Films of My Life - Ghostbusters 2 and the Summer of '89

In recognition of the fact that I've now spent the last 25 years of my life as an engaged moviegoer, I'm going to be issuing remembrances of my most significant cinematic experiences from the course of the last (gulp) quarter century. And yes, I stole this title from Francois Truffaut. If you can't beat 'em...!

The year 1989 was the first that I consciously remember as a moviegoer. I had certainly been to the cinema before - conflicting accounts peg my first theater-going experience as either The Great Mouse Detective or The My Little Pony Movie, both of which would have taken place three years prior - and yet this was the first summer in which I was fully aware of what movies were coming out, and in which I felt the urge to get out and see them at all costs.  

Chronologically, the summer seems to have begun with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. While I must have been well versed in the Indyverse by this point, I honestly don't much remember consciously anticipating this one. I do have vague memories of seeing it at the local drive-in theater in Lansing, Michigan (the venue of most of my filmgoing at this time. For a while, going to a brick-and-mortar theater didn't even feel right to me), but I also remember that, for some reason, we left early. My only concrete memory of the screening is driving away, looking back through the trees as Indy splashes grail water over his father's mortal wound. 

For me, it really began with the release of Ghostbusters 2. I don't even remember the first time I watched the original - I know I came to it because of the cartoon, but it's one of those movies that for me has just always existed, an elemental force like gravity whose pull upon me will only ever be diminished by the heat death of the universe.

I don't feel quite as strongly about Ghostbusters 2.

It's hard to separate my initial viewing from the sobering realization over the course of the next several years that the film is ultimately a weak rehashing of its predecessor, albeit with some solid elements. It would be tempting to label Ghostbusters 2 an introduction to that acute sense of disappointment that would often reoccur in the future as a fan of genre franchises, an early taste of the bitter sting of diminishing returns. But at the time, I loved it. I didn't give a shit about quality - I just wanted to hang out with Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston, and anything that kept them in the public consciousness was fine by me (side note: when my mother earned $1000 on a trip to Reno, me and my brothers used our portion of the money to buy these). 

But what's most significant to me about Ghostbusters 2, looking back on it now, is the fact that I was fully aware of and anticipating its release. Up to that point the most significant movies in my life had always just existed, playing endlessly on cable or ready to be brought home from the local Meijer whenever I wanted. But for the first time, I knew that something new was out there and that I absolutely had to venture out to see it as soon as possible. I distinctly remember being stuck at home on opening night, hearing my neighbors joyfully return to their apartment and just knowing, deep in my envious bones, that they must have been to see it while I had not. 

In all honesty, I don't remember my eventual viewing. I don't remember if I went to see it in a theater, and if so how many times I went, or if I waited for it's eventual video release. Because the very next week would see the release of a film that would completely obliterate the Ghostbusters in both the public consciousness as well as my young, impressionable heart.

And indeed, Tim Burton's Batman was such a vital experience that I am going to excise the film itself from the rest of the summer and give it its very own entry. Yet it is worth mentioning the atmosphere surrounding that release, as it not only colored the entirety of that summer movie season but also pointed a grim finger ahead. We've been hearing for forty years about how Jaws and Star Wars ushered in the blockbuster era, but it was Batman in the summer of '89 that truly cemented the Film as Corporate Synergy model that we know and love today. Riding (or perhaps creating) a wave of hype over the fact that the first big screen version of the Caped Crusader was being released during the year of his fiftieth birthday, Bat-Mania swept the nation like a pox. It was truly the first great victory of many for studio marketing departments now fully backed by the corporate conglomerates who owned and operated them - ensuring the widespread success of a movie before it even opens and regardless of whether or not it's any good. Bat-Cereal, Bat-Trading Cards, Bat-Haircuts, Bat-Pencil Sharpeners, Hastily Re-Painted At the Last Minute to at Least Try to Match the Color Scheme of the Film Bat-Toys - you couldn't avoid it. It was a glorious time to be a Bat-obsessed child.

I'm partly getting ahead of myself here, and yet this detour is reflective of the seismic impact that film would have not only on this particular summer, but on the movie landscape in general. While Batman would have more intimate, and more organic, effects on me personally, on a macro level it changed the way that movies were marketed and released. It was the first summer of the pre-sold blockbuster, the effects rippling immediately across the landscape of not only that whole year, but the entire course of blockbuster studio fare from that point onwards. And indeed, While most of the major decisions behind Ghostbusters 2, beginning not only with its production in the first place but also the beat-for-beat patterning of its screenplay after the structural model of its predecessor in order to thus replicate its success, seem to have been made with commercialism first and foremost in mind, it was very specifically the ensuing release of Burton's inevitable behemoth that led to the late-in-the-game decision to push the release back in order to get a jump on the Caped Competition.

Neither impulse was very successful. And while Ghostbusters 2 has and will continue to live in the public consciousness thanks to its relationship to the beloved original as well as its modest charms, I think it's probably safe to say that it is remembered as a part of this summer only in so far as its relationship to Batman.

And frankly, under the shadow of the bat, not just Ghostbusters 2 but the remainder of that summer is a giant blur. I would get a sobering peek into adulthood when the death of Anty in Honey I Shrunk the Kids brought me face-to-face with the unfairness of life and the grim inevitability of its horrible end, but it was merely a glimpse at an eventuality that was at the time much harder to conceptualize, and thus easier to ignore. I would, of course, eventually see Star Trek V, Licence to Kill, The Karate Kid Part III, Weekend at Bernie's, Uncle Buck, Turner & Hooch, Jason Takes Manhattan, and The Abyss, but all on video. I know for a fact that I did see the rerelease of Disney's Peter Pan at the drive-in, but I know just as well that I spent the whole time looking over at the next screen to watch Batman. I would love to throw a Do the Right Thing or a Sex, Lies, and Videotape in there, but those kinds of movies weren't anywhere near my radar yet. I was 6, and the potential of cinema as a genuine art form rather than a means of entertainment did not fully manifest until I was much older. 

- cs