetration and appeal, and that when they fail, he’ll buy up the remains for nothing and build a franchise empire.
Back inside, they discuss Probst’s idea, with everyone voting no but Venkman, who likes Probst’s can-do spirit and promise of big bucks. Winston makes an impassioned speech about how he never really felt like he had a direction in life until he took up with them. That fighting ghosts helped him find the zeal he was missing, and that what was meant to be just another flunky job turned out to be something of real meaning. Venkman counters with money, but the speech gives Ray an idea. What if they offer regular folks to come in and be Ghostbusters. Teach them how to use the equipment, let them bust a ghost under controlled circumstances, give them a certificate at the end of the week. That they don’t need Probst and his investors, that they saved New York and the world themselves, and they can do this. Venkman remains unconvinced.
Venkman goes to Probst’s offices to deliver the bad news, which Probst does not take well. Venkman assures him that they liked his ideas, but decided to go in a different direction, on account of Probst giving off a strong asshole vibe. On his way out of the office, Venkman encounters Wexler, and immediately drifts into his smarmy pick up game, which she counters with her own aggressive flirtation. She and Venkman spar, with Wexler getting the better of him and leaving him enamored. In Probst’s office, Wexler asks him what the plan is now. Probst declares that if the Ghostbusters are too dumb to accept their fate, then he’ll have to nudge the situation in favour of their demise.
Follow this up with a montage of the Ghostbusters offering their new service (a television commercials, intercut with a news report of water shortages and missing pets), and wading through the applications, generating a cameo rich collection of interviews with potential applicants. This, in 1989, would have allowed them the opportunity to shove every former SNL buddy, every comedian they could call in a favour from, and any unexpected face to pop up (think Casper’s mirror scene), as well as give some of the more seasoned improve vets a chance to riff oddball characters. In the end, four applicants are selected: the energetic and enthusiastic Irwin Nussbaum (Martin Short), the overly respectful military Martin Benziger (John Candy), and the unusually curious Franklin Dreyfuss (Christopher Lloyd).
Ray, Winston and Egon run the training, which first consists of getting the “recruits” used to the equipment, both old and new. Along with the proton packs and traps, Egon introduces new arc netting and magnetic shielding, as he has found that strong electromagnetic forces disrupt the ectoplasmic cohesion. Dreyfuss is particularly interested in how the technology works, but Egon is hesitant to explain too much.
In the evening, Venkman tracks down Wexler at her apartment building, which she views as an attempt to gain information on Probst. Venkman denies that, maintaining that he’s stalking her purely for salacious reasons. She leads him on for a bit, then cuts him off and sends him packing. In her apartment, she heads to the bathroom to run a shower, but the water is replaced by slime, resulting in the bathtub scene form the actual Ghostbusters 2 (because I’m a fan of the effect of the bathtub mangling). The next day, Wexler tells Probst what happened, to which he is apathetic. She suggests that maybe the Ghostbusters shouldn’t be mined for their intellectual property, and actually serve a purpose in the city. Probst laughs, saying that ghosts never seemed to be a problem until they showed up, and that if the world got along without them before, it will get along without them after. And part of the getting along without them will involve making him a ton of money.
At the Ghostbuster HQ, the team has set up a test area. Egon thinks that the system he set up should be able to contain a single ghost. Winston produces a trap, and rolls it into the centre of the space. Ray reiterates the rules and releases the ghost. It immediately tries to escape, but is repelled by Egon’s netting. They each take a proton shot at the ghost, which deftly evades them all. As Ray is about to put an end to it, Nussbaum’s stream shorts out the capacitor on the webbing, and the ghost goes free. Before Ray can stop them, the recruits run off after it, shooting at a whim. In the middle of a busy New York street, the four recruits attempt to wrangle the escapee, causing increasing amounts of damage to buildings and cars. Ray, Egon and Winston arrive and trap the ghost just as the police arrive.
Venkman goes to claim the others at the police station. He mocks them briefly before Probst shows up, all smiles. The city is pressing charges and the team will have to pay all damages. He is willing to cover the cost and pull some strings to get them released in exchange for complete control over the company. Seeing no other choice, they agree, at which point Probst fires them all and leaves.
In the subway, a car pulls out of a station, and proceeds as per normal. The driver glances up into the tunnel ahead, and sees a wall of slime. He slams on the breaks, but the car drives straight into the goo, which clamps on, spilling into the cars filled with people.
Probst and Wexler arrive at the headquarters, fire Janine, and settles in. The four recruits arrive, and Probst congratulates all of them for their role in winning him his prize. He begins ranting about how much of a dump the firestation is, and how he’ll have it all torn down once they get everything of worth taken out. There is a knock on the door, which Wexler answers. It’s the police, there about the subway crash, looking for the Ghostbusters. Probst interrupts and states that the company is undergoing a restructuring and is unavailable at the present time, and shuts the door. Wexler argues that there is a responsibility, which Probst ignores. The recruits argue that they could handle it, that they were trained. Probst says that if the problem is big enough, they’ll come back when they are willing to pay.
Wexler leaves, and finds Venkman, attempting to appeal to his sense of greater decency. He seems contented, and admits that Probst outwitted them. Wexler counters that he isn’t that smart, and if it weren’t for her, his hair brained schemes would have left him broke years ago. And if there is a major threat, his greed is going to get a lot of people killed. And a gang of losers Probst bribed to get a couple days worth of training isn’t going to be any good when there is actual trouble. Venkman admits she’s right, and says they’ll need the others, and a plan.
As night falls, the slime begins to bubble up through the sewer grates, flooding into the streets. As it slicks and flows into graveyards, ghosts rise up from the graves, and descend on the city. The slime though seems to all be heading towards somewhere. It begins to gather, building itself up into a mass. Cars crash into it, it absorbing them as it goes. It shoots a tendril out of itself, latching onto the side of a building and pulling itself up higher, as it grows and grows.
Venkman and Wexler meet up with Ray, Egon and Winston as the city begins to panic. News of the increasingly large slime ball in midtown spreads. They need their equipment, and they need to find a way to contain it. Egon suspects that if it is a purely ectoplasmic entity, then trapping it wouldn’t work. The best way would be to disrupt the psychokinetic bonds giving it cohesion. They make their way to the firestation, barging in. Probst appears from a back office and demands that they all leave the premises, as they are trespassing. When he sees that Wexler is with them, he declares that she’s fired, but she ignores him. Upstairs, the recruits are told that they have to suit up, Wexler too.
Arriving in midtown in the Ecto, the eight ‘busters contend with an ugly sight. The blob is reaching gigantic proportions, but seems largely immobile. Egon theorizes that it intends to simply keep growing until it absorbs the city. Removing his specialize equipment in the form of tripod rods, he gives one to each of the new crew, and instructs them that they need to form a circle around the slime. In pairs, four aim to go high, on the tops of unabsorbed buildings, while the others stay on street level. As they approach, the slime twists, and belches a tentacle out of itself, which is severed by a proton blast, but reabsorbed into the mass. As they defend themselves using the packs and the new magnetic shielding, the slime seems to gain an awareness of them. Venkman comments that it isn’t playing dumb any more. The pairs that head towards the buildings are terrorized in the stair wells by tentacles clawing for them and ripping out sections of wall, while those on the street also contend with the now plentiful ghosts.
When the rods are in place, Egon activates them, creating a containment net. The slime fails to dematerialize, but the net seems to keep it in place, any part of it passing through the field loosing cohesion. Dreyfuss and Egon theorize that cohesion on such a scale can only occur after being exposed to a massive electromagnetic pulse, like that of a nuclear blast. And that due to the scale, the net won’t hold for long. Ray mentions the fact that they are each wearing a nuclear accelerator on their backs, and that if a proton pack were encased in a magnetic shield to prevent immediate absorption, and overcharged and launched into the centre mass, it might do the trick. Egon sets to making the adjustments while the others argue about the best way to delivery the package. In the midst of this, Probst appears, demanding the return of his equipment. As the net fails, he grabs hold of the overloaded pack, and is grabbed and dragged into the mass by a tentacle. The group run for cover as the pack overloads, causing the slime ball to pop like a water balloon. The ghosts all fly away to haunt wherever they may.
The next day, the news reports that clean up of the slime are commencing but expected to take some time. The Ghostbusters ponder their future when Wexler informs them that with Probst dead, she is their boss. And that while they were terrible business managers, they were an effective team. With some changes, she believed the organization to be a viable enterprise. As the credits role, we are shown evidence of the new direction of the company. The three recruits set up a new franchise in Philadelphia, with other franchise opportunities available in other cities, with training from the core team. At the Sedgewick Hotel, the Ghostbuster logo with a thumbs up is on the door, declaring the building “certified haunted.” The doorman opens the door for a well dressed couple, but all three take a step back as Slimer blows through, and rushes the camera.