This post will be full of spoilers and fanon, because that’s the fun stuff. If you haven’t seen Ghostbusters (2016) (Answer the Call), yet: Do it! Do it twice! (Otherwise the ghosts win.)
Kate McKinnon’s Holtzman absolutely rocks and nearly steals every single scene she’s in. Also, Karan Soni and Niel Casey are both leads in Feig’s Other Space and it got lost in the black hole that was Yahoo! Screen, but everyone should make their way to watch that, too. They both get some fun lines in Ghostbusters 2016. (Though Karan Soni is stuck in another partly thankless menial labor job in Ghostbusters, just as in Deadpool.)
Fanon musings commence with the next heading. Beware of spoilers and over-analysis.
The Boundary Between the Animated Ghostbusters Universe and the Cinematic Universe
A lot of the speculation to follow starts by revisiting our assumptions about the differences between the Animated Ghostbusters Universe (the canon considered here comprising of The Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters 1) and that of the Cinematic Universe (the original gangster Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters 2). 2
In the Animated Universe, the Ghostbusters sold their likenesses and biography rights to Hollywood and at least one film was produced. It is presumed in the Animated Universe that the Cinematic Universe we see in our universe is a cross-universe echo. (They are, after all, the real Ghostbusters.)
Obviously in our Universe the Animated Universe is the derivative produced for young minds to spend an hour or so on a Saturday. 3 The “real” in The Real Ghostbusters a product of a classic cartoon trademark dispute rather than truly an assertion of any sort of real world veracity.
As a fan from a peculiar era where I watched the cartoons well before watching the films, I’m inclined to agree with the Animated Universe out of a strange sense of loyalty. 4
Suppose you disagree, it’s certainly the case that there is a lot more storytelling 5 across several seasons of content and indisputable that the Animated Universe explored a greater depth than the Cinematic Universe and influenced a lot of people. It seems safe to consider that the new film is indebted to the Animated Universe 6 as much as the Cinematic Universe and that the boundaries between the two have always been porous.
Ghostbusters (2016) is the Cinematic Universe Extreme Ghostbusters and That is Great for Ectocorrectional Science
In the 90s, in the Animated Universe, in addition to everything being more extreme, NYC had largely forgotten the Ghostbusters, and had quickly forgot that ghosts were real, much less that it would be useful to have Ghostbusters around. It seems that there are several problems with ghostbusting as a business model, including the fact that if you do your job well there is very little repeat business and on top of that people’s memory of ghosts apparently leaks like a sieve. 7 The (real) Ghostbusters couldn’t pay the bills, so they disbanded, going their separate ways and thus becoming unavailable when the need arose for more Ghostbusting, leaving Dr. Spengler to train a new generation of Ghostbusters.
As the Extreme Ghostbusters research material suggests, a generational gap of ghosts seems a likely outcome of active Ghostbusting. It may also help explain why the “ectocorrectional sciences” seem to require a peculiar combination of factors for its discovery and/or rediscovery, much less the engineering effort to build an active ghostbusting team.
Other than the extreme extremeness of the 90s, the Extreme Ghostbusters were lucky to have continuity in the form of Dr. Spengler and the ability to bootstrap from original ghostbuster equipment.
The timeline of the Cinematic Films is clearly not lucky in that manner. 8 From what we have seen, there is no direct continuity of knowledge or equipment transfer from the previous ghostbusters. The forgetfulness aspects of ghost exposure 7 have had additional decades to take their toll on the world’s view, and especially New York City.
A lay person is likely to correlate this data point with an assumption that this means the previous ghostbusting we have seen in NYC in the films did not happen. As I stated in the post’s hypothesis, I believe this correlation leads to incorrect assumptions.
First of all, under the assumption that there is entirely no knowledge transfer, what is unfortunate for the film’s NYC is great for science. It’s not good science if it can’t be replicated from first principles. An important part of ghostbusting is that it is a science.
I think the movie does show some small signs of knowledge transfer. The centrality of the Hook & Ladder firehouse seems significant information leak, and so too does it seem how quickly the term Ghostbusters is reserved for our heroes and how quickly the Ghostbusters logo is rediscovered.
Both of those data points alone simply indicate perhaps a cross-universe information leak such as the one posited between the Animated Universe and the Cinematic Universe inside of the Animated Universe.
Where I see the greatest information continuity between the current generation of Ghostbusters and the original I think is intentionally subtle and easily overlooked (much as he himself is, hence some of his rage): Rowan North. (There’s also one other big information continuity, but I’ll get back around to it discussing cameos.)
First of all, I was rather excited by the idea that this time the antagonist is a student of the modern schools of ghostbusting sciences. I know a lot of people feel underwhelmed by the character, but it played right into my hands. 9 While Rowan spouted some of the things of classicists in the menacing field of ghostbuster antagonists and while his designs were rather steampunk in outward appearance, it was made clear that his methods were entirely modern.
The movie suggests that Rowan built his equipment based solely on Dr. Yates and Dr. Gilbert’s theoretical work from their book, presumably a mad counterpart to Dr. Holtzman. I on the other hand, given what we’ve seen of Ghostbuster tech, find that a bit of a stretch. It’s possible, but the lone mad scientist trope is unlikely in practice general, and given the strong interpartnerships of Dr. Stantz and Dr. Spengler and subsequently Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Holtzman to engineer the practical equipment, I feel it unlikely in any Ghostbusters Universe.
My theory is that Mr. North discovered and reverse engineered original Ghostbusters equipment. My initial viewing of Ghostbusters (2016) did nothing to dissuade me of this theory, and I plan at least one rewatch to more finely examine this theory, other than the obvious counter about OG Ghostbuster cameos, which I will tackle after a brief tangential interlude.
Tangent the First: Anyone Can Be a Ghostbuster
Just wanted to take a short break here and mention how fascinating that Extreme Ghostbusters included an hispanic ghostbuster, a female ghostbuster, a differently abled ghostbuster, and an african american ghostbuster. It even had episodes dealing with sexism and racism. Take that haters, Ghostbusters was always SJW before it was cool.
That’s always been a part of the magic of Ghostbusting. Anyone can do it. It’s science, not magic. Strap on a proton pack and who is to tell you that you are not a Ghostbuster? Certainly not anyone who doesn’t want an unlicensed nuclear accelerator pointed in their direction.
What About Those Cameos?
If you hadn’t noticed yet, this post contains spoilers for Ghostbusters (2016). Please watch it if you have not; this post should remain in existence until after you return.
The closest Ghostbusters (2016) gets to textually providing data counter to the theory that it exists in the same universe as its cinematic forbears is the presence of cameos from the original Ghostbusters in presumably new wink-nod roles. I don’t think any of them truly disprove my hypothesis, and I shall elaborate, in roughly cameo order. Even ignoring the obvious fact that actors may play multiple parts in any given canon and still be different characters, I can see an arc between them and their cameos.
- Dr. Venkman
- Bill Murray’s cameo is the most two-dimensional in GB2016. It’s also the most seemingly separate character. But it’s not entirely a crazy direction for Dr. Venkman. Recall that Dr. Venkman began as a charlatan seeking tenure by crackpot psuedo-science. Adopting a new identity and dedicating himself to being a professional skeptic could be seen as Dr. Venkman’s approach to making up for some of his earlier mistakes and keep an eye on the field of Ghostbusting in case it needed some expertise again. (In this “Martin Heiss” died as Dr. Venkman lived; incautious and easily mauled by a Class 4 apparition.)
- Dr. Stantz
- That is absolutely Dr. Stantz. You will not convince me otherwise. In the animated universe Dr. Stantz fell into used car salesman. Taxi driver is a fate worse than that, but perhaps unsurprisingly similar.
- Ms. Melnitz
- Hotel manager can be a nice step up from administrative assistant.
- Mr. Zeddemore
- Funeral director sounds like an alright profession for an ex-Ghostbuster. It’s not quite the exciting life of an airplane pilot the animated universe’s Mr. Zeddemore wound up pursuing.
- Ms. Barrett
- Dr. Gorin is clearly awesome. Anyone that Dr. Holtzman considers a mentor has to be awesome. Dr. Gorin is a fun surprise that would lead less careful fan scientists to confusion, but I see as possibly the best evidence that GB2016 happened in a post-GB1984 universe. Contrary to what some believe, science has no age limit. Everyone can science. What better way for Dana Barrett to get a handle on the events she witnessed in Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters 2 than to learn the science, perhaps studying directly under the tutelage of one Dr. Spengler?
Tangent the Second: Silicon Ghost Valley
It will likely surprise some how disparaging I am to Dr. Venkman. (I love Bill Murray, but Dr. Venkman is a sexist and jerk and a terrible role model.)
It surprised me recently to learn how many people seem to think of Dr. Venkman as a useful scientist in Ghostbusting and the ectocorrectional sciences. According to the canon materials, Dr. Venkman is an egotistical charlatan with only the good fortune of being friends with Dr. Stantz and Dr. Spengler. He’s a useful extrovert to the pair of introverts to help do extrovert things for the Ghostbusters.
In more recent pop culture vernacular, Dr. Venkman is clearly the Ehrlich Bachman of Ghostbusters. (More chronologically accurately, vice versa, but you get the point.)
That Stinger, Though
Final warning, there are major, major spoilers here for the end of Ghostbusters (2016), especially the post-credits stinger.
Finally, the biggest reason of all that I want to believe that Ghostbusters (2016) is happening in the same universe as Ghostbusters (1984) is the way that GB2016 ends. First of all, before the credits, is the great big tease that the City of New York has graciously gifted the Hook & Ladder office of the original Ghostbusters to our new heroes. Just imagine if Dr. Holtzman were to find Dr. Spengler’s equipment, such as the OG containment system, or Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Yates managed to find any of Dr. Stantz’s notes. That would be exciting.
More importantly, there is the final stinger to the movie and its mention of Zuul. Count me in amongst the fans that would be somewhat disappointed if the next film simply rebooted Zuul. We’ve all seen Ghostbusters (1984). 10 But remember how pissed the once god Zuul was how few of their followers remained into the modern day? Imagine how angry they might be having been driven back from their rampage by a mere four mortals and a minor nuclear explosion. That, I think, would be interesting. I think to do Zuul a second time, they have to remember (and loathe) the original Ghostbusters.
I leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide whether or not they consider Danny Phantom in their fanon here, but for the sake of simplicity I shall not mention it outside this footnote. ↩
I will not deal with the videogames, as I don’t think they make for a cohesive universe, though I do believe that Ghostbusters (2009) is the last great tale of the OG Cinematic Ghostbusters. I also will not visit the Comics Universe in this post as I am not overly familiar with it. ↩
For those seeking to try their own research on the matter, all fourty episodes of Extreme Ghostbusters is currently on Hulu. This humble correspondent may have spent several hours in research on this various subject on a Saturday afternoon as if the world had never changed since the 90s. ↩
I remember it took me a while to deal with the fact that movie Slimer was not a ridiculous comic relief sidekick, Egon wasn’t a crazy-haired blond guy, and Venkman was a bigger charlatan jerk (albiet Bill Murray and funnier) rather than Garfield and/or Dave Coulier. ↩
Including the writing talent of one J. Michael Stravinsky (of Babylon 5 fame). ↩
I cannot of course prove it, but I think lots of little things like Slimer’s appearance in this film and Dr. Holtzman’s wild hair have more in common with Animated Universe counterparts as much as Cinematic predecessors. ↩
Not limited to the passing of Dr. Spengler. The Ghostbusters Universe will not be the same without him. ↩
Reminder, Other Space is worth a watch. ↩
Let’s not get me started on how angry I still am about Khan Noonien Singh in STID. ↩