So, the first trailer for Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters…remake? reboot? reimagining? – whatever – was released today and the responses on social media were a mixed bag, to say the least. Many fans took it for what it was and came away pleased, but there were others who were expecting…well, they can’t really say what they were expecting (situation normal) but it wasn’t that.
The two main arguments against the trailers are 1. It seems to be inherently racist and 2. The jokes are tired. While I enjoyed the trailer, I can absolutely see where the criticism is coming from. It’s a definite concern that the three white women in the movie are all highly-educated doctors with Ph.Ds and the one black woman is being portrayed as “street smart,” a persistent and damaging trope of black characters in movies and television that needs to evolve. And I know I’m not the only one who sighed at the laziness of “That’s gonna leave a mark,” a joke that has been recycled so many times that any any drop of humor it once held has long since been wrung out of it.
For whatever reason, the trailers for Paul Feig’s movies always seem to be cliché and cookie-cutter, but his movies go on to be well-received box office successes. It’s clearly not a problem with Feig’s movies themselves, but in how they’re marketed. But his comedies are marketed the same way that any broad comedies are marketed. With the exception of a few filmmakers, most comedies are portrayed the same way, meant to appeal to a wide audience that isn’t necessarily looking for high-brow humor, regardless of how smart the movie itself is. So let’s not pretend that the trailers to Feig’s movies would be met with as much criticism if his movies featured all-male casts instead of the all-female casts that he prefers, because – shocking, I know – no one gender has cornered the market on being funny. Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy, all were met with the same feedback: “This doesn’t look funny.” And all went on to be breakout hits. Can we just trust that Paul Feig knows what he’s doing, already?
Taking a broader view, the reaction to the Ghostbusters trailer speaks to a larger problem with moviegoing audiences in the age of social media and instant feedback in regard to trailers. If the initial trailer is not exactly what a demographic wants, the backlash is immediate and severe. But the trailer for Ghostbusters was exactly what it needed to be: a surface glimpse meant to ignite nostalgia and assuage fans’ fears that it would be a wholly alien reimagining, particularly the fans who have been raging for months that everything is ruined forever because vaginas. They may be idiots, but they’re still paying idiots and there are more of them than is comfortable. So yes, the initial trailer felt awfully close to being an almost exact remake of the original, but that was the point.”We’re remaining true to the spirit of the Ghostbusters that you know and love,” the trailer says, “we’re not reinventing the wheel.” And hey, no one seemed to have much of a problem with it when Star Wars: The Force Awakens essentially did the same thing, right?
Put on your reality hats for a moment, progressive-minded movie watchers. While many of us would have been absolutely delighted with a trailer that absolutely broke the mold, can you imagine how the majority of the internet would have reacted had it appeared that Paul Feig’s remake, already under heavy criticism for the aforementioned vaginas, had completely departed from the original? The first trailer was never going to give away the best jokes or meant to be cultural criticism.
That’s not what an initial trailer is meant to do. The job of an initial trailer is to give audiences a quick sketch and get as many people on board as possible. That’s it. Subsequent trailers can focus more specifically on a particular angle or flesh out characters more fully, but not the first trailer, especially not for any film that costs upward of $100 million to make or one that has already been met with criticism. Just look at the reaction to the most recent, final trailer for Batman v Superman as an example. There was quite a bit of feedback from fans who felt that it was the trailer that Warner Bros. should have released first. The problem is that last trailer is very Batman-centric, but – and here’s what audiences haven’t understood yet – it was tailored that way in response to feedback from fans and test audiences regarding the first few trailers and initial screenings. For the very first trailer, the studio needed to establish both Batman and Superman in the film, introduce Lex Luthor, and build the world evenly.
Had fans gotten their wish and been given the Batman-focused third trailer from the start, they would have cried that Superman was being pushed out of a film in which he shares top billing, and there would have been further criticism from people who felt we’ve already had enough Batman in live action and it’s time to give attention to other characters. The third trailer being what it was and when it was wasn’t an oversight on Warner Bros.’ part, but deliberate, just as it was a deliberate choice that first trailer gave us an overview of the story and established the tonality of the world rather than diving too deeply into one area or another. It’s the same here with the Ghostbusters trailer.
It’s worth pointing out that Leslie Jones’ character, Patty, has been referred to as a “municipal historian” by Sony, and the going rumor is that she has a Ph.D. in History. Rewatch the trailer. She doesn’t point to her three white teammates and imply that they are smart and she isn’t, but that they are smart in science, whereas she knows New York. Fans took that as a reference to her street smarts, but if she does indeed have a Ph.D., it puts it in an entirely different context. It would make sense for a historian to know New York City inside and out – its subway systems, abandoned or not, the secret corners that no one else knows. I suspect Jones’ character will be fleshed out more fully in the film, just as I suspect the jokes will be more clever and comedic moments more creative than what we were given in the first trailer. Surely Paul Feig has earned our trust by now.
Next: Why Ghostbusters is Still Relevant Today
Even if he hasn’t, simply understanding what an initial trailer for a tentpole is and isn’t meant to do might finally stop audiences from breaking out the torches and pitchforks every time a new one one is released. And if not, well then…I guess this will make the fourth Feig movie in a row that surprises audiences with how good it is.