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Childhood Revisited: Ghostbusters II

Childhood Revisited: Ghostbusters II

What childhood movie did you love? Which scared you? And how does it play now, watching it again as an adult? In this new feature, our writers revisit the films that affected them as kids.

Weird confession: I’ve seen Ghostbusters II more times than I’ve seen the first one. There’s a good reason for that: as someone born in the mid ’80s, the somewhat reviled sequel came out while I existed, and there were cartoons and toys for my four-year-old self to get obsessed with. Once it started airing on TV, I watched Ghostbusters II anytime it came on (thanks Comedy Central). I even owned the soundtrack, which is a weird album for a little kid to own. In fact, imagine anyone of any age bouncing around their bedroom to a medley of Bobby Brown, Oingo Boingo and Run-D.M.C. I was a fucked up kid.

Growing up, it was inevitable that I became increasingly aware that most people hate Ghostbusters II – that it cashed in on the original by betraying everything that made it great. Reportedly, director Ivan Reitman and screenwriters/stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis weren’t even all that gung ho about doing it. But, as you might imagine, it’s hard to say no to doing a sequel when your first one made a gazillion dollars, even if you don’t really want to do it. “I dunno, I kinda liked it as a kid,” I’d say.

As a kid, Ghostbusters II was a weird thrill ride, what with its bubbling underground rivers of pink slime, babies in danger and frightening Max Von Sydow-voiced Eastern European tyrants trapped in paintings. My parents are Eastern European and had a lot of paintings and pictures on the walls of their house when I was little, so I was easily freaked out by the prospect of “scary lady and horse” or “grandpa” emerging from the frames.

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As an adult, Ghostbusters II isn’t as bad as its reputation would have you believe, but it doesn’t really hold a candle to its predecessor, which was an instant classic. In fact, you can also tell that Ghostbusters II was a very expensive commercial product produced exclusively to make money. Made during the popularity of the “Real Ghostbusters” cartoon, there’s (of course) an appearance by Slimer, the green potato ghost from the first film’s hotel set piece that became the Pikachu of the ’80s. On a similar note, there’s also a tacked-on cameo by Bobby Brown, who performed a few songs on the soundtrack.

The writing of Ghostbusters II is a double-edged sword. The original film played fast and loose with scripting, often relying on charm and Bill Murray’s improvisation to carry the thing. It felt off-the-cuff yet perfectly complete. With the sequel, Aykroyd and Ramis put together a surprisingly thought-out script, where the Ghostbusters spend a lot of time investigating and slowly revealing the plot of the film, which involves emotionally powered slime generated by New Yorker negativity causing a series of supernatural flare-ups, including the aforementioned tyrant attempting to come back to life through a human host (hence the baby). Which isn’t to say that the one thing Ghostbusters was missing was a procedural element, but seeing the guys build a case certainly gives the gang an appreciated air of capability.

There are attempts to recreate the magic of the first, but to little avail. For one thing, everyone’s back, including Annie Potts as the secretary and Rick Moranis as the dweeby hanger-on Louis Tully. You even get a sense that Bill Murray’s trying to do his improv shtick again to jazz up the proceedings, but his heart often seems not quite in it. To make matters worse, the film’s got a lot of fat it could have trimmed. Because the film opens with the Ghostbusters having gone out of business, the band doesn’t get back together until about 35 minutes in, which seems a bit daffy when you expect a sequel to something to just get down to business. Tully himself is a big problem too, as his role amounts to an extended cameo and some incredibly flat comic relief. Cut him out and it’d still be the same movie. And, by the way, there’s no need for comic relief in a movie bursting with it – both good (Bill Murray being Bill Murray) and bad (Peter MacNicol doing a broad European art guy). As a result, some of the title characters get short shrift. For example, the ever-marginalized Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore has absolutely zilch to do, and that’s depressing.

What’s less depressing (a lot of things are less depressing than racial marginalization) is that Ghostbusters II doesn’t hold up to my memory of it, even though it’s a perfectly fine movie when not viewed in the shadow of its predecessor. Which I suppose is the one area I can take solace in – that the haters of Ghostbusters II are wrong. It’s not a betrayal of a classic film – just a flawed, enjoyable-enough sequel.

by Danny Djeljosevic

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