Remember that time when Hollywood made a not-particularly-inspired 1995 remake of the Audrey Hepburn film Sabrina, and then destroyed all copies of the classic 1954 original so it could never be seen again? No? Then how about the the time Gus Van Sant did his kind-of-weird-but-okay shot-for-shot homage to Psycho, thus ensuring that every human being born after 1998 would nevermore have knowledge of, nor access to, the Hitchcock original? Doesn’t ring a bell? In that case, you may not be overly panicked, let alone apoplectic, about the prospect of an all-female installment of Ghostbusters — an intriguing possibility floated earlier this week, when it was reported that Sony has discussed just such a project with director Paul Feig.
Some people, however, did panic. Never mind that an all-female Ghostbusters would provide a great opportunity for exactly the kind of ensemble comedy that filmgoers of late really seem to like. Never mind that it would likely involve Melissa McCarthy, who is arguably the biggest comedy star, male or female, in the world right now. And never mind that an all-female ensemble would, at the very least, spare us the infinitely more fraught possibility of watching a contemporary male film comedian try to fill Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman–size shoes. (Somewhere, I have to imagine, Vince Vaughn is exhaling an enormous sigh of relief at a bullet dodged.)
It might sound like I’m treating the all-female Ghostbusters like some kind of novelty gimmick, and that’s because I am, because novelty gimmicks are awesome. I love this idea not only because it sounds like a huge amount of fun, but because I love, as a whole, reboots, remakes, sequels, retreads, reconsiderations, reimaginings, and even ill-considered po-mo deconstructions. You may think we already have too many of these. I think we need way more of them.
It’s become an article of pop-culture faith that we must roll our eyes and rend our garments at the increasing sequelization and rebootification of Hollywood. And it’s definitely the case that, mostly thanks to budgetary concerns and marketing jitters, movie studios and producers are ever more eager to wring every drop of entertainment from the properties they already own, rather than run the risk of floating something new.
For those who hold dear the beloved classics of yesteryear, such as Ghostbusters, this reboot mania can cause some reflexive agita. It shouldn’t. First of all, the original, classic Ghostbusters will eternally be available for viewing, and should withstand even the most inept reboot, let alone one as creatively promising as Feig is suggesting. Star Wars is still, and will always be, Star Wars, despite the addition of the phrase “A New Hope” and the unfortunate existence of Jar Jar Binks. (Digitally fussing with an existing movie, however, is a whole other unforgivable transgression and should be actively condemned, if not outlawed.)
Personally, I’d love to see an all-female Ghostbusters. I’d also love to see a Ghostbusters set in Victorian England, with everyone in top hats and waistcoats. For that matter, I would love to see a steampunk Ghostbusters. Or a comedy-horror hybrid Ghostbusters set aboard a space station orbiting Mars. Or one directed by Harmony Korine.
When Disney acquired the creative rights to the Star Wars universe from George Lucas, there was much consternation among the loyal Star Wars fanbase about who exactly would be entrusted with this hallowed franchise and how exactly they would manage to fuck it up. One solution was to worry about this endlessly. The other solution is more radical and far more implausible: Make Star Wars open-source.
It would never happen, of course, but how cool would it have been if Disney had opened the bidding on Star Wars movies, and let any interested party license a small chunk of the universe? I’m certainly psyched for a Rian Johnson Star Wars film — but I’d be just as psyched for a small indie film that follows the early life of Nien Nunb on some far-off satellite planet, directed by Kelly Reichardt. Or a quiet, witty, Star Wars–themed social comedy helmed by Nicole Holofcener. Maybe she has no interest at all in Star Wars. Fair enough. How about a sharply observed, bittersweet Ghostbusters film instead? Seriously, wouldn’t you like to see what the director of Enough Said could do with Peter Venkman, Dana Barrett, Slimer, and that insanely gorgeous New York apartment Dana inhabited?
If we really believe movies like Ghostbusters are classics, then hell, let’s treat them like classics and reboot them in every single way we can possibly imagine. Shakespeare — the very definition of a classic! — can serve here as the model. Every Shakespearean play has been remounted so many times that, by now, it’s essentially impossible to do one of them straight-up. As a result, the most interesting new productions — whether it's Richard III set in pre-Fascist Europe or Macbeth as a pulpy horror-noir or Much Ado About Nothing as a spry contemporary rom-com — are all reimaginings. They’re Shakespeare reboots. Not all of them work, but all are interesting, some are fantastic, and a few even enhance our understanding of the original material in complex and worthwhile ways.
In related news, Jane Austen’s Emma can survive giving birth to Clueless. One of the most promising TV shows on the horizon is Fox’s pre-Batman police procedural, Gotham, which, seen from one angle, can look like a last shake of of the piggybank to see if another coin falls out. From another angle, though, it’s a chance to dig elbows-deep into an existing narrative treasure-trove in a manner of which even Tom Stoppard might approve.
Our cultural mythologies exist not to be venerated and preserved in amber, but to be played with, reconstituted, reconsidered, dismantled, dissected, and stripped for parts. This is what fan-fiction writers, cosplay advocates, and disciples of T.S. Eliot already understand: If it’s good enough for Hamlet, it’s good enough for Peter Venkman. Or, to misquote, mishandle, appropriate, reimagine, and repurpose Chairman Mao: Let a thousand reboots rebloom.