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With 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife,' fans welcome a new generation to their ranks

Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Podcast (Logan Kim).
Kimberley French
Sony Pictures
Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Podcast (Logan Kim).

Here's the thing about 1984's Ghostbusters: It's got comedy, it's got romance, it's got horror and it's got sci-fi.

That blend of genres — somehow accessible to both children and adults — helped create legions of die hard fans. It also laid the foundation for a gigantic market for children's toys and adult apparel.

My identical twin brother Dan and I — as well as many other fortunate ones from our generation — had parents who decked us out in Ghostbusters gear. From clothes to action figures to plastic proton packs and ghost traps.

Ghostbusters is the kind of film my brother and I quoted long before we fully got the joke. It's also a film that I've seen hundreds of times, never tiring from the techno-babble or the dry wit of some of its stars.

It's also a movie I've built friendships on: anytime certain friends and I see one another, there is healthy talk of Ghostbusters or some new project rumored to be in the works.

Ghostbusters Afterlife — the long-awaited third canonical installment in the franchise — explores a family discovering the long lost later-years of the bespectacled, gadget-wielding, deadpan stoic Dr. Egon Spengler — originally played by Harold Ramis.

Namely, the film focuses on the similarly nerdy and endearing Phoebe, his granddaughter, played by McKenna Grace. The big moment, of course, is when the original Ghostbusters finally make their return.

It's clear from the outpouring of joy from so many fans, that, yes, we had — indeed — missed our goofball heroes. (Just take a quick scroll through the hashtag #GhostbustersAfterlife on Twitterto see for yourself.) The film topped the box office on opening weekend.

As Ghostbusters Afterlife co-writer and director Jason Reitman said in a recent interview, "Ghostbusters might be the scariest film you ever saw when you were seven or the funniest film you ever saw as a teenager. It really is different things to different people."

Enduring love for the original

As New York-based independent screenwriter Adam Bertocci described it, the original Ghostbusters film is "lightning in a bottle."

"There's just this magic that happened — an alchemy — where every thing came together so beautifully," Bertocci said of the 1984 film, directed by Reitman's father, Ivan Reitman.

A decade ago, Bertocci penned a pseudo-academic look at the film titled 'Overthinking Ghostbusters' — an appropriate nod to our beloved flunky scientists-turned-working class heroes.

Bertocci used the website to launch a campaign to get Ghostbusters in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. In 2015, he wrote the essay that accompanies the film's inclusion as a touchtone of American culture in film.

So it should be no surprise that — when it comes to other films in the franchise — absolutely nothing could top the original for Bertocci.

The Ghostbuster franchise continues with varied success

While Ghostbusters II reunited the original film's stars (including Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis and Annie Potts), the 1989 sequel was generally received with a "meh" from most fans. It was good, but failed to fully recreate the genius of the first film.

And criticism of a 2016 reboot with all-woman Ghostbusters (including Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig) got highjacked for all the wrong reasons, Bertocci said.

The Paul Feig-directed, non-canonical installment is indeed flawed, but not because those busting ghosts are women.

"I think they weren't clear in the marketing initially [about] what kind of movie it was — if it was a sequel, if it was a remake, if it was a reboot," Bertocci said, noting that the film seemed much like a long episode of the animated series The Real Ghostbusters.

As NPR's Bob Mondello and Andrew Limbong noted upon the release of a trailer, as a result of a anti-female trolling campaign, the 2016 reboot became the most "disliked" YouTube movie preview of all time.

However, the 2016 film did kindle a deep interest for Erika Bartlett, who is part of the Indianapolis-based Circle City Ghostbusters (one of the many "franchises" or groups of Ghostbusters fans around the world).

"[My husband and I] got interested in joining an actual franchise or group in 2016 because of the new movie," Bartlett said. "We just wanted to be a part of a local group to try to be involved with charity work and had been working on building packs and things like that."

Ghostbusters fan groups, like the one Bartlett is a part of, hold fundraisers for various charitable causes, visit sick children in hospitals and take part in parades and other community events. They do so, of course, dressed in full Ghostbusters gear — including flight suits, carefully constructed replica proton packs and other accessories.

With 'Afterlife' the Ghostbusters return to canon and score big

With heathy doses of fan service and nostalgia, Ghostbusters Afterlife may not be lightning in a bottle, but it is close enough for many fans.

"My two daughters went with us on opening night and, honestly, it's renewed their interest in Ghostbusters as well, which has been great to see. It's almost like [Ghostbusters: Afterlife] is good for old fans and new fans alike," Bartlett said.

As for Bertocci, he said he enjoyed the latest installment in the franchise about as much as possible.

"I think it had a job it was hired to do and it did it without destroying too much in the process — which is the most appropriate thing you can say about a Ghostbusters movie," Bertocci said.

Mayette Eggleston, who coordinates the work of the Fort Collins Ghostbusters group, said she first saw the 1984 classic as a teenager in the Philippines. She said she was excited for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but she wanted to be surprised.

"The only trailer I watched was the original trailer — and I refused to watch the trailers that came out after that because I didn't want any spoilers," Eggleston said.

Mayette Eggleston (front, center) poses with members of the Fort Collins Ghostbusters group.
/ Courtesy Mayette Eggleston
Courtesy Mayette Eggleston
Mayette Eggleston (front, center) poses with members of the Fort Collins Ghostbusters group.

Despite the wait (including a year-plus pandemic delay for the film's release), Eggleston also really loved Ghostbusters: Afterlife. She said the film's ties to the original — and new characters like Phoebe — are getting many fans on board with a more inclusive franchise.

For Eggleston and others, it's clear there's room in many fans' hearts for a whole new kind of Ghostbuster: "It's opening a path for the younger generation," she said, "to become Ghostbusters and continue on with the legacy."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dave Mistich
Originally from Washington, W.Va., Dave Mistich joined NPR part-time as an associate producer for the Newcast unit in September 2019 — after nearly a decade of filing stories for the network as a Member station reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In July 2021, he also joined the Newsdesk as a part-time reporter.