Dan Aykroyd's itching to suit up for a third 'Ghostbusters' film and a reunited cast on the video game means there's more than a ghost of a chance.
Dan Aykroyd has waited two decades for the "Ghostbusters" film franchise to come back from Hollywood's great beyond and now it's so close he can feel it in his bones.
"I'm just waiting for that magic phone call," Aykroyd said with a wistful smile. "One day, the producer calls you and says, 'We have a production number,' and that's the real green light. And it's coming soon, I hope. . . . We could be in production by winter."
No Hollywood moneymaking franchise every really gives up the ghost (just ask that dusted-off archaeologist Indiana Jones), but 25 years have passed since the first "Ghostbusters" film and 20 since its lone sequel, and there's reason to wonder whether the franchise's quaint paranormal high jinks would even appeal to a "Harry Potter" generation accustomed to more sophisticated spookery.
Still, Aykroyd and Columbia Pictures are true believers when it comes to the franchise's 21st century afterlife, and one of the main reasons is the upcoming "Ghostbusters: The Video Game," a fact that says a lot about the changing physics of the modern entertainment marketplace.
On June 16, Atari will release the much-anticipated "Ghostbusters" title, which has taken on a mythical aura for gamers after years of delays, a budget north of $12 million and the number of times the property changed hands before landing at troubled Atari. Despite all that, there is intense consumer interest in the game (especially since the maneuvers required to "trap" ghosts lend themselves to some novel game play), and it brought together the core of the original cast for voice work -- two facts that have restarted the dormant "Ghostbusters" film machinery. Here's an exclusive trailer for the video game:
Ivan Reitman, producer and director of the two films, said the video game essentially hit the restart button on the franchise.
"The game itself, and the quick acceptance and intense interest in it, reminded all the creative participants that we have something special here," he said last week. "I think the game, along with the anniversary of the first movie and the Blu-ray release of the two movies [on June 16], all of it reminded us that it's kind of silly that we're not being more active about it."
"Ghostbusters" as a property is controlled by a five-way partnership: Columbia Pictures, Reitman and three of the stars -- Bill Murray, Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. Each has a veto on a new project. Now, for the first time, all five think a third movie should be made. There's some agreement on a plot that involves the original stars, joined by a "new generation" of paranormal investigators.
Within the next month, a script is due from "The Office" writing tandem of Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, the same scribes behind the upcoming Ramis-directed comedy "Year One." It's not clear whether Reitman would direct or whether Ramis, the director of "Groundhog Day" and "Caddyshack," would step in.
"We're going to read the script and, really, nothing has happened or will happen until then," Reitman said. "It's just talk until then."
Perhaps, but Aykroyd, who co-wrote the two movies with Ramis, is already under the spell of the venture. Sitting on an outdoor balcony recently at the Sunset Strip House of Blues (a chain he co-founded), the 56-year-old "Saturday Night Live" alumnus couldn't disguise his excitement.
"I'd like it to be a passing-of-the-torch movie," he said. "Let's revisit the old characters briefly and happily and have them there as family, but let's pass it on to a new generation."
Then, with his familiar deadpan delivery, he added that the creaky stars of the original movie just can't sling their proton packs the way they used to.
"We've all got hip replacements, shoulder stitches, Harold's eyesight is failing, I can't drive anymore. . . ."
For years, "Ghostbusters" stood as the most successful franchise in Columbia's long history (Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" films now hold that title), with the first film pulling in $292 million worldwide and the sequel adding $215 million. In 2008, a reader poll by Entertainment Weekly ranked "Ghostbusters" as the best comedy of the previous 25 years, and the movies have been perennial strong performers on home video.
Reitman sees the franchise as an inspiration to many of the special-effects comedies that have followed, such as "Men in Black," "Beetle Juice" and this summer's "Land of the Lost," all of which blend daffy characters with intense effects and real jeopardy.
"I call them genre-benders, taking special effects and putting them together with comedy and making them work legitimately," Reitman said.
"It was a jolting thing when 'Ghostbusters' hit. In the opening sequence at the library . . . at the first screening, half of the people screamed like crazy and then they laughed. They were <i>pumped</i>. They realized they were in for a unique ride."
But is that magic still there? Aykroyd pointed to last year's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" as an example of how a 1980s brand can be updated successfully (and, he noted, the alien skulls "reminded me of the Coneheads"). The fedora revival got decidedly mixed reviews, but it also pulled in a robust $787 million worldwide.
Aykroyd has revisited other past glories (some fans may remember the 1993 film "Coneheads"; most would like to forget "Blues Brothers 2000"), but Murray has been far more standoffish.
As Reitman put it: "I think he's always been the most careful about employment. I think he's the most enigmatic of us and the most hard to reach among us."
The fact that Murray lent his voice to the video game project was a major turning point, considering he had been frosty to the franchise after the 1989 sequel left a sour taste in his mouth. ("He actually showed up and did it," Aykroyd said of the voice work, "so that's a miracle.")
Murray could not be reached for comment for this article, but at a news conference last year in New York for the film "City of Ember," he expressed a newfound cheer about the franchise that solidified his stardom in the 1980s.
"The wounds of 'Ghostbusters II' are healed," the wry Murray said. He added: "We did a sequel, and it was sort of rather unsatisfying for me, because the first one to me was the goods. It was the real thing. And the sequel . . . the special-effects guys got it and got their hands on it. And it was just not the same movie. There were a few great scenes in it, but it wasn't the same movie."
Despite the public perception, Aykroyd said Murray was not the lone stumbling block.
"I don't put not making the third movie on Billy . . . you can't blame an artist for not wanting to do the same thing again. He did two of them, for God's sake. Although I'm the biggest cheerleader as the originator of the concept, but I've never begrudged Billy not doing a third movie."
Murray also had positive things to say last year about the new screenwriting duo, but it's of course possible that he might read the new script and decide to pass on this entire cinematic séance. Aykroyd hopes not; he's already doing some cast daydreaming -- he'd like to see Alyssa Milano (who lends her voice to a character in the video game) and Eliza Dushku of "Dollhouse" as the first female Ghostbusters. "I think they're amazing," he said. "And I'm excited about the whole idea of getting this done."
You could almost hear Ray Parker Jr. singing the familiar theme song as Aykroyd smiled and said: "I'm just waiting for that phone call."
-- Geoff Boucher
Photos: Top is Dan Aykroyd (Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times). Next down is a photo from the original 1984 release of "Ghostbusters" with Bill Murray, left, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (Credit: Columbia Picturs), and last is a screenshot from the 'Ghostbusters' video game (Credit: Atari).
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