Frog and Esther Jones

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Quality and the Market

Is the new Ghostbusters movie any good?  I have no idea.  I haven’t seen it.

Given the relatively decent review score (not stellar, but pretty good) over at Rotten Tomatoes,  I’m thinking it’s probably a decent watch.  I’ve been busy as hell, but this falls into the category of movies-I-wouldn’t-mind-watching.

I read Brad Torgerson’s analysis of it, though, and that got me to thinking.  His point seems to be this:  if you make a movie to carry a social message, that movie will get destroyed at the box office.  But we all know that’s bullshit.  Not because of Ghostbusters, but rather because of all the other highly message-based movies that have done quite well at the box office.  You think The Hurt Locker wasn’t based on a social message?  Watch it again.  Wasn’t Apocalypse Now pretty political?  How about American Beauty?  All of these movies were made with strong social justice themes, and all of them did quite well.

So the equation that social justice + movie = flop is a vast oversimplification.  It is absolutely possible to make a social justice movie that does quite well.  Also, the basic premise that the market selects the best material?  Also bullshit.  The market does what it wants to, and it is a stupid, fickle beast.  There is no way the crowds actually enjoyed the second or third Transformers movies.  Didn’t stop them from turning out in droves to watch Michael Bey regurgitate their childhood in front of them.

But.

But go back up and re-read the first two paragraphs of this post.  Now, let’s place that in context.  See, I was a kid that loved Ghostbusters.  I knew that movie inside-out and upside-down.  When I hung out with my friends, pretending to be the Ghostbusters was one of the most fun games we had (I generally got Egon, which was even better).  I watched the Ghostbusters cartoon religiously.  I still drop obscure Ghostbusters references where nobody picks them up (and I have even put a reference to Gozar on the record in court).  For me, Ghostbusters was awesome.  It competes with TMNT for the #1 spot on my childhood-nostalgia wagon.

Now that you know that about me, look one last time at that second paragraph, and remember that Ghostbusters, as it sits, falls into the category of movies-I-wouldn’t-mind-watching and not movies-I-have-to-see-right-Goddamned-now.

So what the hell happened?  Well, there’s two possibilities:

1.  I am a rampant misogynist who simply doesn’t want to watch a movie where my favorite characters have all been replaced or succeeded (not sure which) by women.  This possibility can be rather reliably ruled out by a look at my overall posting, or

2.  The marketing on this film sucked.

No, seriously.  I didn’t see anyone talking about this film in anything but a Social Justice context.  I wasn’t told I should go see the Ghostbusters movie because it was awesome.  I was told I should go see the Ghostbusters movie because that’s what people who support women will do.  The entire thing blew up into an SJW controversy, and watching the movie stopped being about whether or not I wanted to see some only-halfway-competent people save the world from destruction and into a job.  And on this point, Torgerson absolutely spot-on.  I don’t want to spend my money and my time for a movie making a political statement.  I want to have fun.

And, by the way, if you’re going to make a social justice statement, why in the hell are the three scientists still white people and the streetwise-but-book-dumb character is still black?  If we’re making a social justice movie, can we at least go the full nine?  Yes?

What’s sad is, for all I know, Ghostbusters is fun.  That second trailer certainly makes it seem like it is.  But liking the movie hasn’t become about liking the movie.  It’s like you can’t dislike it without being a misogynist, and you can’t like it without being a complete lefty feminist.  And as soon as the act of going to the movie becomes a political statement, my mind categorizes it differently than if it’s an act of nostalgia.

I hope Ghostbusters is good.  I hope it lives up to the amazing movie that was the original, although matching up to Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, and Harold Ramis is a tough, tough thing to do.  Maybe it does.  But it’s likely going to have to do it from Netflix, because to get my fat ass off the couch, I need to be driven.  Ghostbusters’ marketing team could have done that for me.  Hell, if all they’d done was throw out the logo and a date, I would have been fucking there.  But as soon as it became all about the politics, and not about the story, then I walked away.

And here’s the thing:  I support the politics.  I’m all for the gender reversal.  Dirk Benedict was fun, Katee Sackhoff was better.  But Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck wasn’t better because she was female.  She was better because she was better.  She had more attitude, more strength, more conflict, and more heart.  Dirk Benedict was more of a standard rough-and-tumble heroic type.  Katee had depth.

Ghostbusters tried to sell me on it being awesome because of female characters.  And that simply didn’t work.  If you really want to drive the point home, be awesome and have female characters.  There’s a subtle difference, but it’s a big one.  I wanted the movie to tell me why it was going to be awesome.  It’s answer was “because gender-switch.”  So I lost interest.  Does that make me a misogynist?  Well, I don’t think so.  I think “because women characters” and “because men characters” are equally stupid reasons.  What I wanted was “because awesome comedy” or “because sweet action” or “because tense drama.”

Does Ghostbusters have those things?  Swear to God I don’t know.  This could be another John Carter of Mars situation here (a great movie with the worst marketing ever).  There’s certainly a lot of great reviews out about it, and those are starting to bring me around, but a lot of them focus on the social justice angle, which doesn’t.  I’ll watch it, eventually.  And when I do, if it is actually good, I’ll be pretty pissed off that the marketing folks concentrated on things that aren’t part of the story.  I listed a bunch of movies with strong social justice themes earlier.  None of them were advertised that way.  They just had them.  Maybe there’s a lesson there.

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