The summer’s most overwrought film conversation undoubtedly centered on Ghostbusters, Paul Feig’s troubled reboot of the venerable 1984 film starring Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. Regardless of the film’s merits or deficiencies — personally, I found it to be slight but mostly agreeable — Ghostbusters ceased to be a mere film by the time of its July release. Instead, it was treated by both supporters and detractors as a cause. In the end, Ghostbusters was reduced to yet another tool for screaming cultural ideologues to use against each other, weirdly transforming a goofy big-budget comedy into a controversial provocation.
With a special “extended edition” of Ghostbusters slated for Blu-ray release today, perhaps the time has finally come to evaluate the beleaguered would-be blockbuster simply as a good-natured supernatural comedy. At least that’s the aim of Feig, who oversaw the film’s new cut, which is 15 minutes longer than the theatrical version and includes more character moments and improvised comedy bits. While the extended cut doesn’t cure all of the problems of Ghostbusters — it still feels like a compromised family-oriented fantasy film that perhaps would’ve worked better as an R-rated comedy — at least there are more laughs to be found amid the Blu-Ray’s voluminous extras.
Feig spoke with us about the Blu-ray and how he also wishes that Ghostbusters had more swearing.
I’m always curious when a director puts out an “extended cut” — is this the version you wished you had put out in theaters, or is it the best version for Blu-ray?
People always ask me, “What’s your director’s cut?” I say, every version I put out is my director’s cut. You have to engineer a movie differently for playing in a theater filled with 400 people than you do for when people watch it at home. Even though there is stuff that is in the extended that I wish I could’ve kept in the theatrical, I was the one that made the decisions based on our test screenings. [I’m] very happy with what we put out theatrically, but it was really nice to then go, “Now that I don’t have to worry about the group situation, I can just try to entertain individual people in their own homes.” We can take a little more time. We can loosen those rules up a little bit.
Some of the extended stuff is just jokes that we restored that we had to take out because the studio wanted to try to make this more family-friendly. Holtzmann has a joke about ghost tits, which was my middle name in middle school. We love that joke and that joke always destroyed, but I had to horse-trade that joke out to keep some other bits. Especially when Steve Higgins as the dean is flipping them the bird. I was given a bit of a Sophie’s Choice on that — “You can keep one of these two things.” I don’t like to have to compromise like that, but at the same time I knew, okay, I can put it into my extended cut. It’s fine and the movie works without that joke.
On the commentary track, you and co-writer Katie Dippold both talk about how you wish that you could’ve put more swearing in Ghostbusters. You’re known for directing R-rated comedies, but the studio clearly wanted Ghostbusters to be PG-13. Looking back, how difficult was it to navigate that?
It was an interesting thing to deal with because we wanted the tone to be the same as the original. It was considered okay for families and kids and all that, but it’s still pretty salty. They say “sh*t” a lot and they smoke all the time and there’s a blowjob scene.
It’s the kind of project that didn’t feel like it needed to be R-rated by any stretch of the imagination. Melissa has never made a movie that her kids could see, so she was really excited at the idea that she was finally making a movie that her kids could see. She had no desire to swear in that character whatsoever, and in the character as we developed it with her, she didn’t need to. Her character is very headstrong and dedicated and proud but also she’s very positive and upbeat.
Then when you get a character like Leslie Jones who is just so funny being so honest in the way she talks that that’s the character we kind of go like, “Oh, man.” There’s so many places where she would naturally just swear as she was doing it. We’d always get it but then it’s like, “Okay, let’s try one without that.” Those are more of the moments that I kind of go, “Oh, man, there’s funnier stuff.”
The only reason I use swearing in movies is because I just think it makes them more honest. Napoleon Dynamite is one of my favorite movies in the world. That movie would not work at all if he was swearing. What’s so funny about that is the fact that that character just aggressively does not swear. That’s what this was, but when you get a character like Leslie who is so “tell it like it is,” those are the moments where occasionally you feel like, “Oh, is she holding back?”
I understand that Melissa McCarthy didn’t want to swear, but as a fan, I was a little disappointed. She’s like the Jimi Hendrix of the F-word. You always want to hear her riff a bit.
Oh my God, totally. Nobody can swear as effortlessly and as funny as she can.
You said something earlier about “horse-trading” with jokes. Was it hard to get the queef joke in the theatrical version?
Nobody in the studio was celebrating that joke, let’s just say that. A friend of mine, a comedy writer named Bill Madison, when we all worked in television, he liked a term he called “clean dirty,” which is something where you say something [dirty] but it’s like it’s not a swear thing, so your kids could just go, “Oh, it’s a fart joke,” and not quite get it. That’s why I always felt like that one’s fun and I liked it because we’re just setting the tone at the beginning of the movie, and we want this world in which you will be surprised by people and they’re going to say things you don’t quite expect. We just thought it was funny.
I know there’s a section of our haters that were just so, “Oh, how dare you do that?” It’s like, “Well, come on guys. There’s a ghost giving a blow job in the original one, so I think you can handle a queef joke.”
I saw the first Ghostbusters when I was seven, and the parts I liked the most were the parts where there was swearing. I left the theater repeating the same line — “We saw, we came, we kicked its ass” — over and over. I don’t think I had ever heard the word “ass” before. I didn’t know it was a bad word.
Here’s the thing. I don’t think Ivan [Reitman] and that gang looked at Ghostbusters as being a kids movie.
This was a very interesting thing that happened in our movie, because when I first announced that we were doing it, I had a lot of people write me, mothers and stuff, because they all know I do R-rated comedy. They were like, “I just hope you make this family friendly like the original movie.” You just realize when something becomes canon for people, they watch it enough, they’re just used to it.
Ghostbusters was the third action-comedy in a row that you directed. But unlike The Heat and Spy, it seemed like Ghostbusters leaned more on the action/fantasy side, particularly in the second half. The “extended version,” meanwhile, feels more like a comedy. From your perspective, how did the action/comedy balance come down in Ghostbusters?
I’ll throw it back on you because I don’t know if you hear this, but I am getting hit from all the people online: There’s this whole thing where they say the original Ghostbusters is not a comedy. I’ve had guys tell me this over and over again. I don’t know quite what they meant. There was a whole contingent [saying], “Oh, I hope he doesn’t just make it a comedy. I hope he doesn’t make it too funny.” It’s like, what the f*ck?
Honestly, I think tonally we’re in the pocket of what the original one did. If you really just separate your expectations, and you’re able to lobotomize yourself and watch both of them side by side as if you’d never seen them before, I think tonally you’ll see they’re pretty similar.
Do you look at the Blu-ray as a second chance for Ghostbusters? It seems like the film became a proxy for people interested in waging ideological warfare. In the end, it’s just a goofy supernatural comedy.
Yes, I totally do. Every movie gets rehabilitated partly when it goes to Blu-ray and DVD, but especially when it goes to cable. It exists now and either you’ve got people who went to see it who had an expectation that was different than what they saw, or they built it up to be something unexpected or different. Especially where you know the body work. When you’re going to see something from a filmmaker who you know their other work, you go, “Oh, I know what it’s going to be. It’s going to be this.” Then when it’s not quite that, you’re spending most of the experience of watching it dealing with the fact that it’s not what you thought it was going to be.
Then when suddenly you stumble across it on cable and you know what to expect, then you’re able to either enjoy it more or to reinforce in your head “I just don’t like this.” In general, what happens is people go, “Oh, you know what? That’s actually kind of fun.” They just see the spirit in which it was made.