It doesn’t take much for a property to be tainted by toxic fans, more often than not because there’s an aspect of the work that draws them out. The utterly ludicrous negative overreaction to 2016’s Ghostbusters: Answer the Call can trace a direct line to an undercurrent of sexism running through the original. Bill Murray’s smarmy, sleazy Peter Venkman is the obvious bad role model for an entire generation of obnoxious young men, and the film’s treatment of its female characters isn’t great. Dana is well-rounded and strikingly realized by Sigourney Weaver who is summarily possessed, hypersexualized, dehumanized (literally), and ultimately becomes a reward for Venkman. Annie Potts’ Janine is great, having some of the best lines in the movie, though she’s not taken particularly seriously as a character. Finally there’s Gozer, who appears as a woman but ultimately transcends our foolish mortal concept of gender.
Then there’s the not-exactly-inexplicable-for-a-1980s-movie conservative lean, where private business is celebrated and the film’s primary bully is an uptight government bureaucrat representing the Environmental Protection Agency. That particular subplot comes to an end when the Mayor of New York, listening to the advice of his clergyman, decides to drop charges against the unregulated Ghostbusters and then throw a ton of city resources their way.
So despite all of this, what is it that keeps people coming back? What keeps Ghostbusters from being completely written off by its worst aspects?
The script is surely a large part of that. It’s a tight, swift-moving screenplay with impeccable structure that is the preferred model for writing classes and film schools all over. The movie knows how to spread out its exposition, and deliver it entertainingly. It’s a genuinely funny movie, from witty dialogue to visual comedy that all plays differently at different ages. (As a child I was in awe of Mr. Stay Puft – as an adult I recognize that he’s hilarious)
It’s also a very impressive special effects movie. The ghosts all look great, both on a design level (and let’s take a moment to truly appreciate the variety of paranormal presences in this movie) and the way they are placed in their environments, and most of them are variations of stage magic staples. (The scene where Dana Barrett starts growling and barking and floating above her bed, a moment of genuine tension and dread, is accomplished with the exact same stagecraft behind the old “levitating assistant” gag)
But if I had to give exactly one reason why Ghostbusters endures… it’s because being a Ghostbuster looks like the coolest job of all time. It’s a lot of running around with cool toys, zapping at things that (as far as we can tell) can’t really hurt you. All of the gear looks insanely cool. The proton packs, the neutrino wands, the PKE meter, the goggles, the trap. It’s a fun looking job and it’s so easy to imagine yourself in it. Especially since it’s not like New York has a monopoly on paranormal activity, and god knows Peter Venkman would sell franchise rights in a heartbeat. The beauty of it is that anyone can be a Ghostbuster… someone just needs to tell the misogynists that.