Pirates are Cool.

Captured bits of life... Pirates at no extra cost. Arrrg. Also cool: Zombies, Aliens, Ninjas, Dinosaurs, Vikings, the Noble River Horse, the Sinister Octopi, Robots and Kittens.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Who you gonna call?

I for one am glad that Ghostbusters is an enduring franchise. I know Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis were initially opposed to the idea of a sequel, but I am glad they made it. Of course Ghostbusters 2 couldn't ever really touch the original, not with the cultural impact it had. Let a film like Ghostbusters stew for five years, and suddenly fans are excited about the return of a cast of characters they have not seen in half a decade, and of course there is going to be some let down when the movie finally shows. This is largely the problem with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, as well. Given the formative nature of these films, Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is nearly impossible for the sequels to live up to the originals. And, despite what the internet might have you believe, it is not because these sequels are inferior films. Neither Ghostbusters nor Indiana Jones fell victim to that crushing habit of so many film franchises: the rehash. Far too often, with an unsuccessful sequel, we're met with a film that doesn't give us anything new - the plot is uncannily familiar. Think of National Treasure 2. Likely you don't even remember that film, even though (and you have to be honest with yourself here) despite Nicholas Cage you kinda liked the first one. The second film flopped because it did not offer us, the audience, anything new.

Neither Ghostbusters 2 nor Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull fell into this trap. Okay, you can reduce things to pretty simple terms and say "The Ghostbusters meet a supernatural power, bust some ghost, save New York" or "Indian Jones finds macguffin, saves world," but these are unfair treatments of rather more complex films. Ghostbusters 2 gives us a possessed painting and a river of slime, which contrasts well with an evil Gozer-worshiping architect's spirit antenna/apartment tower and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from the original. Indian Jones gives us Communists instead of Nazis (okay ... maybe there's a bit of formula here, but it is a franchise after all, and "enemies of America" make for good bad guys in period pieces. It’s really no different from having Felix Lighter help James Bond fight terrorism instead of Communists, or worse yet, S.P.E.C.T.E.R.) and a bountiful number of 1950's jokes to go with a plot that involves Mesoamerican societies and inter-dimensional beings (AKA aliens). Stop and think: is this really so far removed from the idea of the power of god melting a Nazi's face off? Or Rahm Molla pulling somebody’s heart out of their chest without leaving a mark? Or, say, a crusader living in a cave without any damn food for seven hundred years? Of course not. People bandy around the idea that the first three films were based on religious concepts. This is true, but what they seem to forget is that so is the fourth. Sure, there’s a lot of invention in the story, but that’s true of all the films in the franchise. Just because there is a base from a culture that we the consuming audience are (generally speaking) less familiar with does not make it any less valid as an Indiana Jones plotline. Think about that last sentence, by the way. Particularly the word "valid" in conjunction with the phrase "Indian Jones Plotline." Beginning to see why pooh-poohing Kingdom of The Crystal Skull as unlikable because it is unbelievable is a foolish idea? "But what about the nuclear fridge?" you are bound to cry. There's no way I can defend that, right? Well, when you think about it logically, it seems impossible to believe anybody could survive that. But then, it seems unlikely anybody could survive falling out of an airplane on a life raft and riding it down the Himalayas, only to have the lift raft land safely in a river. The occupants are fine, and perhaps more unbelievably, so is the raft. Shouldn't it have a hole or two, maybe? The fridge, like the raft, was meant as an inane adventure, and unless I'm very mush mistaken, it was supposed to be funny. I laughed. Lead lined fridge, Howdy Doody on the TV during a nuclear bomb test, "I like Ike" ... to anybody familiar with 1950's Middle America, this over-the-top characterisation should have all been funny.

Hey, wasn't this post about Ghostbusters, not Indian Jones? I'm getting there, trust me. I just felt the need to defend what was actually a pretty good Indian Jones movies that got slammed by the Internet and as a result, people think they hate.

What I'm trying to get to the root of is why people can't lighten up and enjoy a sequel five or twenty years after the original movie is released. I think it all has to do with the concept of the original films as it exists in the mind of the viewers. We have a tendency to forget the less-likely and focus on what we enjoy about films, especially when we are young. Many of the people nay-saying Indiana Jones are doing so without having even been alive when the original films were released to theatre. Simply put (and I include myself in this category), these people grew up with Indian Jones pre-existing as part of their culture of youth. Films this entertaining become part of the formative experience of youth; watching Indian Jones is like a rite of passage in our culture. Every kid that sees these movies loves the adventure, and loves the character. Indian Jones is like unto a modern folk hero. There is a certain mythology surrounding the character, a heavy significance that we all recognise that has nothing to do with the plot or content of the films. For example, children are more likely to associate a fedora and a bull whip with Indiana Jones than they are with the 1920's and, well, bulls. These children grow up (I grew up, too). Yet, even as we mature, our cultural understanding of Indian Jones remains the same. These films, this character, they are literally a part of who we are. They shaped our childhoods. How can any new film possibly live up to a legacy like that? It can't, not if we are too mired in our own imaginations to allow for the editing of something that is culturally encoded. This is the reason why sequels that come twenty years later (some would say twenty years too late, but I’m trying to fight that mindset) are seen as inferior to the original films. And we must remember, sequels are rarely better to begin with, but c'mon, Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull really only suffered from one problem: our impossible expectations.

So, at long last, we return to Ghostbusters. With the recent release of Ghostbusters: The Videogame, Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis realised that Ghostbusters was in fact still a viable franchise. Part of the success of this game lies in the authors of the content (mainly, Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis), but also with the return of all the original actors to play the voices of the Ghostbusters. As far as the film franchise is concerned, the game counts as cannon: when Ghostbusters 3 comes out, the game counts. And there it is: Ghostbusters 3. Its been over twenty five years since the original film came out, twenty since its sequel. Part of the success of Ghostbusters: The Videogame is that the target market for games of this sort are people around my age: early- to mid-twenties. We are the people who grew up with Ghostbusters, and really, I think it is one of the most influential and formative films of our generation. Ghostbusters: The Videogame succeeds because it allows us to live out our childhood fantasies of busting ghosts. It's backed up by a fantastically funny and well acted story, even if the plot really isn't anything special. In a nutshell: go here, bust this ghost, go here, bust that ghost, go here, bust a third ghost, go back to the first place, bust another ghost, look out, an island in the Hudson river! Central park turned into a graveyard, ARGH GOZZZZZZEEEERRRR!!!!! ... wait, I mean, Ivo Shandor as a Destructor ... cross the streams (again), bust Shandor, save the world (again), the end. So now, we've all lived out a childhood fantasy, shooting a proton steam through a fleshed out version of the first film, and all of the importance that Ghostbusters held in our youth is fresh in our minds. We are primed and ready for more of Drs. Venkman, Stanz, Spangler and working stiff Zeddemore. Ghostbusters 3 is in production, and I can guarantee, there will be hype. People will be excited, and when the film comes out, ultimately, it will probably be pretty good, but like Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, because of our built-in cultural expectations, Ghostbusters 3 is going to get bad reviews. There is no way it can live up to the pedestal we have placed the franchise on. That is why I implore you, when you see Ghostbusters 3, don't let the internet ruin it for you. Watch it on your own terms. Do not let people tell you how much the nuked fridge sucked. Try to enjoy it for what it is: a return to a fantasy world that you loved as a child. Don't think it's going to be the best thing ever, don't expect it to top that formative film of twenty-five years ago. Just relax, sit back, and enjoy the return of the Ghostbusters like they are friends you haven't seen in years. I'm not asking you to forget the importance Ghostbusters held for you as a child, but I'm asking you not to let that get in the way of you enjoying the film. Relax, and take it for what it is: you'll thank yourself when the credits roll, you have smile on your face and the dude behind you says "Ghostbusters in hell? Yeah right, that was fucking lame!" Because really, the statue of liberty dancing through the streets of Manhattan is any more believable?


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