So we have a new Ghostbusters trailer and, unless fate intervenes, a new Ghostbusters movie to contend with. My RevPub partner has already addressed the issue of potential sexism with the film, so the intention of this post is to analyze the new trailer, compare it to the original 1984 trailer, and see why the new trailer fails so spectacularly.
What is the purpose of a Film Trailer?
Quite simply to sell or hype a future movie. While it can be argued that sometimes trailers are used to obfuscate a film’s nature or even to misdirect an audience into thinking a film is in a different genre that’s actually not too common. Mostly a trailer is designed to represent the film being advertised and bring the target audience for a film to that film. So what makes a good trailer versus a bad trailer? Let’s look:
The 1984 trailer is a product of its time with Narrator Voice Guy, and general plot set-up voice over, but its tone, substance, and characterization are excellent representations of the film being advertised. Knowing the film like I do (it was one of the only two VHS tapes my family owned for about 4 years after buying our first VCR) there isn’t a moment of wasted time or much content that isn’t relevant to the story of the movie. There is one line I recognize as not being in the final film (Venkman’s statement about being a chairman) but by and large the trailer is the movie. Cut together from pieces of the film, using the film’s now iconic music and symbols. Ghostbusters is known as a comedy but how many comedic elements are there actually in the trailer? We know Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd for their comedic roles and Harold Ramis for his comedy writing and directing but they are shown playing it largely straight in the trailer as they do in the film. Ernie Hudson is just a fine character actor and Sigourney Weaver a natural leading lady. The tone and narration is that of a horror film, with just a few of the movie’s subtle jokes thrown in (for example the definition of “bad” and the exchange between Zuul and Venkman). But overall the mood and tone are actually quite gritty and serious. No characters are introduced by name and the specific plot isn’t spelled out. It’s about the characters shown in uniform catching ghosts used to entice an audience who would like to see them doing that for 90-plus minutes.
The new trailer starts with promise, though it makes a mistake off the bat stating “four scientists saved New York” (it was three scientists and regular working-Joe Winston Zeddemore). The musical tone is accurate, even if the visuals do the modern trailer trend of dipping into black for every scene change. We see a neon ghost, but who wasn’t expecting CGI ghosts (even though the projected ghosts at Disney’s Haunted Mansion in 1987 looked eerier…) The trailer does the other modern trailer trend of dropping all backing music for a joke then… vomit take, which like my RevPub cohort mentioned is rarely funny. What follows is a character-by-character “here’s what role you fill” sequence with some “here’s the plot” voice over interspersed with…well lame jokes of people hurting themselves, characters involved in some flat comic sequences, and some slapstick routines…
Now perhaps the new trailer is just a bad trailer. But taking this as representative of the film it makes us wonder who is targeted by this film? Original Ghostbusters fans? I can’t imagine. Most of the ones I know who go way back to the GB obsession from the 80s are severely put off. Not by the casting, but by the use of the cast and tone of the movie. The original film as captured accurately by the 1984 trailer, was first a movie about two dorky but brilliant scientists, one slimey but lovable scientist, and one level-headed normal guy pooling their various abilities to stop a catastrophic supernatural event in New York. During the course of that story funny things happened, but usually in subtle ways. (One of the best moments in the film is when Ray demands Gozer the Gozarian leave New York as though her car was illegally parked). Even the famous Slimer moment was…yes think about it…off screen. We hear the scream, saw the ghost charge, then cut to Ray running to Venkman’s aid to find him on the floor covered in ectoplasm (again some subtle humor here as Ray responds to Venkman’s “he slimed me” with “that’s great!”) Almost no gross out humor, some nicely executed entendre, and a story tone that put the spooky side of ghosts first accentuated the seriousness of the situation (people could ya know…die…disaster of biblical proportions ‘n all…) and left the humor to the personalities of the Ghostbusters and their responses to situations.
“Is it the wig or the hat?” – Everything Wrong with the New Trailer
When I think of everything wrong with the trailer I think of this sequence. Kristen Wiig’s character, Erin Gilbert, walks by a display and Kate McKennon’s character, Holtzmann, is posed like one of the items in the display wearing a ridiculous wig and goofy hat. So the question is…what is this sequence doing in the trailer? What does the represent about the movie other than a Scooby Doo level of sight gag? Any logic applied to this scene makes you scratch your head…it’s clear the Ghostbusters are on a call here…so during this case one of their number stopped hunting ghosts to put on a wig, put on a hat, then pose for another member of the team? Maybe the full film will put the scene in context and describe the Holtzmann character as one who really has an affectation for wigs, or hats, or nonsequitors…but in the trailer it’s Lowest Common Denominator humor. It’s designed for a cheap joke that defies the logic of the story and characters (one is a brilliant particle physicist the other a brilliant engineer) established in the very same trailer. And that’s the impression it leaves me with. It’s not a Ghostbusters story like the original film was, but more a series of loose plot points designed to set up joke sequences with the story elements a road map from one joke set piece to another.
Like my RevPub partner I have no intention of seeing this movie. Especially when I learned of all the great ideas (two by Dan Aykroyd) that were passed over to make this one. Many news sites have posted the general public reaction to this trailer and the studio and film makers seem to already be in near panic over the fan response. I’d never wish anyone’s career ill will. Some talented actors, comediennes, and filmmakers are involved in this movie and hopefully their next projects will be better received, but with this project all involved seem to have fundamentally missed what made the original film such an instant classic. Future trailers or the film itself may prove those of us who watched this first trailer with absolute disgust wrong. But I doubt it. And right now this version of bustin’ certainly don’t make me feel good…