Wednesday 11 March 2015

The Ghostbusters Cinematic Universe... oh dear

So it turns out that in addition to the female-led Ghostbusters reboot Sony Pictures have greenlit a male-led Ghostbusters film as well as starting a new production company called Ghostcorps to oversee future film, TV and merchandising projects for the franchise. Sony wants to make a shared universe out of this idea because shared universes are the big thing now Marvel-Disney have proved it can makes stacks of cash through mutual marketing and consolidating audiences.

It could work, I'm perfectly open to the idea of this working but I'm dubious. It isn't the Sony thing. Sure, they failed to make the shared universe thing work with The Amazing Spider-Man but those weren't films they wanted to make. They actually seem interested in Ghostbusters so I have somewhat higher hopes.

Rather its that nothing in Ghostbusters screams “shared universe” to me. I'm interested to see how the old “four funny dudes start a business, hilarity ensues plus ghosts” formula works with modern comediennes and I can't deny a straight-up reboot would interest me too but what else is there?

That the shared universe thing works for comicbook movies is obvious, its been part of their native format for over seventy years. The only barrier to doing it in film was getting all the rights under one roof, which only makes it stranger Marvel got there first but that's a rant for another day. Marvel and DC have pre-existing shared universes and literally thousands of discrete intellectual properties under their direct ownership. Even Fox and Sony's third party agreements aren't hurting for spin-off material.

There are certainly properties outside comics that would lend themselves to this approach. Universal tried to revive their old monster movie franchise as a shared universe a few years back. The Expendables movies are really just applying the same logic to the whole 80s action movie genre after the fact instead of building the thing from the ground up. Star Trek could probably afford to diversify a bit more given how much source material there is to work from and Star Wars actually will have stand-alone movies between “proper” Episodes for similar reasons.

Ghostbusters, though? Perhaps appropriately there ain't much meat on them bones. The source material as it stands is made of two movies, a couple of cartoons and various scattered pieces of other media. Each version extends from exactly the same premise with a more or less consistent cast of characters (I'm reasonably sure every version features Egon and Janine).

Of course, new characters are being created for this franchise. If nothing else I imagine feminising the name Egon would be a challenge. The lack of natural alternative angles is more of a problem: the franchise has always taken place in a quasi-realistic world where the only divergence from the viewers' reality is the presence of ghosts and they're not even common enough that people stop being sceptical about their existence. That's the whole point of the original movies: it works exactly like any other comedy about starting a small neighbourhood business except that the business they're starting is the weirdest one imaginable.

I want to be giving the benefit of the doubt here but the state of original thought in big budget movies right now is... not ideal. This is absolutely part of the pattern these days of studios grabbing any famous brand that isn't nailed down. They can't really be blamed for this, its what pays their bills right now and they've lost good money betting on people watching quality original movies, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World being the unjustifiable flop that most immediately springs to mind.

So, yes, a film that is a genuine pop culture icon gets the reboot and the instant thought now is “franchise” whether or not the source material really supports it. It may do, as I say, I have no insight into this but it seems a very long shot to go shared universe when normally you'd expect them to just announce a trilogy pending box office numbers. On that subject, it might not even happen, the first film is still months away from shooting.

If nothing else this offers and interesting limit case scenario for the whole shared universe concept. 

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