This week, I took my daughters to see the new Ghostbusters, a film I’ve been looking forward to despite several controversies. Of course, reboots and remakes always come with a certain amount of controversy. Will it be as good as the original? Why is this reboot necessary since the original is a classic? The thing is, to me, the 1984 Ghostbusters was itself a kind of reboot. Since 1975, I thought of the Ghostbusters as these guys:
The photo comes from the Saturday morning TV show Ghost Busters featuring Forrest Tucker as Kong, Larry Storch as Spencer, and Bob Burns as Tracy the Gorilla. The show typically featured the guys going out to a haunted castle to exterminate the ghost of some famous villain or monster such as Billy the Kid, Dracula, or Dr. Frankenstein and they had a set of gadgets not unlike those in the more famous movie about a decade later. It was cheesy, silly fun.
When the 1984 movie came out and proved to be a big hit, Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson became the Ghostbusters everyone knew and they’ve remained that way until this year, though I’d like to point out that at least for a little while in 1987, the Ghostbusters were these guys.
This is me and three friends from college who investigated a ghost sighting at the University of Southern California as part of a class taught at New Mexico Tech about the Paranormal and the Scientific Method. Our final project for the class was a research paper about any aspect of the paranormal. A friend at USC told me about a ghost sighting and our professors agreed that an on-sight investigation would be a good project.
In short, students at USC thought they saw a ghost in a basement room. After a few initial sightings, these students gathered together in the basement. That night, the ghost, who had been resting on a pool table, hopped off and pushed one the students in front of several eye witnesses. We interviewed all the people involved and saw a trend that the people who could give us the most detailed descriptions were the ones who believed the most in the paranormal. We visited the room and saw several interesting optical phenomena involving lights under the door. The upshot is that we came up with an explanation for the phenomenon that didn’t involve ghosts.
Really, that was the point of the exercise. Was our explanation correct? In fact, there’s no way to know. James Randi famously said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” We didn’t find extraordinary evidence for a ghost sighting, but we couldn’t actually say a ghost sighting didn’t occur. I rather enjoyed this experience and for a long time, thought about ways I could pursue paranormal investigations more professionally. The problem was, I couldn’t figure out a way to do it and be funded or without ripping off people. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts, but that wasn’t enough to make a career.
All of this brings me back around to the new Ghostbusters movie. One of the things I actually liked better about it than either the 1975 incarnation or the 1984 incarnation was that the Ghostbusters weren’t entrepreneurs taking money from people to hunt ghosts. They were civil servants—though admittedly civil servants off the official record books. Their research was publicly funded because it did a public good.
One thing both the 1984 and the 2016 versions did brilliantly was to poke fun at both popular paranormal research and academia. I related well to Dr. Erin Gilbert in the new movie as she came up for tenure review while her almost-forgotten book on ghost hunting was suddenly getting unwelcome attention. After all, I’m an employee at a prestigious astronomical observatory whose boss has expressed some concern about me being the author of a book about a haunted observatory. Fortunately, in the end, my boss has been more supportive than Erin’s were in the movie and I’m not looking for other work. At least not yet!
In the end, I enjoyed the new Ghostbusters. I can’t say it was perfect. I felt parts went over-the-top, but that happens for me with a lot of comedies. Still, it succeeded at telling a similar, yet not identical story. When it comes out on video, I’ll buy a copy and sit it on the shelf next to my copies of the 1975 and 1984 incarnations. Which one I drop in will depend on the particular story I’m in the mood for at the time.