So apparently the new “Ghostbusters” trailer has officially kicked off the War Between Men and Women that James Thurber warned us about 80 years ago.
Or maybe it’s the war between Patton Oswalt and the Legion of Idiots. Whatever, it’s ugly, and it goes to the heart of why coming attractions for films should be ignored at all costs by any nominally sane person.
Why? The short answer is that movie trailers lie.
The long answer? Let’s recap. As you may have heard, Sony is releasing a new version of the 1984 comedy “Ghostbusters” on July 15. It stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, and is less of a sequel than a remake, or a reboot, or a re-imagineering, or some other “re” word that avoids what’s actually going on here: an attempt to make new money from an old and beloved cultural product.
The new movie may be brilliant. It may be terrible. Most likely, it’ll fall somewhere on the middle of the graph. No one knows yet because no one has seen the movie. Which hasn’t stopped fans who saw the first “Ghostbusters” when they were in footie-pajamas from wailing like babies who have had their blanket taken away.
The first trailer for the new “Ghostbusters” went up two months ago and was immediately pelted with digital garbage. Go on to YouTube and type in “Ghostbusters trailer reaction” and witness the dozens of tepid-to-furious video responses from fans like Comic Book Girl 19, schmoesknow, and boogie2988. Perhaps you shouldn’t be surprised: It’s a startlingly lame trailer, with a droning Wiig voice-over, gags that mostly lie there, and special effects that don’t seem terribly special.
Earlier this week, Sony released a second trailer, and if it’s an improvement, it’s not enough to get your hopes soaring the way Sony probably wants. And again has come a wave of online revulsion, with hundreds of thousands of fan-boys and fan-girls mashing the “dislike” button in dismay. The YouTube response that went viral came from comic/critic James Rolfe of the entertainment site Cinemassacre, who sat coolly behind a desk and explained why he will not be going to see “Ghostbusters” at all when it opens in theaters.
“Judging from the trailers,” Rolfe says in the six-minute video, it “looks awful. . . . If you already know you’re going to hate it, why give them your money?” That’s right — he’s a movie critic who’s refusing to do his job because the coming attractions look bad.
The key phrase in Rolfe’s broadside is “judging from the trailers,” because anyone who does that is asking for trouble. There’s a reason I personally avoid trailers like the plague: As a person who gets paid to write about film, I understand that previews don’t represent the movie at all. They represent the marketing department’s best idea of what may possibly get the target demographic to want to buy tickets. Trailers exist solely to put butts in seats, not to accurately reflect what you’ll actually be seeing when the lights go down.
To that end, the folks who decide what goes into a coming attraction will show scenes out of order, pump up a star who barely appears in the movie, include outtakes that don’t make it into the final cut, make a dramatic sequence look like comedy, and vice versa. They’ll tell the entire story line in miniature because a focus group in a Midwestern mall said audiences don’t like surprises. They’ll cram in all the good jokes, explosions, and boo shots for three minutes of splitting headache. In short, they’ll lie. Anyone who makes a living writing, talking, blogging, or blurting about movies and who refuses to see a film based on its trailers isn’t doing his or her job.
The trailer controversy is really a cover for a larger issue, which is that Footie Pajama Nation didn’t want the new “Ghostbusters” to be made at all. Is it because the stars are women this time out? In part — meaning only in part but definitely in part. A lot of online posts in the wake of the second trailer have run along the lines of “I don’t hate the new ‘Ghostbusters’ because I hate women. I hate it because the preview looks terrible.” Yet only a fool would think a remake that starred, say, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart would be getting anywhere near the same amount of heat.
The misogyny is a particularly nasty strand of a generational DNA that sees the pop-culture touchstones of childhood not simply as movies to make us laugh and feel good but as sacred talismans never to be sullied. Insults against the holy Koran of entertainment. But who really owns “Ghostbusters,” “Star Wars,” “Superman”? It’s not you. It’s not even Ivan Reitman, George Lucas, and Siegel and Shuster. It’s Sony, Disney, and DC/Warner Bros.
They’re not actually in the business of fan service, despite what some people think. They’re in the business of making good movies (we hope), which involves a certain amount of creative risk (we hope). Otherwise, all you end up with are $100 million pacifiers.
Enough films are that way already. I love “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” as much as anyone, but I hope the next installment cares a teeny bit less about catering to my nostalgia and more about telling a fresh, interesting story.
Maybe that’s a minority position. Maybe we should all boycott the new “Ghostbusters” because it has gurlz in it and because the trailer bites. To even suggest a wait-and-see approach is to invite the temper tantrums of the anonymous and self-absorbed. When comedian and recent widower Patton Oswalt tweeted in response to the Rolfe video that he missed “that old-timey thing where you see the movie THEN criticize it,” what did the jolly film fans of the Internet do?