top of page

Comedy king Ivan Reitman regretted "over the line" sex scene in "Ghostbusters"

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

RIP 𝗜𝘃𝗮𝗻 𝗥𝗲𝗶𝘁𝗺𝗮𝗻, 75, screenwriter/director/producer and one of the funniest minds in film comedy ("Ghostbusters," "Animal House"). Proud Canadian whose family donated the land for #TIFF Bell Lightbox. He wanted people to have a good time at his movies, and they did. I talked to him for the Toronto Star many times over the years. We spoke most recently in 2016 for the all-female "Ghostbusters" reboot he produced, in which he admitted to one big regret about the first "Ghostbusters" movie:

Women vs. ghosts vs. fanboys — Ivan Reitman certainly didn’t expect a rumble like this for his cherished "Ghostbusters" comedy franchise.

The director of the original two films and producer of Paul Feig’s new all-female "Ghostbusters" reboot, arriving July 15, seems genuinely surprised about the large amount of online noise and outright sexism regarding the gender change for the spook hunters.

Some fans — including an online ranter called Angry Video Game Nerd — have damned the movie sight unseen. They reject giving the ghost-grabbing proton packs to Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones instead of original Ghostbusters Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and the late Harold Ramis.

“I didn’t really feel it until the trailer came out,” Reitman, 69, says of the fan roarback, sipping a diet cola during a Toronto visit.

“And it’s because there was all this preconception of what the film could be, should be, would be. Most people have focused on it as a gender issue and I think that gender was part of it, but it was much like it was with "Star Wars." This group of Internet aficionados, guys in their late 30s and early 40s, had seen the film as children and it had become a seminal movie for them.”

The easygoing Canadian filmmaker is proud to have such passionate loyalty.

But he knew “it was always going to be a disappointment” for hardcore Ghostbusters fans to see anybody but the original actors in the trailers “and it will be like that until the film comes out.

“It’s very hard,” he continues. “As a storyteller or as an artist, you just have to keep going and do things, but fans tend to see things through their own prism, with an enormous amount of love. They’re not writing from hate, they’re writing from love. I think they are — this is my theory!”

Reitman sounds like he’s trying to convince himself. But he’s relieved to finally be unveiling a new "Ghostbusters" movie of any kind. He’s been patiently fielding questions about a third Ghostbusters movie since at least the release of "Ghostbusters 2" in 1989. Plans were changed forever following the death of writer/actor Ramis in 2014 from an autoimmune disease.

The spook show would have to change to go on, so it did:

You really did have plans to direct a third "Ghostbusters" movie with the original cast. You had talked to me and other journalists about it.

Yes, it was a proper sequel, a passing of the torch by the historical Ghostbusters, to a younger group led by Oscar, the young baby in the second Ghostbusters. And it was quite lovely: the studio loved it, and greenlit it, and then we lost Harold and I saw no way to continue. I thought, I’ve directed these two, I’m not going to direct another Ghostbusters without that cast. I’ve lost one and probably two actors, because Bill was always the tough “yes.” The idea of passing the torch to somebody else suddenly seemed like a good idea, and really I loved a lot of this experience.

Did you have any regrets about not being in the director’s chair?

I’ve produced a lot of other directors, and even with first-time ones I try to stay away from the set as much as possible. It’s too tough (to be on set), because you’re thinking of things you would do if you were in the seat. But that’s their job now, and they’ve got to do what they’re thinking, and Paul’s one of the most accomplished ones in his own right that I’ve produced.

I just decided I would come on occasion and do so whenever my (original) cast would show up, and a few other times. But I’m not the kind of (producer) who is sitting on the set all the time.

The public first learned of plans for an all-female "Ghostbusters" about two years ago. Most people seemed to think, me among them, that the idea was brilliant.

And it is! That’s why I say I think it was an interesting online storm that was created by the psychological effect that I described (about fan loyalty to the original Ghostbusters) and then it got picked up by the real media, or whatever you call yourselves now. It got spun into something really big, which is unfortunate, because it could have a really debilitating financial result on the film. I don’t think that’s going to happen, because it’s been playing extraordinarily well (at advance screenings).

Getting the right four women together must have taken some time.

Yes, but when we did, that’s when I knew we were in good shape. We were saying this: “Whatever issues we may have on the script or anything else, those four women together are going to be brilliant.” That was the key in the films I directed, too; we knew that those guys together had something special. It’s so wonderful now to see it actually turned out that way.

The new "Ghostbusters" has a slightly stricter U.S. rating than the original (PG-13 as opposed to PG) yet it seems to me the first film was raunchier — there was that bedroom scene where Aykroyd is orally pleasured by a ghost.

(Sighs) That scene is probably the one thing that stepped over the line and in retrospect, I don’t think I should have done it. I know people love it, and just in terms of tone I think it’s really funny, but we were pushing the line.

The important thing about "Ghostbusters" is it was a family movie. It was so effective at working for adults and teenagers, while at the same time 6- and 7-year-olds would really enjoy the film on a whole other level. Everyone’s laughing, but they’re laughing at slightly different things. And as kids grow older and watch the movie again, they realize, oh, I missed that!

There have been many underperforming movie sequels this summer. The term “sequelitis” has been coined to explain it.

Yes, and it’s because they’re not finding a fresh way to do it; it just feels like you’re watching another version of the film you’ve already seen. The new Ghostbusters seems to walk the very careful line of certainly being in the spirit of the first and paying homage to the iconography of that film or films that you learned to love, while still finding a fresh story with fresh characters to play it out in. Plus, it’s been a long time. It’s been more than 25 years, so it’s not like you just saw this version of this movie a year ago or two years ago. Hopefully we’ll keep out of that particular unfortunate (sequelitis) situation!

(This interview originally ran in the Toronto Star.)



bottom of page