Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Hollywood’s Endless Nostalgia Fetishisation
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is just another example of how studios rely on IP's to pander to audiences.
Nostalgia, in the grimy hands of Hollywood, has turned into a pyramid scheme. Those who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s are making movies and shows that recycle the glory of the era’s greatest hits for their generational peers, who are then recruiting the generations that came after them to spread the word about why they should long for a past they never lived. JJ Abrams has made a whole career out of it. So have the Duffer brothers. And now Jason Reitman dips into what is essentially family legacy with Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
The casual observer might mistake the new Ghostbusters for a Stranger Things special. In Season 2 of the Netflix series, the four kids dress up as the four heroes of the 1984 classic for Halloween. Finn Wolfhard’s Mike and Caleb McLaughlin’s Lucas argue over who should be Bill Murray’s character Peter Venkman.
Wolfhard also plays a central role in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which marshals the language of nostalgia to reel viewers into a new story with a new setting. Far removed from the original’s Manhattan, the small-town idyll of Summerville, Oklahoma has a dark underbelly, much like Hawkins, Indiana does in Stranger Things.
After the 2016 reboot debacle, one might have thought the franchise was deader than ghosts. The last time the Ghostbusters were called upon, a toxic section of fans got so angry they drove one of the film’s stars off social media with their co-ordinated abuse. There was pre-emptive outrage well before Paul Feig’s movie was released because how dare Hollywood bring together a quartet of hilarious comedians who weren’t white men.
Replacing Murray, Ernie Hudson, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd with Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig was a casting coup. Even with their singular comedic charms put together, the Ghostbusters reboot however lacked a personality of its own. The least you should do when fans are acting entitled and precious about their movies is to dismantle, strip it for parts and retool it in a defiant fashion.
The time-capsule Reitman has cooked up will no doubt rally those who railed against the all-female reboot. Afterlife treats the hallowed original and its maligned sequel as inviolable canon. The director is after all continuing the legacy created by his father, Ivan Reitman, who directed the 1984 original. The entitled fans will no doubt be pleased to hear the new film acts as a threequel, pretending the 2016 reboot has been erased entirely from cultural memory.
But the reboot at least had a sense of humour. Distancing itself from a movie which suffered the wrath of trolls and poor box office returns won’t redeem the new film nor breathe new life into the franchise.
Just like Stranger Things, Afterlife follows four teens, two of whom are related to one of the OG Ghostbusters. Wolfhard is Trevor. Mckenna Grace is his sister Phoebe. Carrie Coon is their single mother Callie. The three move to a ramshackle farmhouse in Oklahoma left to them by Trevor and Phoebe’s grandpa.
On befriending classmates Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) and Podcast (Logan Kim), Trevor and Phoebe unearth a box of secrets and gadgets that will come in handy when their town is haunted by Munchers and Marshmallow Men. From there, the threats keep increasing in magnitude with the nonbinary Sumerian God named Gozer the Gozerian and their terror dogs: Zuul the Gatekeeper and Vinz Clortho the Keymaster. Yes. They’re sure a mouthful.
The 2009 video game did a far better job at capturing the Ghostbusters experience: the nerdy thrill of aiming a proton pack at ghosts and reeling them into the trap. For a lot of the Indian kids who grew up in the ‘90s and 2000s, our introduction to the franchise came in the animated form of Extreme Ghostbusters. The show, which came out during the heyday of Cartoon Network, had a ‘90s edge to it.
OG Ghostbuster Dr. Egon Spengler, the character brought to life by the late Harold Ramis and voiced on the show by Maurice LaMarche, mentored a group of misfit kids to become the next generation of ghostbusters.
There was Eduardo, a Latino who was as quick with a quip as he was with a proton pack; Kylie, a pre-Evanescence goth girl with a flair for the paranormal; Garrett, a wheelchair-bound adrenaline junkie; and Roland, a Black engineer in charge of all the gadgets. The show felt progressive long before “diversity” and “representation” became buzzwords, and Hollywood tried to pander to audiences with colour-blind and gender-flipped movies.
If nostalgia-driven remakes are Hollywood looking backwards, all-female reboots and spin-offs are Hollywood looking sideways. Not forward. The trends call attention to the studios’ creative bankruptcy that they must cash in on classics, instead of creating new stories, worlds and characters from scratch.
All the call-backs and the nostalgia fetishising do keep testing our love for the past. We’ve got to a point where grumbling on and on about Hollywood’s assembly line of sequels and reboots, and their nostalgia-industrial complex, has become pointless.
Studios will continue to juice beloved classics for all they’re worth, offering the same story with little variation from the formula. The last time a franchise tried to drop the nostalgia crutch and offer something original in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, some fans got so upset they review-bombed the film on Rotten Tomatoes just as they did with the reboot of Ghostbusters.
So, the studios have resorted to peddling childhood memories back to the fans one movie at a time. It’s a great profit-making model for them too. Why invest in fresh voices and stories when you can just bleed existing IP dry and remake the old and familiar? So, year after year, the nostalgia bender continues. A lot of it is time and money wasted, that you won’t ever get back. What else do you call such an investment if not a pyramid scheme?
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