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Who you gonna call?

Possibility of female ghostbusters triggers a slimy wave of fanboy anguish

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Ghostbusters, that favourite flick of the 1980s, has been celebrating its 30th anniversary this week with a theatrical re-release and the launch of a loaded-up Blu-ray edition. There have also been several recent sightings of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

There's a lot to love about this disarming movie, with its sweetness, its offhand humour, its quotable dialogue. ("That's a big Twinkie.") There are the special effects, which were pretty swell at the time and now feel fabulously retro, and the deliberately idiotic science, like "the streams that should never be crossed" (except when they totally need to be crossed). And of course, Ghostbusters offers a classic early example of Bill Murray's deadpan, sardonic shtick.

But controversy has snuck into this 30th birthday bash, with talk about the possibility of a third Ghostbusters movie. After an amiable, underachieving sequel in 1989, fans have lived through decades of rumours and industry gossip. Possible projects have been floated, then dropped. The current buzz is that Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) might direct the third outing, and that he might bring in... (gasp!) female ghostbusters.

The possibility of women suiting up to fight supernatural high-jinkery has unleashed a stream of fanboy anguish, with many male movie bloggers clutching their Proton Packs in consternation. Mostly these are guys who have never taken the "No Girls Allowed" signs off their clubhouse doors. For them the idea that gifted comedians like Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy could star in a Ghostbusters reboot is viewed as a sign of the coming apocalypse. You know, like "human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria."

It's true that the original 1984 movie was the kind of cheerful, chummy cult classic that makes people feel affectionate and protective. But, generally, the backlash doesn't seem to be about a distrust of sequels. Many of those getting het up about the proposed Ghostbusters 3 are fine with sequels, just as long as they involve some white, male combination of Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Zach Galifianakis, James Franco, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. It's the idea of girls getting in on the action that rankles.

Some detractors claim that doing a Ghostbusters reboot with women would be "a gimmick." OK, remaking Ghostbusters with hamsters in the lead would be a gimmick. But women aren't some kind of kooky novelty. They actually make up half of the human population. And a good percentage of movie-ticket buyers.

Mike Fleming Jr. of entertainment website writes about "an estrogen-powered Ghostbusters" with desperate, Rick Moranis-like anxiety. "Signing Feig would be great news for Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, and maybe Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne and Rebel Wilson, but what about the rest of us?" Fleming wails. "The ones who feel a level of ownership of the classic 1984 guy comedy Ghostbusters?"

Well, what about the rest of the rest of us? Like, say, female fans who might be surprised to find Ghostbusters is some kind of segregated "guy comedy" over which they have absolutely no claim.

Jeremy Gerard, also on Deadline, condemns the possibility of women busting ghosts, his cautionary tale involving -- rather quaintly -- a failed 1984 theatrical production of The Odd Couple in which Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno were cast as female versions of Felix and Oscar. That particular ploy didn't work, according to Gerard, so clearly womenfolk need to back away from male characters.

This argument leaves out the fact that many male-to-male remakes don't work either, for all sorts of reasons. All those burly Y-chromosomes did nothing for the misbegotten movie updates of Wicker Man, Get Carter and Rollerball. Hey, even the manned-up Ghostbusters 2 wasn't that great, and it not only starred guys, it starred the exact same guys!

While some commentators claim their rejection of a girl-style Ghostbusters is about loyalty to the original, there are other things going on. Mostly, it's reactionary panic that movie masculinity is somehow being eroded. Fleming frets that the very existence of a female Ghostbusters will somehow slime his youthful memories of guy flicks. He also worries that it could open the future female floodgates, turning Raging Bull into a distaff boxing movie or Goodfellas into a lady heist. (I'd pay money to see either of those movies, by the way, especially if they could somehow cast Helen Mirren.)

It could be that Fleming, a self-proclaimed "film chauvinist," is reacting to the recent surge of female-centred hits, from Frozen to Maleficent to the Hunger Games franchise. Girls and women have been making themselves known at the box office -- the Scarlett Johansson-led Lucy trounced Hercules this summer -- and Hollywood is finally paying attention. There is talk about upcoming standalone projects for Wonder Woman and Black Widow. Women are increasingly moving into action, sci-fi and comedy -- and not just the pink-collar ghetto of comedies that end with weddings. Clearly, female viewers are tired of seeing themselves as the straight men, so to speak, in most mainstream comedies.

As Ghostbusters marks its 30-year mark, it's obvious that the original can't be replicated. Any conventional sequel is stymied not just by Bill Murray's intensive golfing schedule (and complete lack of interest) but by the sad death this year of Harold Ramis, co-writer, co-star and terrific comic talent.

Any remake, reboot, or "re-imagining" will struggle to capture the freshness and gonzo innocence of the 1984 film. This vibe might be even harder to find if the filmmakers stick with all-male cast members, who will invariably be compared to the original crew. Female ghostbusters might have a chance of finding a new direction.

Whatever its gender, Ghostbusters 3 might never get out of the gate. In the meantime, Fleming and his fellow haters shouldn't worry too much. It's not like they've stopped making movies for middle-aged white men. Expendables 3, anyone?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2014 ??65525

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