In the season one finale of Mad Men, Don Draper famously uttered the phrase “Nostalgia…it’s delicate, but potent.” Never has a truer line been spoken, especially now in this era where the childhood of every person who grew up in the 1980s is being mined by Hollywood for every last crumb of intellectual property. Enter stage left – ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ – one of the most potent nostalgia fests in recent memory, but let me tell you, there ain’t a damn thing delicate about it. This is Grade A weaponized nostalgia.
At best, you could say this was a film made with a loving reverence to the original 1984 film. At worst however, there is a strong whiff of course correction to placate the “fans” who hated the 2016 all-female reboot, and consider the original to be some sort of sacred text. Let’s not get into all that again however, and instead give ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ and the creative team behind it the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure it was made with the best of intentions.
Co-written and directed by Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman – director of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II) the film begins with the death of Egon Spengler. Living off the grid in an old farmhouse in Summerville, Oklahoma, he has continued his experiments into supernatural phenomenon. Having lured a familiar looking creature back to the farm, his attempt to trap it fails, allowing the ghostly beast to attack him, and he suffers a fatal heart attack.
Meanwhile, his estranged daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two kids, Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) have fallen on hard times. When they learn of his death they have no other choice but to uproot their lives and move to the spooky old house Egon left for them. And so begins the long journey of discovering who their grandfather really was, and the legacy they have inherited.
It might all be new to Phoebe and Trevor, but for the viewer, everywhere you look there is something familiar. A pile of books here, a PKE meter there. A rusting old 1959 Cadillac Miller Meteor in the barn. A collection of spores, molds, and fungus in the basement. A ghost trap hidden in the floorboards. YouTube videos of the Ghosbusters original “we’re ready to believe you” ads. A musical score by Rob Simonsen that borrows more than a few notes from Elmer Bernstein’s iconic original. And central to it all, an abandoned mine on the outskirts of Summerville that had been operated by the Shandor Mining Company. Ring any bells?
There’s a lot of fun to be had in the early part of the film before the ghoulish business begins. The kids discover all the old Ghostbusters gear, and it’s an absolute joy seeing them whizzing around this strange old town—which appears to have got stuck somewhere in the 50s—in ECTO-1 and blasting bottles with proton packs. This must have been how Jason Reitman felt as a kid on the set of the original films. But does an endless crossed-stream of reverential fan service really work as a film? Or is it just a hollow exercise in nostalgia porn?
There are times watching ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ where it feels like the Rick Dalton pointing meme. Oh look, another thing I recognize from the original film! ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ is a film that is nostalgic for nostalgia. It is cynical, it is manipulative, and you can feel it pulling your strings at every turn. When it finally plays its hand in the third act, there’s an argument to be made that Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan went a step too far.
But damn it, it worked for me. Against all my better judgement, I really liked it. I knew it was slick and manipulative filmmaking, appealing to fans of a certain age (hello!), but it got me. It caught me in its proton stream of positively charged ions and sucked me into its ghost trap. I watched this with a fellow child of the 80s, and they spent the final 20-minutes in floods of happy tears. Nostalgia…not always delicate, but forever potent.
The blu-ray release is outstanding, with more than 1-hour of special features. It’s great to see a mainstream studio release getting this sort of treatment. First up on the disc is ‘Summoning the Spirit: Making Ghostbusters Afterlife’, which is a really great behind the scene documentary. There are lots of interviews and cool footage from the amazing sets, revealing how much was done practically rather than with CG. The credo for the filmmakers was very much “how would they have done this in 1984” – for better or worse.
‘The Gearhead’s Guide to Ghostbusters Gadgets’ is a short featurette looking at the tech, and all the exceptional detailed work done by the art department. ‘Spectral Effects: The Ghosts of Afterlife’ goes behind the scenes of the model designing for the ghosts, the practical on set effects, and how this was then augmented with CGI to all work perfectly together. There’s some fun stuff on the mini marshmallow men, and then a very moving discussion on the ghost who haunts this film with his absence.
‘Bringing ECTO-1 Back to Life’ is another festival of nostalgia, looking at the incredible craft and hard work that went in to bringing the iconic car back for this film. Next up is ‘We Got One! Easter Eggs Revealed’ which is only 8 minutes long, but I’m pretty sure could have gone on for much longer. You might think you noticed everything, but some of the hidden details stitched into the fabric of this film are super niche. Fans will dig this.
Just in case you haven’t had enough nostalgia, next up is ‘Ghostbusters: A Look Back’ which delves back into the 1984 film for a retrospective discussion with the original cast and director. There are some nice moments though, such as when they are talking about what lines get quoted back to them the most, Annie Potts says that “we got one” will probably be on her tombstone.
‘A Look Ahead’ is more interviews with the OG cast, but this time they are talking about ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’. Finally, the disc is rounded out with a deleted scene. Terrific overall package, and if you liked the film, you will absolutely love this blu-ray release.
Cast: Carrie Coon, McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd Director: Jason Reitman Writer: Jason Reitman & Gil Kenan Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Certificate: 12 Duration: 124 mins Release Date: 31st January 2022