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Aug 26, 2011

Open Letter To Dan Aykroyd: Walk Away From Ghostbusters III


Dear Mr. Aykroyd,

First off, let me start with a word of thanks.  You (and your friends) were largely responsible for the majority of the comedy that most influenced me during my formative years.  Spies Like Us, Trading Places, Couch Trip, The Great Outdoors...this is the stuff I grew up on.  Your work on SNL is beyond classic and you co-wrote my two favorite movies of all time: The Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters.  With The Blues Brothers you not only affected my taste in movies, but also in music.  You helped instill a love of bluesmen like John Lee Hooker and T-Bone Walker, along with all the great tunes that came out of the singular band you and John Belushi put together.  (Did you know that The Blues Brothers are the highest grossing blues act of all time?  Of course you do, you're Dan Aykroyd.)  

When it comes to Ghostbusters...well I challenge you to find a bigger fan that hasn't been named in a restraining order.  The "no-ghost" symbol is the permanent wallpaper on my iPhone, (replacing Cab Calloway on my previous phone) I can quote large swaths of the DVD director's commentary (which I would contend is almost as funny as the movie itself) and I even once visited the New York Public Library solely to find the locations where you shot the opening scenes of the movie.  When I was a kid, I wore out my cassette tape of the Ghostbusters II soundtrack.  Hell, I used to work on the Sony lot and one of my favorite memories of that time was spending weeks working 50 feet away from Ecto-1 and perusing the glass case containing a proton pack, fake newspapers, and other memorabilia.  So please, understand that when I say the following, it comes from a place of love and respect:

Don't make Ghostbusters III.  Please.  Just walk away.

I know you've been working with Sony to get this project off the ground for some time, and that the recent success of the Ghostbusters video game injected a bit of life in the franchise.  I know you have a lot of faith in Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, two guys who can be very funny (The Office, Bad Teacher) or extremely flat (Year One).  I also know that  you've had a hard time convincing Bill Murray to get on board, which is probably the biggest weight around the project's neck right now.  Then yesterday you went on Dennis Miller's radio show and said that you're hoping to shoot next year with or without Murray.

But let's pump the brakes for a minute and remember back about ten years to Blues Brothers 2000.  Here was a sequel to one of your most iconic films that happened decades after the original.  You literally got the band back together, although the unfortunate lack of John Belushi proved to be too large of an obstacle.  The fact that most of the movie took place outside of Chicago didn't help either.  While you managed to create an amazing soundtrack, the film itself just flat out didn't work.

Now don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying that Ghostbusters III won't work without Bill Murray.  I'm saying it won't work.  Period.  The first film worked because of the relationship between the characters and the world they inhabited.  In the words of Ivan Reitman, "it's a going-into-business story" in the middle of 1980s, Ronald-Reagan-era New York City.  The characters are incredibly rooted in that time and place.  Can you imagine Peter Venkman in today's world?  A guy who electrocutes one of his students so that he can sleep with another?  In 1984 he's a charming rogue, a game show host.  Now he's a slimeball.  Nobody wants to root for that guy anymore.  Egon would inevitably become some sort of D.J. Qualls-esque computer hacker, Winston would become an unstoppable Navy SEAL (probably the guy who took down Bin Laden), and Ray...well I shudder to think.  

Moreover, in reality, that movie was made at a very specific time in Hollywood, just before special effects shifted from optical to digital.  The technological constrictions of the time actually HELP the movie.  The flying library cards, the demon arms grabbing Dana Barrett through the arm chair, the terror dogs, Mr. Stay Puft...some of the most iconic images in the movie were achieved using practical effects, puppets and miniatures, which lent a credibility to the movie.  So much of that movie looks real because it IS real, and it makes the effects-based creatures like Slimer even crazier because they stand in such sharp contrast.

Now, I know the idea here is not to remake the movie, but instead to pass the neutrono wand to a new generation of paranormal investigators, but frankly, no one wants to see that.  First of all, I'm outright terrified of who they'd cast as your replacements.  Second of all, I just don't see a need to try and reinvent the wheel here or wring a few more dollars out of a franchise whose time has long since passed.  People hunting ghosts is hardly a novel concept; I think SyFy has about three hours of similar themed reality shows airing every day.  Sony isn't interested in making a paranormal comedy or continuing to develop the world you created over 25 years ago.  This is all about brand recognition, about getting butts in the theater based solely on the fact that the title sounds familiar. 

At this point there may not be much left to do.  Even if you and the rest of the original cast abandoned the project, I'm sure Sony would simply adapt the script to your absence or convert the movie into a straight up reboot.  But at least that would provide some separation between the movies we all know and love (for the most part...I'm in the minority that still enjoys Ghostbusters II) and whatever nonsense ended up on film two to three years from now.  Plus it would make you, Harold, Bill and Ernie come off as the classier parties.  

You're in the pantheon of comedy Mr Aykroyd, in large part because of Ghostbusters.  That's a legacy that will never go away, and you don't need to try recapturing lightning in a bottle just to prove you're still relevant.  All you can do is taint it.  (Don't believe me?  Look at the Star Wars prequels.)

Don't play their game Mr. Aykroyd.  Take the high road.  

Just walk away.

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