On September 27th, ‘Ghostbusters 2016‘ was released in an extended director’s cut as a digital download. A Blu-Ray/DVD physical release will be released October 11th. I was going to wait and buy the physical media, but I decided to give myself an early Halloween present.
I thought the theatrical version was great fun. Not to mention I thought it used 3D better than just about any movie released since ‘Avatar’. In my review I noted that it had some awkward structural problems but the sheer charm and talent of the cast rendered those irrelevant. So I was curious to see if the new cut (featuring 15 minutes of extra footage) would drastically alter my attitude one way or the other.
To be blunt, “director’s cuts” can suck. Much of the time, added footage only seems to highlight why the scenes were trimmed in the first place. In the case of ‘Ghostbusters’ I’m not 100% sure that this even qualifies as a “director’s cut”. It seems like director Paul Feig pretty much had the theatrical release the way he wanted, so… I guess technically this is an “extended cut”? Pedantry aside, the addition of 15 minutes to a movie can be a destabilizing, detrimental act. Would the extra time end up hurting ‘Ghostbusters 2016’?
Longer, more complex answer?
No. In fact, in one case it vastly improves the movie. But, (and this is an awkward “but”) I can sort of understand why a lot of these bits were cut. And the reasons “why” make me feel kind of… queasy.
Here’s the thing. The extra footage basically falls into three distinct categories:
(1) Alternate takes, sometimes with different lines of dialogue.
(2) Major scenes, cut for time and pacing reasons.
(3) Tiny, infinitesimal lines that were removed so as not to provoke the ‘GhostBros’ behind the smear campaign that dogged ‘Ghostbusters 2016’ almost from day one.
I don’t want to spoil any of the specifics in case anyone reading this wants to discover the differences for themselves. So I will tread carefully.
The alternate lines? Some of them work while some of them I find less preferable to the theatrical version, but overall they are a lot of fun. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many involve Kate McKinnon’s genius turn as Holtzmann. They also drive home what a slap-happy, improv-heavy set this most likely was. I haven’t even made it to the deleted scenes part of the special features yet, and I’m sure there’s gold to be found there.
The major scenes cut for time? There are some treasures here, for sure. One bit with Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones kills me that it had to be cut, but, yes: it would have slowed the movie down at the wrong moment. Again, not to spoil specifics, but great as these scenes are? No. The movie ultimately did not need them. With one major exception. And here, I’m afraid I am going to get specific, so, uh, Spoilers Sort Of.
The biggest problem for me with ‘Ghostbusters 2016’ was always about the pacing. As I said in my review, unlike the original this movie has to set up 4 individual characters, get them all in the same place, and then have them face off against a Big Bad. It’s more like the structure of a big action movie than a comedy. And, in fact, one of the odd things about ‘Ghostbusters’ is that it’s never been just a straight “comedy” series. It has elements of action, fantasy and horror all running through it.
So, when ‘Ghostbusters 2016’ gets to it’s big climax, we have a jarring moment in the theatrical cut where the Big Bad is coming and it becomes clear that the team is split up. Kristen Wiig is off somewhere by herself, Kevin the phone boy is demanding to be part of the team, and the other three are acting like something’s wrong.
(This kind of thing happens all the time in modern movie 3-act structures. Split the team up before the climax to add tension. What doesn’t happen all the time is not showing the actual split occur.)
So yeah. There’s a major deleted scene showing when and how Wiig’s character breaks away from the team. And the really crazy thing is, it’s a vital moment in the movie. Leaving it in would not have affected the actual run time dramatically, but it would have made the movie feel way more cohesive and, well, “whole”.
Which obviously begs the question “so why was it cut?”
Well, that brings us to number 3 on that list above.
There are, scattered throughout the extended cut, little one-liners – throwaways, mostly – that poke very specific fun at the idiotic “controversy” swirling around this movie. My favorite has Rowan, the embittered nerd villain, when revealing his “evil plan” to unleash the souls of the undead to “pester” the living, saying: “…they see the world for what it truly is: garbage. They’re mostly dudes.” The way Neil Casey nails the word “mostly” in his line read is comedy dynamite. It’s a great little split-second addition, and I almost guarantee it was cut to avoid ruffling feathers.
Which, sadly, brings me back to that vital, why-the-hell-would-they-cut-it? scene showing the breaking of the fellowsh-uh, split of the Ghostbusters.
It takes place shortly after the team have shut down Rowan’s plan to break the barrier and pester the living with ghosts. They’ve saved the day (they think) but been publicly humiliated by the Mayor’s aide (the wonderful Cecily Strong, who is a stealth missile of funny) and to top it off their vehicle has been towed. A guy waving a camera phone approaches them on the street and begins haranguing them about being fakes. Wiig ends up decking him and the story is splashed all over the tabloids. Humiliated, she runs off to be by herself and the movie then returns to what we saw in theaters.
What sucks about losing this piece of the movie is that:
(a) it’s actually very funny.
(b) it gives the reunion during the Big Bad fight context and depth.
(c) it brings Wiig’s character arc full circle.
Dr. Erin Gilpert is the one who had actually seen the reality of ghosts but was bullied by society into believing that she, in effect, hadn’t. Erin was the one who worked the longest and hardest to “fit in”, or as she puts it “I kissed so many different kinds of asses”, that it makes perfect sense that she’s going to be the one who most feels the need to prove the naysayers wrong. The sequence’s absence genuinely diminishes the movie as a whole. And, again, I’d almost guarantee that it was cut to avoid ruffling angry keyboard warrior feathers.
I almost didn’t want to get into this stuff because the ultimate fact is that ‘Ghostbusters 2016’ is, above and beyond anything else, primarily meant to be watched as funny, light entertainment. It is unfair that it has become the subject of so many ponderous “hot takes” – all of which were necessitated by a staggeringly small-minded subset of smear artists. It’s ri-goddamn-diculous. And watching these deleted moments, I found myself thinking – again! – how utterly bizarre it is that this movie ever had to consider such outside lunacy in it’s creative choices. To the point where, I could argue, it damaged the version seen in movie theaters.
The reasons I really liked ‘Ghostbusters 2016’, despite it’s somewhat imperfect structure and pacing, are manifold: I saw the original back in 1984, I love the concept, and I am a real fan of the adventure/comedy genre to which I believe ‘Ghostbusters’ ultimately belongs. The 2016 version is – to me anyway – clearly made by people who have the same affection and appreciation for those factors. But, and this is an important “but”, they went one step further and gave us a team of genuinely deep characters. Funny, quirky, oddball characters sure; but also real, relatable, flesh & blood characters.
Yeah I said it. Relatable, real characters.
One reason that the original ‘Ghostbusters’ is able to set itself up so smoothly and beautifully is that the original trio are basically cyphers for the immense talents of Bill Murray, Dan Akyroyd and the beloved Harold Ramis. You know who they are within seconds of seeing them onscreen. There is nothing to compare to the moments of care taken by ‘Ghostbusters 2016’ to establishing Erin and Abby’s friendship. There is real sense of sadness that underpins Wiig’s portrayal of Erin. When McKinnon gives her hysterically awkward toast at the end, it’s funny, yes, but it also carries real weight. You understand that bad ass Holtzmann was probably just as much of an outcast as Erin. You learn everything you need to know about Patty in her intro scene; the way Jones gives her an open friendliness to everyone even when they’re assholes to her.
It’s moments like these, in addition to the broad hysterics of Holtzmann dancing to DeBarge or Abby desperately trying to think of something worth living for besides soup, that make me sad that we won’t be seeing another ‘Ghostbusters’ with this team. Because I really, truly connected with these characters in a way that I don’t think I could have with the originals. Before you get offended, that’s not a slam on Murray and company. I freaking love that movie and those guys. But I can’t pretend that I felt connected to Murray’s smooth-talking con man on any real level. He was a “cool dude” who I kinda wanted to be because, really, he was a fantasy. I think one of the main reasons that ‘Ghostbusters II’ didn’t work for me is that, well, I had grown up a little.
I know that in many ways this movie was a gamble, and I commend Paul Feig, Katie Dippold, Dan Akyroyd and all for having the guts to take that gamble. Watching the extended version really drove home to me just how much they must have realized they were walking a tightrope. They tried to honor the original and do something new and they got burned. Which sucks, because the perceived wisdom is that the gamble didn’t pay off. Selfishly, I mostly feel bad because I just wanted to see more of McCarthy, Wiig, Jones, and McKinnon but it must really suck for Feig and company.
I do, however, get an odd feeling that ‘Ghostbusters 2016’ could turn into one of those “failures” like ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. That movie, routinely cited as an example of a modern cinema masterpiece, was a box office dud. ‘Austin Powers’ didn’t gain any cultural caché until it was released to home video. Those movies had to grow through sheer, bloody-minded word of mouth. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the DNA of Feig and Co.’s gamble begin popping up in various forms down the road. Sometimes the audience just needs to catch up, or see things with fresh eyes.
I, for one, choose to be optimistic. After all, the alternative is to start bemoaning people’s lack of vision and inability to appreciate genius. Then I’d basically be… Rowan.
And who wants to be a Rowan, really?