In many ways the rebooted theatrical offering “Ghostbusters” is the quintessential release for this year. It was divisive, generated impassioned and unreasonable reactions, was backed by supporters solely to anger opponents, was full of identity politics, and many lectured that everyone was required to support it. By mirroring the acerbic election cycle it becomes the perfect 2016 movie, additionally by being remarkably far from perfect.
If you have paid any attention at all to the publicity arc of this film, you know it pitted men against women. I took no side in the battle of the vexes. When Sony Entertainment announced a plan to reboot the franchise, I expected it would fall shy of the original. When the chromosomal casting sparked social justice warriors telling us the proper way to react, my ambivalence turned to apathy.
As soon Sony announced an all-female reboot, things changed. That estrogen-intensive lineup voided all the aesthetic principles for craft. Art was no longer interpretational, humor no longer subjective, and reaction to cultural offerings is no longer a personal choice. We were thence ordered to be provoked accordingly, or be hectored about our misogyny. Such a winning marketing strategy.
I mean, c’mon. Who could resist the pull of compulsory merriment? As it turns out, quite a few.
After months of perturbed preamble for publicity, we are now four weeks from the world premiere of “Ghostbusters 2016.” So, following one of the most heated cultural battles this year, what is the ultimate assessment of how the film performed, and what missteps could have been responsible?
Be Still, My Beating Heart
Most amusing in the uproar has been the display from those who have a vested personal interest in the feminist sequel being successful. In the months before its release, numerous outlets took a firm stand on behalf of a CGI-choked summer comedy. Maybe my favorite example was Molly Fitzpatrick’s basically unreadable screed over at Fusion. She resorts to calling males “baby men” if they failed to find humor in her beloved film. Whoah, now hold on, Mr. Slager! you might be thinking. You sound sexist when condescendingly using the term “beloved” in a condescending manner towards Fitzpatrick! That’s hyperbolic masculine hostility!
Is it? In a completely separate article Fitzpatrick reviewed the trailer of the film and enthused, “If it were legal for a human person to marry a trailer, I would have already proposed.” Beloved typified. Lack of legal precedent aside, this is not a sane reaction by any standard.
Adding to the strident insistence, Kaitlyn Tiffany next offered up her primer at The Verge on the appropriate way to speak about the trailer with friends and family members. Imagine being so hung up on not a movie but its trailer to feel the need to lecture others on its importance. Nothing instills comedic magic and cinematic frivolity like sitting loved ones down and impressing them with why it is so important for them to enjoy a movie that has not yet been released. Tiffany even decrees the need for this quorum and describes the negative reaction to the trailer as being “violently sexist.”
With a palpable sense of desperation, The Daily Beast was not content to laud this ladies-laden film. That outlet had to lecture on the scathing sexual politics of the original “Ghostbusters.” Of course, being a grotto-dwelling brisket-gulping bourbon-quaffing Cro-Magnon leads me to suggest that if this new version bore any semblance in comedy or quality there would be no need to tear down the original. But, as we know, my phallic plumbing means my opinion on the matter is of no value.
The desire for many in media to prop up this title continues today, even in light of the obvious shortfall. In a risible act of journalistic desperation, Jef Rouner wrote in The Houston Chronicle an attempt at revisionist history in real time. After bypassing the blatant problems with the box office returns, he lists a number of other mirthful metrics for “success”: The soundtrack was in the top 20! (little revenue for the studio); The original movies rank at 38 and 148 in DVD sales! (in a completely deflated DVD market); It’s a bestselling book on Amazon! (I looked into the dozens of categories, and gave up my search when it didn’t place as high as 60 in the Movies category.)
Rouner does himself no favor by mentioning the resurgence of the original on DVD. Ranked well above it in sales is the original “Pete’s Dragon,” released years before. That is another film getting remade this year. Unlike the Gal-busters however, it has yet to be released.
The Bumpy, Defensive Rollout
The studio misguidedly believed that all the world would hail its progressive decision once the casting was announced. Kind of the opposite happened. Sure, some stunted minds belched out chauvinistic cant. However the wealth of the reaction was genuine opposition to the concept; it was not simply anger at the gender makeup, but instead resistance to manipulating the original premise. Feminizing the characters was viewed largely as a stunt, while the cast and crew viewed it as a lesson plan. Just what audiences looking for summer escapism need: a social lecture.
Sony’s big miscalculation was focusing on the players, not the product. The first “Ghostbusters” was entirely sold on its premise. Yes, names like Murray, Aykroyd, and Weaver appeared, but they lent weight to the larger proceedings; you were not sold them alone as reason to watch a high-concept comedy. The movie wasn’t placed solely on its stars’ backs, because those were wearing proton packs. But in 2016 we were told a quartet of females was all one needed to prompt seeing this tepid affair.
As resistance to the revamped premise continued, media outlets highlighted the worst of the comment board trolls. Instead of ignoring those stunted dolts, the makers of the film engaged them. Director Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy struck back in the media. In addressing those offering pushback Feig commented, “You’re somebody I don’t even want to deal with.” You could hear the slaps as Sony executives collectively delivered palms to foreheads regarding that promotional effort.
Next was the initial trailer release, and it was staggering. I don’t mean the reaction (which delivered the most “dislike” votes in the history of YouTube) but the humor vacuum contained therein. I re-watched that clip numerous times, surprised it was being labeled as a comedy. Most confounding was the lone segment that approximated amusement. Co-star Kristen Wiig approaches an apparition and becomes doused in ectoplasm. Even an unevolved, estrogen-deficient objectifier like myself can see the problematic optics of a female becoming blasted in the face with paranormal fluids. And feminists hailed that wonderful treatment of women on screen? I was at a loss.
But the focus was on the vocal fans of the original. Ironically, Feig also delivered unintentional support of those same criticisms: “I live or die on what things are funny and whether or not people will be entertained by them.” Yet here were swaths of fans saying things were not funny and they were not entertained, but because that reaction was aimed at Feig’s effort those reactions now became “sexist” and “misogyny.”
The product lines for the film have also been a case of interpretational problems. The action figures were bound to be a challenging sale. Would boys play with girl figures? Would girls play with action figures in general? The answer seems to be no. Mattel had the licensing for the toy line, and the company announced good news. However there seems to include a bit of spin control. The company worded it as “sales exceeded expectations,” a curiously termed announcement, while no firm figures were released. This upbeat disclosure contradicts numerous reports that the toy lines had been placed on clearance in some outlets—weeks before the film was even released!
Sony promotion executives can see where they went awry by looking at other marketing sectors. While consumers were not shelling out for likenesses of the new cast members, you can see hunger for the premise. Hi-C re-released the once popular “Ecto Cooler” drink line, and fans snapped it up. Hostess saw strong reaction to their Ghostbusters Twinkies, with either green slime lime filling or the white chocolate marshmallow version.
The Numbers Followed Accordingly
So, how is the film performing? Well, the impression ranges anywhere between “meh” to disappointing. Despite Rouner’s delusional cheerleading suggesting the film’s numbers are “putting to rest any notions that it would be a flop,” we are seeing a mess.
In the weeks leading up to the release, indicators caused Sony to begin revising its box office projections downward. The film opened to $46 million, coming in second place on opening weekend. That is not necessarily horrible, but it is far from an impressive total. It is not a summer blockbuster figure. It certainly is not the kind of return you want when trying to launch a new franchise. After just two weeks in release, “Ghostbusters” was dropped from almost 1,000 screens, a sign exhibitors looked towards more fruitful titles for business.
Coming out of its fourth weekend, this landmark feminist achievement has only managed to limp across the $115 million plateau, and it’s running out of plasma. While sipping the Kool-Aid from a rose-colored glass, Rouner says the global box office of $180 million against a budget of $145 million is a success. I’m choosing here to call him naive, rather than a propagandist. That just-over-a-hundred-mil haul? It will barely cover only the marketing Sony put up for their release.
More bad news: The largest foreign market for Hollywood, China, will not show “Ghostbusters.” Also, Sony doesn’t rake in every one of those box office dollars. On average, studios collect 50 to 60 percent of domestic showings, and roughly 40 percent overseas.
Factoring in the $140 million budget and at least another $100 million for promotions, you see how declaring the current earnings successful is woefully off-base. It’s actually laughable. Feig even declared his film would need to gross $500 million global in order to be successful. Yet some in the press continue to shake pom-poms, hoping we won’t look at the scoreboard.
The activist blogger set forces me into these analytics about content in a manner exceeding the usual blockbuster lark. A summer tent pole film should not be a social polemic to hector us on progress made in psycho-sexual politics. It should just be a summer comedy.
And it should be a funny one. Since they have reduced me to these analytics I need a cathartic release. Maybe I’ll just use my caveman club to add more down votes on the trailer’s YouTube page.