Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Ghostbusters is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. You probably all know that either because you're good geeks or because there's a bunch of celebrating of that anniversary on many geek sites. Not too many are celebrating Ghostbusters 2, though.
Ever fighting for the underdog, we here at AICN are celebrating that sequel exactly 25 years to the day since it was released.
Personally, I'm not a massive fan of Ghostbusters 2, but there's a lot of nostalgia in it for me. I remember being excited to see it and watching it in the theater. It just never seemed to click for me in the way the first one did. That's not a damning condemnation, really, except that you can see how desperate Ivan Reitman and the crew are to recreate that magic and falling short.
The first movie was a miracle. When you read up on how chaotic the pre-production was and how much of what was shot was either thrown out or edited down to a montage moment you realize how close to a mess the movie was. Much like George Lucas' Star Wars, they pulled it out at the last minute and created something iconic.
I don't hate Ghostbusters 2, though. I recently rewatched it and there's an earnestness there that makes it impossible for me to ever fully shun the movie. Plus Peter MacNicol is just too gleefully absurd to get angry at the movie.
Much like my ever-burning torch for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a regular AICN reader by the name of Nathan Dally is similarly obsessed with this regularly shit upon sequel and asked if he could write a piece about the origin of the film, what was cut out and why and other nifty tidbits wrapped up in a general loveletter to the movie.
So, here's Nathan to tell you why you should give Ghostbusters 2 a second look. Enjoy!
It’s time! It’s been 25 years, the world has changed-- generally speaking people seem to be more accepting now than they once were. Yes, it's finally time ladies and gentlemen. Are you ready? Ok, here goes: Ghostbusters II is a good movie! There, it’s out there now. We can all breathe a little easier and sleep a little better.
Those of us who have known the truth this whole time have been clinching our fists and biting our tongues as our beloved sequel was under loved and under appreciated by the movie gods. Slowly but surely, the tide has been changing. The whole Internet thing seems to have caught on, enabling the spread of new ideas, opinions and sweet, sweet porn. We've seen countless movies and sequels rise up from the ashes, gaining newfound respect and dignity. Marketing gurus call them “cult classics,” a term loosely thrown about to describe niche films with a devoted fan base.
Quint has been at the forefront of the Temple of Doom renaissance, fighting on the front lines of geekdom, winning over hearts and minds with his piece de resistance: the Fortune and Glory series.
And now It’s Ghostbusters II turn.
Ghostbusters II deserves better. I realize I can't change anyone's opinion overnight but maybe I can help you understand why, personally, I want to spend time with the offbeat characters, see some spooks get nuked, get caught up in the adventure/mystery and, of course, laugh. What I love about Ghostbusters is that everything is played straight. I believe that this world could exist.
Ghostbusters derives its comedy from the characters. Venkman’s sardonic sense ability, Ray’s childlike enthusiasm, Egon’s lack of human emotion and Winston's desire to get paid. Sure Mr. Stay Puft is funny, but that humor comes from how straight everything is played. No cutaway gags or overplaying the moment. We even get a nice character beat from Ray about his childhood as a 100 Ft marshmallow man bears down on them. This is the same man who gets excited over a pole, paid 4,800 dollars for a 30 year old used car, and, once witnessed a mass undersea, unexplained sponge migration.
Here’s a question I've always been interested in: Should we take a film at face value? Is it as simple as "Good" or "Bad", "Rotten" or "Fresh", "Thumbs Up", "Thumbs Down"? The average moviegoer will judge a film based on their expectations of how entertaining a film should be. In Ghostbusters II’s case being funny wasn’t enough, it had to be funnier than the film that came before it or risk being labeled an inferior sequel.
So, it’s probably best to admit the obvious right up front. Ghostbusters II was never, ever, going to be as funny or defining as the first film. Sequels to high concept comedy films have obstacles that your regular sequel does not. Comedy is a cruel mistress when it comes to expectations. Does the average person judge a comedy by the quality or quantity of laughs?
Nobody really has gone into the nitty gritty on this film. No one has really gone into why Ghostbusters II is the way it is. How it went from being one of the most anticipated comedy sequels ever, to one of the most disappointing. Audiences had 5 years between films and if you’re going to wait 5 years for a sequel to a cultural phenomenon, you'd better deliver.
Ghostbusters II is an interesting case study in film production; cameras didn’t start rolling until November ‘88 and they technically didn't finish principle photography until April of '89, two months prior to release.
Hitting theaters June 16th 1989, Ghostbusters II opened to massive hype, breaking the 3 day the opening weekend box office record set a few weeks prior by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The $29,472,894 record held up until Batman opened to $40,489,746 the very next week.
Why did it take 5 years to make a sequel to one of the highest grossing films of all time?
Enter Columbia Pictures CEO David Putnam.
By all accounts Mr. Putnam was very anti-Ghostbusters, he apparently loathed Bill Murray to the point where he would publicly air his grievances against the actor. During a speech at a British-American Chamber of Commerce banquet, he was quoted saying that Murray was "an actor who makes millions off movies but gives nothing back to his art. He's a taker."
The original film was a massive gamble by Putnam’s predecessor, Frank Price. A Hail Mary pass by a desperate studio. Had anyone but Frank Price been the head of Columbia when Ghostbusters was brought to the studio, it would have never seen the light of day. In a corporate sense, Ghostbusters was Price’s legacy. The last thing David Putnam wanted was to bolster someone else’s legacy. David Putnam wanted Columbia to be an Oscar factory, green lighting what he saw as "respectable" films. Needless to say once the studio needed a reliable, sure hit, Putnam and his burnt bridges were out and Dawn Steel, first female to head the Studio, was in. Priority number one on Steel’s agenda? Ghostbusters II.
It’s March 1988. Legendary CAA agent Michael Ovitz is sitting at a table with his clients Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray Ivan Reitman & the late, great Harold Ramis. The back dining room of famous Hollywood showbiz restaurant "Jimmy’s" is covered in "no ghost logo" posters and left over merchandise from the first film. Ovitz has a mission; bury the hatchet between certain members of the creative team. Who was mad at whom and why isn’t known, some say it was money, while others say ego. In the end Ovitz succeeds and a few hours later the four men agree to dust off the PKE meters and strap on their proton packs. However, getting the principle players to commit isn’t the same as signing on. Months of negotiating followed with each party taking a piece of the back end in lieu of major upfront salaries. Back at Columbia Pre Production is fast tracked to meet a summer '89 deadline.
As Aykroyd and Ramis hammer away at the script, Ivan Reitman and producer Michael Gross assemble an entirely new creative time behind the scenes.
With a brand new production team, from cinematographer Michael Chapman and production designer Bo Welch to composer Randy Edelman, Ghostbusters II started filming November 28th, 1988 and lasted, “officially” to March 7th, 1989. For a film of its size that schedule is simply mind-boggling. For comparison, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade--released mere weeks before GB2, started shooting May 16th-September '88. The Abyss in August-December '88.
When the first film was made every single effects vendor in town was completely booked. ILM alumni Richard Edlund just so happened to be starting a company of his own. With a 5 million dollar advance from Columbia, Edlund opened "Boss Films". Even though Boss was nominated for an Oscar on Ghostbusters, Reitman wasn’t happy with the work. This time the producers decided to go with Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), adding insult to injury, Edlund's former co-worker and effects pioneer Dennis Muren signed on as the VFX supervisor. Muren claims to have taken on the project in order to gain some insight on how Ivan Reitman works his magic with comedy, but one wonders if there wasn’t some sort of professional rivalry between Edlund and Muren, Muren taking the opportunity to one up his predecessor. Speculation and gossip aside, ILM would go on provide nearly 180 VFX shots.
As it turns out 1989 was quite a busy year for ILM. Indy 3, Back to the Future II, The Abyss and Ghostbusters 2 would each provide their own set of challenges, but none as maddening GB2. After designs and concepts kept constantly changing & new scenes/shots were piling up, ILM had to say enough is enough, refusing to accept any further shots or changes. Initially it was just ILM doing the effects but after they put their foot down the list of vendors grew to include Apogee Productions, Visual Concept Engineering, Available Light, Character Shop & an uncredited Tippett Studio.
The whole Vigo concept went through various design changes. In the finished film he materializes out of thin air. Originally he was suppose to "peel" out of the canvas, much like the shot in the beginning where we see his head ballooning out of the painting, unnoticed by Janosz.
The actor who played Vigo, the late Wilhelm Von Homburg, stormed out of the premiere after learning his voice had been dubbed by the great, and uncredited, Max Von Sydow.
Most of the criticism Ghostbusters II gets centers around the notion that it’s a carbon copy of the first film. Statue of Liberty is Mr. Stay Puft 2.0, the formulaic montages and disappearing act of Winston Zeddemore for the first 1/3rd of the movie. I think some of those points are fair but I would argue that what some call “formula” I would call “tradition”.
People tend to forget that in the years following the first film “Real Ghostbusters” had taken over as the face of the franchise. Quite a few episodes featured montages and other winks and nods towards the original movie. What was once a fairly adult summer blockbuster was now a cartoon aimed at kids.
Ivan Reitman and company were tasked with striking a balance between the two demographics without alienating fans of the movie. Based on the amount of rewriting & reshooting that took place in March/April of ’89 it’s clear this was something the filmmakers struggled with.
The subway and ghost train scene, Winston saving Ray and Egon from the engulfed photo lab, Cheech Marin’s cameo and most of the showdown with Vigo were added late in the game. These scenes took the place of subplots and scenes that, due to the insane production schedule, contain finished ILM effects shots.
Here's a rundown of what was shot yet cut and some pictures: a sequence where Ray is possessed by Vigo after their initial museum inspection. Ray tries to crash the ECTO 1 before Winston snaps him out of it (which explains the ending where Ray is taken over by Vigo). An entire subplot was cut which has Louis Tully setting traps in GBHQ trying to catch Slimer.
Eugene Levy filmed a cameo sequence of Louis's cousin Sherman. Sherman works at the psychiatric ward and breaks the GBs out.
The mayor/eclipse scene was a late reshoot to help smooth the pacing and explain how the GB’s get out of loony bin (note in the original trailer Dan Aykroyd speaks the "10th level of hell quote" directly to the mayor before that scene was cut), different scenes showing Ray and Egon experimenting with the slime which would explain how they learn to manipulate the Statue of Liberty. A ghost that would have appeared during the final montage was cut after Ivan Reitman decided it wasn’t creepy enough.
I've heard rumors that the theatrical cut ended with Slimer coming out of the Statue of Liberty and right at the camera ala GB1 but it was cut for home video after a certain member of the cast was unhappy that this implied yet another sequel.
It's hard not to appreciate the blood sweat and tears that went in to making this movie. Is there an example of a major blockbuster reshooting key scenes, involving optical printed effects 2 months before its due to hit theaters? I think we can all agree the climax of GB 2 is a bit of a let down after crossing the streams, terror dogs and a marshmallow men.
It’s a miracle Ghostbusters II works as well as it does. The extent and expense of the reshoots tell me this wasn’t just some quick attempt to cash in on a sequel but that the filmmakers really cared about the film, despite it’s legacy. Reitman realized he needed to up the scare factor a bit so they added the decapitated heads/ghost train sequence. The scene where the pictures of Vigo spontaneously combusted were added to up the threat level.
Ghostbusters is a "high concept" idea. How rare is it for a big budget comedy to play everything straight, to have real characters rather than caricatures? Ghostbusters II is supported by the foundation the first film is built on. We can all name the great sequels of our time, your Godfather Part 2s, your Empire Strikes Back, Aliens & Toy Story 2.
Like Indiana Jones and Back to the Future, Ghostbusters 2 was never going to be as good as the first film. It’s why they call lightning in a bottle lightning in a bottle. Is a sequel automatically bad if its not as good? Is that where the conversation stops? Of course not!
I ask that anyone who has Netflix or knows someone with a spare copy, please, give this movie a second chance. It’s time.