The way film trailers are produced and edited says a lot about a movie’s intended audience: possibly more than the film itself. The clips, the taglines, the music, the tone are selected to say to a specific demographic, “this is your movie”. The trailer for the 2016 all-female Ghostbusters film makes no bones about its target audience.
Like the majority of films forming the current wave of Eighties blockbuster reboots, it contains familiar title cards set to a tinkly, down-tempo version of the original soundtrack for maximum nostalgia – see also: Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But unlike these two films, it positions this part at the beginning of the trailer, not the end: using it as a way to establish the ground of the original, before destabilising it, rather than to imply you can revisit all the glory days of childhood (the days when blockbusters were male by default) simply by popping down to a theatre near you.
Instead, Ghostbusters uses this space to explain the premise of the 1984 film, as if you might have never heard of it. “30 years ago,” two cards read, “four scientists saved New York.” And that’s it. The entire original movie, summed up in about four words, and put aside.
We’re told that, this summer, “a new team will answer the call”. Enter Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig. More caricatured than the original team, they are decked with costumes and props that reveal their comedy characters: McKinnon, mid Pringle chomp, is wacky and unladylike; Wiig, all buttons and tweed, is the formal, academic nerd; McCarthy, concerned yet directorial, with camera in hand, is the trio’s operational and moral leader.
And, as soon as we’ve digested this information, Wiig is suddenly and violently showered by a stream of thick green ectoplasm. “That stuff went everywhere, by the way. In every crack. Very hard to wash off.” This is the female-fronted, visceral comedy of Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy. In less than one minute, the trailer has called to mind the traditional movie, and vomited neon goo all over it.
The next 30 seconds are devoted to describing our female leads in more detail. (Note: no men.) We meet the car (Ecto-1 is a hearse, not an ambulance), but still no men. We see our girls in costume (and there’s a nice little joke about female reluctance to be seen as bossy), but still no men. There are gun fights, but still no men. Two minutes in to this two-and-a-half minute long trailer, and the only men we’ve seen are the ones running and screaming from crowds. (Dicks in distress?)
We’re finally treated to a delicious shot of Chris Hemsworth: handsome, silent, and dressed in a ridiculous “sexy ghostbusting geek” outfit, he is pigeonholed into the kind of eye candy role conventionally reserved for glamorous ladies who need rescuing.
here for wordless, lone male chris hemsworth in the ghostbusters trailer, tbh https://t.co/SA87qPsUPe
— Bim Adewunmi (@bimadew) March 3, 2016
I know the new GHOSTBUSTERS understands its demo bc the only shot of Chris Hemsworth is all body and *no* dialogue https://t.co/JRuK1vtYtM
— Alison Herman (@aherman2006) March 3, 2016
The trailer demonstrates that Ghostbusters is unashamedly aimed, not at fans of the original movie, but at women. Specifically, white women. Black female writers have expressed their frustration that the only black role is seemingly, like in the 1984 movie, a stereotypically streetwise sidekick: unlike the white scientist leads, Leslie Jones’s role is working class, sassy, and unacademic.
Three White female scientists and a Black woman who works for the transit authority. I just yelled out a curse word in Starbucks.
— jamilah lemieux (@JamilahLemieux) March 3, 2016
Because idg how you can have a whole movie of lady Ghostbusters and *still* have to have the one Black one play to stereotype.
— Fruit Salad of Life (@KendraJames_) March 3, 2016
This trailer makes it very clear that the platonic ideal of a 2016 Ghostbusters viewer is a younger, white woman. Male fans of the original movie felt this, and whined that the trailer betrayed the original: they wanted more of the same, not less of it. They wanted the carefully crafted nostalgia of the Jurassic World and Star Wars trailers (the latter detailed here by Dan Golding). This YouTube comment on the trailer is a case in point: “The only bit that got me was the piano music.”
Of course, this is a reboot, not a sequel, so there was less room for self-conscious nostalgia. The 2016 Ghostbusters only makes sense in a New York where the 1984 Ghostbusters never existed, so there’s no space for Bill Murray jokes or on-screen reunions.
But there’s a deliberate tone and style to this film’s trailer that feels insistently different to its predecessor. The second of the two lengthier clips selected gives off the same vibes as the first: we see Melissa McCarthy with ectosnot dripping from her nose and ears becoming “possessed” while a screaming Leslie Jones wrestles her to the floor and slaps her sideways. It’s absurd, it’s gross-out, it’s screaming physical comedy, and it’s unashamedly female. No wonder so many middle-aged, male fans of the original are disappointed.