Putting aside that some people like the film and some don’t, a few thoughts on 2016’s Ghostbusters film, and the man who directed it.

There’s an argument put forward by writer, producer and director Richard Curtis that – and I’m badly paraphrasing – once you’re out of the release phase of a movie and six months have gone by, things move on. Then, Curtis argues, when people approach a filmmaker about their work several months on, it’s predominantly positive, no matter how the film in question’s release has gone down.

Since I first read this, I’ve been curious how true it is, and to my outside eyes, there’s something to it. It’s genuinely hard to find examples of people going out of their way to hate a film once the metaphorical dust has settled.

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Still, there are one or two out there. And in particular, over the past month or two, I’ve also seen a fresh wave of hate and nastiness being directed at a film from 2016, and the man who made it. That movie is Ghostbusters: Answer The Call and its director is Paul Feig.

A standard, but important, disclaimer for a piece like this: you like what you like, you don’t like what you don’t like. Lots of people I hugely respect don’t like Answer The Call. Lots of people do. This piece isn’t about debating the move itself. I’ve separately put together an article a while back on what it means to people here.

Instead, what this piece covers is the baggage that’s come with the film since before anyone had seen a frame of it.

Ghostbusters: Answer The Call

I was writing for Den Of Geek back in 2016 when Ghostbusters: Answer The Call came out. I gave it a three star review back then, and that still feels about right to me. My kids have chastised me for it, as they really like the movie. I had fun with it too, but also had problems. I put all that in a piece of writing with my (real) name attached at the time

Just before Christmas, and this hasn’t happened with any other review I’ve written in the last five years, someone sent me a message criticising me for defending it at the time, with lots of laughing face emojis. Why? I don’t quite know. After a passage of time, reviews sink into the ether, but me giving a film three stars clearly irked someone enough that five years later, they decided to point it out.

But that minor oddity was little compared to the latest wave of abuse its director, Paul Feig, has been receiving.

Sure, he’s a Hollywood director, and sure, he doesn’t need me wading in to defend him. But just on a human level, it just isn’t right. It’s one thing telling somebody you don’t like their film. It’s another coupling it with verbal attacks and abuse that show little sign of stopping. I don’t know what Feig’s Twitter notifications are like, but I dread to think. If he says anything about any of his other films, all seems calm. If he posts anything at all about Ghostbusters? Well, go and search the mentions yourself.

I can’t help feeling that Feig is a bit damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t where Ghostbusters is concerned. Recently, he took some fresh abuse after the release of 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife – again, I searched, I saw it – and then when he questioned, politely (which seemed to have been translated as ‘whining’ in some quarters), why his film was being left out of a Ghostbusters Ultimate Collection set for the home formats release in early 2022? Well, it started it again.

On that matter: Sony, I can’t help thinking, really sold him short in the first place by not including the film in the set. It had little shyness about releasing a set of the first three films before in 2016, and its decision now to offer a digital code for the third film as an afterthought hardly helps. Even appreciating the third film is the standalone one, if we’re now leaving films out of boxsets because they don’t follow the same narrative arc, that’s going to leave a lot of gaps. Just wait until people find out about James Bond films, or Spider-Man movies, or Planet Of The Apes films.

Still, it’s done now, but what should have been the simple matter of a disc release has given fuel to a subset of people who have needed little encouragement anyway to fire out their hate again. It’s a minority of Ghostbusters fandom – an otherwise very positive place in my experience – but it’s a loud and damaging minority. Social media’s powers of adjusting perception clearly don’t help here, but at the very least, there’s a determined group of people who seem to be hitting post after post with their views.

Ghostbusters Answer The Call

I’m all for constructive debate, but when people who like a film are just getting abuse for saying so, something’s clearly off. The fact that the level of hate in some is as vitriolic, vile and – of course – anonymous as it was five years ago is just exhausting.

Why isn’t it legitimate that people like the film? How does that make them not Ghostbusters fans? Why don’t their views count?

Even if you don’t like it, I see criticisms that basically land it all on Feig’s shoulders. Sony hired him for a reason, based on a body of work that I’d suggest he was true to when he came to Ghostbusters. I’ve seen people question Bill Murray’s role in the film, as if he was forced to do it or something.

As for Feig himself? Well, I don’t know how he puts up with it. I’ve followed his Twitter account for many years now, and I think he’s a class act (just look at his response to a review of Last Christmas, which must have stung but you’d never know from the perfect way he handled it). His response to criticism has been textbook, and he uses his social media channels to put good into the world.

Just once, it wasn’t so, and this is what Feig continues to be called out for, as if it justifies everything he’s had to take. Back in September 2015, months before Answer The Call was released, Feig snapped back at one person who’d been prodding and attacking and hurling abuse at him for many months. This single snapback – and one book interview he gave that was published a good deal of time after it happened, right in the middle of the Answer The Call – is held over the man as justification for the pile-on against him.

I interviewed Feig around the time of the film’s release in 2016, and he admitted that he felt he shouldn’t have replied and sent the post in question. I put to him that due to his profile, thousands of people could attack him with no consequence, yet if he said one thing back, that becomes the story. “Because now I’m an asshole. Now I will always be the guy who attacked them”, he predicted, sadly. And so it came true.

And yeah: it’s not a great look to tell someone to go, er, ‘cluck’ themselves. I can’t and won’t pretend otherwise. But one slip in the midst of a torrent of abuse that’d test any human being? Can’t we give the man a break, whether you like his work or not?

Paul Feig

What I didn’t print in that interview I mentioned before was that he took me through one or two of the things that had been aimed at him, including the death threats.

Death threats. Over a Ghostbusters movie. I’ve never been able to process that.

It was eye-opening and scary what I saw. I was also moderating the comments board at Den Of Geek at the time, and the stuff that I had to stop getting through was just horrendous. Whenever anyone tells me that the Answer The Call abuse was overblown, my mind heads back to all of that. To the comments I stopped being published. To an ugly side of people I’ve never seen around any film before or since (although one or two since have come very, very close).

I didn’t understand how dislike of a film turned into abuse back then, I don’t today.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

But ultimately, there’s this final point. Even looking past the continued battering of a film and the man who made it, what really puzzles me is that the people who have gone out of their way to hate Ghostbusters: Answer The Call got what they wanted in 2021: a direct follow-on to the two movies from the 1980s.

Why, then, aren’t they happy? Rather than celebrate that, why do they choose to hate in a manner towards a film that’s still both depressing and pointless?

When is it enough?

Furthermore, why waste the energy? Or, here’s a thought: why not channel that love of Ghostbusters into reducing the number of comments about a film you don’t like, and instead increasing the number of comments about the ones that you do? We all have a finite amount of internet comments, Tweets, Facebook posts and such like in us. How about dialling down the shitty ones, and instead talk about stuff that you like?

Chums, like what films you like. I keep coming back to that point. But surely, surely, surely: fandom is supposed to be celebratory. It’s about sharing something we love, not what we don’t? How about, five years on, we let those who like Answer The Call like it, and those who don’t, don’t.

Five years of debate has changed very few people’s minds, so it might just be time to accept all round that never the twain shall meet. And to cut out the hate, the abuse, and the toxicity at the same time.

Now who do I call for that?

As always, constructive debate is welcomed in the comments. Less constructive debate – and you the kind – will be deleted. Please be excellent to each other.

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