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Ghostbusters premiered in the US over the weekend, and - while it failed to take the Box Office top slot - it did make $46 million. Given the amount of controversy surrounding the film, that's pretty respectable. A key part of the controversy is the very fact that director Paul Feig chose to do a reboot rather than a 'passing-of-the-torch'; incredibly, this led to one YouTuber posting a 'no-review', a six-and-a-half minute video explaining why he was refusing to review the film!
Why did Paul Feig choose to do a reboot?
For Paul Feig, the idea of a 'passing-of-the-torch' plot just wasn't interesting. He told CinemaBlend:
"This is such an amazing franchise, with two amazing movies, but it could just keep going! There’s so many things you can do with it. It just seemed terrible to leave it in a box. And yet, at the same time, there’s something exciting about the idea of bringing it to a new generation, but this time… see an origin story of them. I know some people are like, ‘Why is it not a sequel instead of a reboot?’ I didn’t like the idea, personally, of them being handed technology – ‘Here’s how to do this.’ I want to see it develop!"
Feig's goal was to introduce a whole new generation to the wonder and hilarity that is the Ghostbusters franchise. He wanted us to see a bunch of rookies stumbling around in the dark, gradually working out how to handle their ectoplasmic foes, and developing the technology as they went. As a result, he made a film that's pretty much self-containing.
But is Ghostbusters Really A Reboot?
Here's the interesting thing, though; if you want to believe that the Ghostbusters reboot inhabits the same universe as the originals, then you won't have any problems. There are two key scenes that leave the possibility wide open.
The first scene is in the Mayor's office, with the Ghostbusters fuming as Mayor Bradley - played by Andy Garcia - explains that he has to pretend they're frauds. He's terrified of the mass panic that would ensue were the public to believe in ghosts. This leads to a hilarious argument in which the Ghostbusters argue that the cat's out of the bag, and one secret service agent snaps, "The cat's been out of the bag before."
Think about that line: if that scene is correct, then at times in the Ghostbusters universe the existence of ghosts has been an open secret. As time's passed, though, the public awareness of ghosts has dwindled, and the realities of the supernatural have been forgotten. Could 1984 and 1989 mark a time when the public were aware of the existence of ghosts?
This is actually a common trope in science-fiction. Take the following conversation from the classic Doctor Who series, with Daleks invading in 1963:
Ace: But this is Earth, 1963. Well, someone would've noticed, I'd have heard about it!
The Doctor: Do you remember the Zygon gambit with the Loch Ness monster? Or the Yetis in the underground?
Ace: The what?
The Doctor: Your species has the most amazing capacity for self-deception, matched only by its ingenuity when trying to destroy itself.
There's one other scene, though, and odds are you missed it. Ghostbusters includes a post-credits scene, where one of the team is listening to a recording from a haunting. Leslie Jones's Patty Tolan is disturbed to hear something very odd, and calls over her friends to ask a question:
Zuul, of course, is the demonic entity that threatened the world in 1984's Ghostbusters. A lot of viewers are assuming this sets up the inevitable sequel, but I'm not so sure; the reality is that Zuul's modus operandii has been tapped out, with the new Ghostbusters lifting about 80% of its structure from the original. No, I think this is a subtle nod that will be ignored in the sequel, but will leave us open to the possibility that Zuul is still out there. Even if I'm wrong, and Zuul does appear in the sequel, that simply raises the possibility that the same creature is taking another shot at our world.
The Problem With This Theory
This raises an awkward problem, though. Let's face it, everything about Ghostbusters is a homage to the original - from the plot structure to ECTO-1, to the very technology that the new Ghostbusters are using. At first glance, the idea of history repeating so perfectly seems awkward.
Except, again this is a staple of science-fiction and fantasy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a homage to Star Wars: A New Hope, sharing so much of the original's structure and themes. Nobody ever argues those two films can't coexist, though; they clearly do. In science-fiction and fantasy, the idea of history moving in circles is a pretty common one. With Ghostbusters featuring possessed float balloons and the power of leylines, is it really too hard to believe that historical patterns can repeat?
You could argue that the cameos disprove this theory, but I think they're easy to ignore - little Easter eggs that are mostly irrelevant to the plot. There's one exception, though, that may be more significant than you'd think at first glance. Recognize this face?
Annie Potts, who played Janine Melnitz in the classic Ghostbusters, returns in a remarkably similar role. She plays a fiery desk clerk, with exactly the same attitude Janine had in the original. Is it possible this is Janine, decades later?
I'm not saying Ghostbusters is definitively part of a shared universe with the originals. What I am saying, though, is that the film is very clever in leaving that possibility wide-open. If you want to believe Ghostbusters coexists with the originals, then you can do, with a bare minimum of difficulty. If you prefer to view this as a hard reboot, then you can do. To me, it feel as though Paul Feig has hedged his bets, and I view that as a smart move.