Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Who You Gonna Re-Call?

There are many movies that, in retrospect, turned out to be of major significance. But few movies said to be "important" in advance can live up to expectations. And the 2016 version of Ghostbusters was saddled with some impossible "important" baggage -- what started out as yet another 80s remake somehow transformed into a litmus test for feminism.

In that I only just got around to seeing the movie, you might say I failed that test. My defense would be simply that I never bought into the notion of it being a test. This movie's stars -- Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones -- have all been hilarious in other places; this movie didn't need to prove me that they (or certainly, women in general) are funny. Still, funny people can team up to make an unfunny movie, and my read of the critics and the trailers suggested this should be a "wait for home video" movie for me.

That turned out to be exactly the right call. There was enough good here to make the movie worth seeing, and enough bad that I'm glad I didn't pay theater prices for it. This split breaks down almost straight down the middle of the movie, in fact. The first half of the film serves up a number of laughs (and still more grins). But then the tension between comedy and big budget visuals breaks in the other direction. The final act is a nonstop procession of mindless blockbuster action; there's plenty of eye-popping visuals, but it's all wanton destruction justified by technobabble slathered on thicker than a bad Star Trek episode.

Leslie Jones nearly steals the show with several laugh out loud line readings. Kate McKinnon leans as far as she can into the bizarre character she's been given, squeezing out more humor than exists on the page. But Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig aren't given chances to shine at all. Saddled with the worst of the plot track-laying, they fall well short of their performances in Bridesmaids (to say nothing of their separate work). They have to do all the heavy lifting for this story, rarely getting a chance to riff.

In a cruel irony, because the men don't further the plot much in this feminist movie, they're often free to just be funny. Chris Hemsworth is given most of the movie's best material as the Ghostbusters' "him-bo" receptionist. Zach Woods (of The Office and Silicon Valley) has a tiny role in the first few minutes of the film, but somehow finds many of the biggest laughs in that span. Even Charles Dance gets to shade his stern Tywin Lannister schtick toward comedy in a brief role.

One bonus in waiting to see this on video was that I got to experience some interesting formatting they did for the Blu-ray. The bulk of the movie was presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. (For those not up on the numbers, that means that even on today's standard widescreen TVs, there are black bars on the top and bottom of the screen.) But during key moments -- involving ghost slime, lightning arcs, proton pack shots, and the like -- the visual effects actually broke the frame and extended through the bars to the edge of the screen, creating a sort of no-special-equipment-needed 3D effect. In addition, a short, key sequence at the end of the movie was presented full screen (16:9), omitting the black bars entirely. It's interesting to me that a movie which hadn't been a runaway box office success nevertheless had still more money spent on it to create new effects for home video.

A movie worthy of these stars could have been an A. The same movie that at least didn't descend into mindless destruction for the finale could have been maybe a B+. As it is, though, I think Ghostbusters lands at a B-. It's just in the "watchable" zone for those predisposed to want to, but there's almost certainly not enough here to convert anyone already set against it.

1 comment:

Joshua Delahunty said...

I noticed the letterbox breaking effects, too, and thought that was pretty darned cool.

Didn't take it above a "C" for me, though.

I REALLY wanted to like this one (hey, the original -- especially Venkman's skeezy crap at the start with the coed -- wasn't exactly High Cinema), but I was pretty let down, despite all hope to the contrary. :-/