1989. Just 1989, I tell you. Wow. What a bursting at the seams, jam-packed year in film! In retrospect, it just takes your breath away. And me? Well, I was there and I somehow survived. You see, back in my ancient days, we were pummeled and bludgeoned by the unending supply of blockbusters. Right when thought we had stopped the bleeding, even more of them came out, kicking us in the stomach until 1990 finally showed up and we could then recover.
The only relief that year came from the hundreds of gallons of soda that were consumed to wash down the metric tons of Junior Mints. We all devoured at least 5 pounds of popcorn salt during that time, pickling us in the process. But we liked it, we loved it, by cracky!
So here I take a deep breath and rattle off this list, for 1989 was the year of Batman, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, Licence to Kill, Back to the Future II, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, When Harry Met Sally, The Little Mermaid, Uncle Buck, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Field of Dreams, Look Who’s Talking, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Fletch Lives, UHF, Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Abyss, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Steel Magnolias, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Major League, Police Academy 6: City Under Siege, Driving Miss Daisy, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Road House. Yes, that Road House!
I mean 1989 brought about The ‘Burbs. THE EMMER EFFING ‘BURBS?! Case closed; this is best year in film ever! And I didn’t even need to mention Tango & Cash, Turner & Hooch, or Next of Kin! (Oh, see how I blatantly snuck in Fletch Lives earlier? I am not ashamed! Hah!)
Oh, and amid the midst of all these incredible films, there also was a sequel to 1984’s Ghostbusters, the cleverly titled Ghostbusters II.
The Sequel: Ghostbusters II (1989)
Original Movie: Ghostbusters (1984)
Key Cast/Production Staff Returning from 1st Installment:
|Dan Aykroyd||Screenwriter/Dr. Raymond Stantz|
|Bill Murray||Dr. Peter Venkman|
|Harold Ramis||Screenwriter/Dr. Egon Spengler|
|Ernie Hudson||Winston Zeddemore|
|Sigourney Weaver||Dana Barrett|
|Rick Moranis||Louis Tully|
|Annie Potts||Janine Melnitz|
|David Marguiles||Mayor Lenny Clotch|
|Michael C. Gross||Producer|
To Start With:
“Suck in the guts, guys, we’re the Ghostbusters.”
Ghostbusters was a huge hit in 1984. It had an original premise, some rather nifty special effects, a good script, a great cast, and a steady hand as director. These ingredients were mixed, topped off with a theme song that ripped off Huey Lewis, and voila! Ghostbusters not only worked but it also became part of the cultural landscape. Kids of all ages now knew what a proton pack was. They wanted the Ecto-1, a PKE meter, and several traps before scampering off into the spooky night.
Demand for more busting resulted in a beloved animated series, The Real Ghostbusters. HI-C came out with Ecto Cooler and we drank barrels of the stuff. (We would also drink gallons of it today if Hi-C would just suck it up and release it perpetually. C’mon! Enough of this “limited run just for eBay scalpers” crap!) There were coveted toys that bedecked page after page of the much-mourned JC Penney toy catalog. It was hard to find a kid my age that didn’t want the Firehouse playset, but it was very easy to find kids like me that never ever had it. (Not that I’m bitter. Not at all. I’m glad those little bastards didn’t choke on any of the pieces. Really. The bastards. Ahem.)
Columbia Pictures was interested in a Ghostbusters sequel yesterday since they needed what they felt would be a surefire hit. But wanting a sequel was easier than getting one started. Dan Aykroyd was knee deep in other projects, Harold Ramis was writing screenplays and directing, Sigourney Weaver was battling alien queens and a working girl, Rick Moranis was shrinking kids and wearing a large helmet, Ivan Reitman was producing and directing elsewhere. And then there’s Bill Murray.
The others might have been busy or at least hesitant about doing Ghostbusters II, Murray was flat out adamant about not doing it. Murray had virtually vanished off the planet, sojourning like Caine from Kung Fu, after his pet project, 1984’s The Razor’s Edge, didn’t do well. Murray had a cameo in Little Shop of Horrors in 1986, but that was it during those four years. Murray didn’t want to do films period, let alone a Ghostbusters sequel. He eventually returned to the silver screen with 1988’s Scrooged, but Murray still thought sequels were garbage. However, Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Reitman decided they liked working together, realized they also liked big paydays, and so Ghostbusters II was going ahead.
Columbia was ecstatic! After years of hoping and years of some box office failures, Ghostbusters II was going to be their savior for 1989. Thank goodness there wasn’t anything else coming out that year! Or like a week later…about a certain Caped Crusader… Hm. Anyway, let’s ride in a river of slime and take a gander at Ghostbusters II. Oh, and spoiling makes me feel good, so be ready to believe me when I do it!
Anything Done Better than the Original?
“Well, he was borderline for a while… then he crossed the border.”
Here is where I lose part of the readership, but I am going to boldly proclaim this from the highest hills: Ghostbusters II is funnier than Ghostbusters. Yes, I said it. And I’m right. No, I am. It is. Not that the first one isn’t funny, because it is. Also, while the first one is a better film overall, it didn’t have the sequel’s greatest comedy weapon: Bill Murray just not caring.
You see, here’s a secret to comic success: when Bill goes into Eff-It Mode, he is an unparalleled genius. Chevy Chase has this same ability at times. Look at Caddyshack II, no matter how painful it is, just look at it. Chevy is hands down the best part of that film. Why is that? Because Chevy doesn’t give a tin shit about the movie. He’s just there, on comic fire throughout. Bill seems to be in that same frame of mind with Ghostbusters II. I like to believe that while he simply didn’t find the material challenging, he found a large paycheck instead. Thus, Bill Murray went into “incredible wiseass” mode, as only Bill Murray can. And he just shines and excels throughout. God bless Bill Murray.
Also, I must mention the joy that Peter MacNicol brings to the proceedings as Janosz Poha. Janosz is a wonderful treat from his undefinable eastern European accent to his throwaway comic lines to his toadying to the main villain, MacNicol is a fun foil for Venkman and Barrett as well. He adds some much-appreciated color to the role and is a scene stealer at times. Not bad for guy from the Upper Vest Side that later is found drippings with goo.
Anything as Good as the Original?
“Don’t look at me. I think these people are completely nuts.”
Aykroyd, Ramis, and Hudson are back and fill their roles comfortably. No one can spout intricate techno-science babble like Aykroyd, and he excels here. Ramis even has some great deadpan lines and a plethora of knowing smirks. And since Hudson is in the film from the beginning, so he’s given more to do and does it well. Winston is a valuable team member and there’s never a doubt that he’s an equal with the other three. Sigourney Weaver is a welcome sight and shows understandable concern about all these supernatural events happening to her and her son.
The effects are solid throughout. I don’t think they rank necessarily higher than the first movie, even though the blue/green screening is better this time around. The suit used for the walking Statue of Liberty is excellent, Slimer is more defined, and the electrocuted ghost brothers in the courtroom are a highlight that kick off the busting. And special mention must be made to having the Titanic arrive in New York harbor. Not because the convincing effect of the iceberg ripped hull, even though it is, but because having Cheech Marin there in a sudden one-line cameo is great! Now that I think about it, that cameo brings about a question. I’ll look at that a bit later.
I must also make mention that even though he’s only in the movie for two scenes, Brian Doyle-Murray plays a psychiatrist who talks with the Ghostbusters when they get committed to a mental institution. I always like seeing Bill’s older brother Brian, no matter what. Nothing against Harris Yulin, the belligerent judge that deals harshly with the team earlier, but I would have loved seeing Brian in that role instead, just gruffly excoriating the Ghostbusters. His reactions to the Ghostbusters’ paranormal spiel in the psych hospital are subtle and wonderful.
Anything Not-So-Good as the Original?
“On a mountain of skulls, in the castle of pain, I sat on a throne of blood! What was will be! What is will be no more! Now is the season of evil!”
Perhaps because of the energy that Peter MacNicol brings to the film, Rick Moranis seems to get lost in the proceedings. Louis Tully wasn’t such an essential character from the first film that he had to return for the sequel. I love Moranis and I understand why he was brought back, but he just seems awkwardly wedged in this. Plus, he was an accountant in the first film, but he now somehow decided to get into law in the interim as well? I guess that’s possible and the Ghostbusters were looking for cheap representation. But surely a court-appointed attorney would have been the better path here. And yes, he has that cute moment where he thinks that he defeated the bad guy at the end, but again, did he ever show an inkling of wanting to wear a proton pack before he’s strapping one to his back? Couldn’t that have been hinted at earlier?
Annie Potts as Janine seems to be a bit off too. She was a streetwise, sarcastic receptionist that the guys hired in the first film. In the sequel she seems to be a bit more ditzy for some reason. The fact that she went from being attracted to Egon in the first film to romantically focusing on Louis Tully in this one is an interesting choice. My wife thinks it is cute, I think it just seems like an odd choice for her character. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy Annie Potts, it just appears that Janine was put together with Louis just to give them both something to do. Frankly, I could see her suiting up with a proton pack before Louis ever would have.
The cinematography throughout the film is a mite too bright for my liking. Somehow New York looks like the New York street set used in Seinfeld. Where’s the down and dirty 1984 New York that I saw in the first movie? Those city streets I could smell. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, I doubt it, but the first film feels like a film, the second one feels like a made-for-TV movie given the lighting choices and overall brightness. This might sound petty, but it matters. After all, the bad guy’s plan relies on New Yorkers having a crap attitude, right? Everything should be darker to reflect that.
When does this movie take place? Your response is, “Well, it happens before Christmas because Vigo’s plan hinges on New Year’s Eve, so there’s your answer. Now leave me alone!” And you’d be correct! But Ghostbusters II was released on June 16, 1989. Which isn’t near New Year’s anything. Perhaps Columbia was originally gunning for a Xmas ’88 or’89 release and either everything was delayed, or they got impatient? Or both? This is like when Batman Returns, which takes place during Christmas, was released in June 1992. What? Why? Argh. It bothers me, okay?
Anything Far Worse than the Original?
“Everything you are doing is bad. I want you to know this.”
Golly, I miss Gozer. Even though a lot of adjectives are given as background to make Vigo seem like a true badass and as he is going after a helpless baby, we are automatically supposed to hate him, but eh. Vigo just isn’t a great antagonist compared to Gozer. I agree with every insult that Murray throws at him in the final confrontation because Vigo doesn’t make tasty picks because he is a bonehead. (Although Vigo goes up a few points since he’s dubbed by the magnificent Max Von Sydow. Now what if they had Sydow as the actual villain? Kind of like his later Leyland Gaunt in Needful Things? Hmmm? That would have been a bit more interesting indeed.)
Oh yeah, going back to the whole Cheech Marin cameo: why didn’t they have Tommy Chong be the other dock supervisor? After seeing the Titanic dock, they could have even had a joke about their weed being super-potent or something like that. They could have just looked at each other, looked at their joints, and then thrown them over their shoulders. Yes, it would have been out of place, but no more out of place than suddenly having Cheech in the movie for no reason other than they wanted Cheech in the movie. What a missed opportunity!
And now I come to my biggest problem with the film. I like how it started out by having the Ghostbusters be has-beens and yesterday’s news. They are on the outs with everyone, sued by every gov’t agency, ridiculed by the public, and even having a kid at a birthday party tell them that his dad thinks they are full of crap. The Ecto-1 needs some maintenance and detailing. They must prove themselves as being relevant. But this is where the movie falters. The plot rushes them back into being in the public’s good graces, beloved by the masses waaaaay to quickly for my tastes.
They should have been clandestinely investigating this longer than they do in the film. Given their status in the city, they’d have to do it on the down low, but they slowly start piecing everything together. Follow the leads that present themselves with Dana and Oscar, the abundance of the evil ectoplasm, and the art museum connection. They can still dig holes in the middle of the city street, but make it happen later than it currently does in the film. Let it build to the realization that the team isn’t crazy with the city eventually begging them for help.
Also, perhaps Vigo possesses more folks than just a director of an art museum? If Vigo is controlling the right people in the right places, that makes it more difficult for the Ghostbusters to convince others of what’s going on. Maybe Vigo could possess the mayor’s assistant, given his established antagonism towards the guys. How about he controls the mayor himself? It would certainly up the intimidation factor that Vigo has some elaborate skills and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
But instead, the Ghostbusters are on the outs for like 30 minutes and then “We’re back!” and the hip-hop montage cranks into high. For my money, it would have been better to just take some time and let it build and build and build; let their return be an epic confrontation instead of what it is now. They could even still be arrested and later blast their way through the courtroom, but just do it later in the running time than where it is now. But I’m sure studio pressure just said, “We want proton packs blazing as fast as possible and don’t make the story too dark, Harold and Dan. Here, have an Ecto Cooler. I sure am glad this delicious stuff is never going away!”
“Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the audience, I don’t think it’s fair to call my clients frauds. Sure, the blackout was a big problem for everybody. I was trapped in an elevator for two hours and I had to make the whole time. But I don’t blame them. Because one time, I turned into a dog and they helped me. Thank you.”
Yes, there were some, but not as many as could have been, especially given the value the Ghostbusters brand has had over the years. Of course, The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series continued until 1991 and then was in repeated syndication for years afterwards. The cartoon series was a viewing staple, turning it on after school or on Saturdays was a must. Plus, as former children like me recall once again: the cartoon series had some very cool toys indeed.
Then in 1997, there was a follow-up animated series called Extreme Ghostbusters, which wasn’t as beloved as the original animated series, but it still had its fans. I don’t think I’ve ever watched an episode.
Despite plenty of efforts to reunite in the intervening years, it was a no-go. As you might imagine, Bill Murray more than anyone else was the usual holdout when it came to a reunion. That is why it was rather surprising when, Ramis, Aykroyd, Hudson, and Murray all came back to lend their voices to 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Max Von Sydow even returned to voice Vigo!
Aykroyd and Ramis provided the story for the game. Aykroyd said that the plot of the video game was essentially the story for the long-in-development Ghostbusters 3, so this would be the closest one could get to a sequel with the original cast because in 2014, Harold Ramis sadly passed away.
Then in 2016, Sony decided to reboot the franchise entirely with Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. Of course, incredible amounts of bandwidth have been taken up already regarding this film. There’s only so much internets for everyone, so I’ll hold off for now. I’ll just say that I know that the people who made the film really like it and plenty of longtime Ghostbusters fans along with Aykroyd and Reitman didn’t. I’ll explore GB: ATC later but for now, at best, it was a misfire. The tie-in toys were on clearance before the first week of release. That says something.
Sony then took no chances going forward. They decided to go more in the vein of the first two films, had Ivan Reitman’s son come on as writer/director, and got the band back together by having Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson, Weaver, and Annie Potts back in some capacity for Ghostbusters: Afterlife. As of this writing, it hasn’t been released yet, but the trailers seem promising. However, it is pressing the nostalgia button harder than anyone ever thought possible for a film and it needs to back off. ECTO-1! PROTON PACKS! GHOST TRAPS! GOZER! DEMON DOGS! STAY-PUFT MARSHMALLOWS! RAY’S VOICE! PETER’S VOICE! SEE OUR MOVIE!!! Yes, yes, yes, we get it! Take your foot off the nostalgia gas for a second, please?
“Venkman: Kinda makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Winston: Wonder what?
Venkman: Whether she’s naked under that toga. She is French. You know that.”
I saw Ghostbusters II for the first time when it was released in 1989. (Somehow, I found the time!) The theater I went to no longer exists, and even for the time, it certainly wasn’t the pinnacle of the cinematic experience. Essentially it was a mom and pop shop where they split a business located in a mini mall right down the center, putting a screen on each side. Since I didn’t see the first film in the theater and liked watching The Real Ghostbusters show, this was going to be great! And yes, Ghostbusters II was a fun ride; I loved it. I recently watched it with my kids, and they thoroughly enjoyed it, so it still plays well amongst their jaded 9 to 11-year-old age group.
Even though I can see its flaws 30+ years later, Ghostbusters II is still entertaining overall. I don’t claim to be above it all; I love seeing these characters, that car, the equipment, the wisecracks, Spengler, Venkman, Stantz, Zeddemore, proton packs, etc. Fortunately, the great cast covers over some otherwise noticeable problems. (Except for the whole releasing a Nov/Dec movie in June, but I digress.)
Perplexing story timeframes aside, the general public opinion routinely bashes Ghostbusters II. That is a bit unfair and I think history has been kind to the film. The sequel is an easy target, given the titanic success of the first unique film. Plus, it got a bit smothered with the releases that were happening in 1989. Had this film come out in 1987-88 instead and did the script changes I mentioned above, I think it would have stood out from the crowd a bit more. Ultimately, despite finishing with healthy box office revenue, Ghostbusters II didn’t do as well financially as projected. People were distracted by bats, the Holy Grail, shrinking children, Riggs & Murtaugh, a tricked-out DeLorean, a tiny mermaid, and of course, Fletch living. (Got in another one! WHOOOOO!)
The first film said the Ghostbusters were ready to believe us. The second film said we should be ready to believe the Ghostbusters. And despite some story lapses that shake my faith a bit, I believe them in Ghostbusters II. I certainly believe them more than I’d ever believe in Hi-C making a great business decision by bringing Ecto Cooler back for more than 15 minutes in only seven select Wal-Marts across the country.
And at the end of the day, I believe in Bill Murray and you should too!
“I think what I’m saying, is that sometimes, shit happens, someone has to deal with it, and who ya gonna call?”