The new 'Ghostbusters' could be better and funnier, says Aykroyd.

By Jeff Labrecque
Updated October 28, 2015 at 10:25 PM EDT
Insight Editions

More than 30 years after Ghostbusters, the sci-fi-comedy blockbuster is branded on our pop-culture consciousness — and not just because Paul Feig’s 2016 reboot with an all-female cast will revive interest in ectoplasm and proton packs. Over the years, Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd have encountered iconic symbols and obscure characters of the franchise in some unusual places. There was the guy who showed Aykroyd his back tattoo of the androgynous Gozer, and the other fan who had his leg inked with a deranged Rick Moranis wearing a colander on his head. And the Army sergeant who paid tribute with three Ghostbusters tattoos, including one of Mr. Stay-Puft.

These are the passionate fans who likely will need to own Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History, a new celebratory deep-dive into the franchise, packed with pages of behind-the-scenes photos and rare concept art. “They collected stuff I didn’t even know existed any more,” says Reitman, who penned the book’s introduction. “It’s really a love-letter to the [two] movies and to the whole idea of Ghostbusters.”

Ghostbusters was originally Aykroyd’s brainchild, and he remains the heart of the creative team that included Reitman and the late Harold Ramis. Together with their families, they spent three weeks in July 1983 at Aykroyd’s vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard, fine-tuning his 80-page treatment that had helped get the studio greenlight. While their wives and children enjoyed the beach, the sights and sounds of the island were completely wasted on the three men, who hunkered down in Aykroyd’s basement and pounded away at his Royal electric typewriter. “It was really quite factory-like,” says Aykroyd, who wrote the new book’s foreword. “The basement was painted Third Reich green and had horrible stains on the block walls. I had some bunk beds set up with blinds. It looked like a hospital ward in a German war hospital. It was quite depressing.”

“What I remember was the confidence that the three of us had in getting there,” says Reitman. “We just worked all day until dinner time, and we just kept adding very, very quickly. After two weeks, we actually had a draft. It wasn’t the greatest draft, but it was a pretty amazing draft, nevertheless, that worked.”

Afterwards, back in Los Angeles, the script was shaped even further. And eventually, the cast sprinkled magic dust on it during production, with Bill Murray and Rick Moranis, in particular, making the kinds of classic contributions that can only be made in the spur of the moment.

The film was a huge blockbuster in the summer of 1984, and the rest is history: the cartoons and toys, the video games, the long-awaited and not exactly beloved 1989 sequel, and the constant game of Hamlet that Murray played regarding a third film. “Look, he was not interested in doing the second one,” says Reitman, with a chuckle. “He doesn’t really like the idea of sequels, and we were burdened with that at the start. We got close a few times. Bill kept flirting.”

“I never begrudged him not being in the third movie, though I wrote a nice part for him in Hellbent, where the Ghostbusters go to hell,” says Aykroyd, who still holds out hope of bringing that Ghostbusters story to life with a younger cast. “He’s got very high standards and a high bulls— detector.”

When Ramis passed away in 2014, though, it was finally decided to start looking in a different direction, and Paul Feig’s new movie — with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones — became the first step in Ghostbusters‘ future. “It was time,” says Reitman, who’s producing the new movie along with Aykroyd and others. “For much the same reason that the original Ghostbusters couldn’t really be the stars of this movie, including Harold who passed away, it was time to get fresh blood in there. I think Paul’s idea of the gender shift was a very smart and fresh way to get everybody to re-look at this in a new way.”

“Paul’s kind of the George Cukor of Hollywood: He has a great touch directing female actors and he really knows how to hit the female psyche and sensibility,” says Aykroyd. “In a way, his movie might be a little better than the first two because they can do more — CGI might be a little better. But also, you know, there might be more jokes in it. I’m really happy with what I’m seeing.”

Aykroyd cameos in the new film — opposite Wiig’s character — though not as Ray Stantz. “None of us lobbied to be in the third movie,” he says. “We all felt that this Paul Feig concept was so strong that we didn’t have to be in it. But he called me. And of course, I said, ‘I want to help in any way I can.'”

Most of the original film’s stars also make an appearance, including Ernie Hudson, who played Winston Zeddemore in the first two movies and had recently expressed long-suppressed disappointment that his character wasn’t given more to work with. He told EW that Winston’s role was squeezed at the last minute, and as a result, he always felt like the fourth Ghostbuster.

But any hurt feelings have been resolved, and Reitman insists that Hudson was mistaken. “[Winston] got expanded; it ended up to be bigger than it was written,” says the director. “I’ve spoken to him about it since, because I saw it in the press, that somehow we had reduced the part, which is absolutely not true. It was quite the opposite. We kept borrowing from stuff the other guys had and giving it to him, because he was very good, and it balanced the film amongst all the Ghostbusters. We didn’t take a single scene out. In fact, we added a lot to his part. The stuff in the jail and in the mayor’s office — I don’t even recall that it in the initial shooting draft. I told him all that, and then he apologized.”

So Hudson is back in the Ghostbusters fold, but Rick Moranis still remains distant. He recently told the Hollywood Reporter that he had no interest in “one day of shooting on something I did 30 years ago.”

“Maybe Rick misunderstood that they wanted him to play the part that he had played in the first movie,” says Aykroyd. “The idea was that he would make a cameo but play a different part — maybe they didn’t make that clear to him. But he didn’t want to do it, and that’s his prerogative to say no. But we all wanted him and all we could do is make the suggestion.”

Moranis’ decision not to participate stands out slightly more because the new Ghostbusters even persuaded Murray to show up. “First of all, it’s a great scene,” says Reitman. “I finally called him up and I said, ‘Bill, you have to do this. This movie’s great, and you’re going to feel silly not being part of it.’ And he agreed.”

“I was surprised and delighted, because it was hard to read whether he was going to approve of the thing or not,” says Aykroyd. “It’s nice to have him back onboard. Now that he’s done this one, maybe he would come back and play Venkman for [another Ghostbusters] at some point.”

Just because he’s no longer playing Venkman doesn’t mean that Murray wasn’t Venkmanesque. “[The ladies] were swooning after he left,” says Aykroyd. “And he said, ‘[The new Ghostbusters are] all so great.'”

But will the new Ghostbusters be embraced when the movie opens in theaters on July 15? Some of the pre-release online reaction has been childish and negative, and Wiig recently said that all the gender-related manufactured outrage has really bummed her out. But resurrecting any classic comes with risks and an unbelievably high bar that Reitman acknowledges. “There’s always going to be people who are going to say, ‘Hey, it’s not as good!'” says Reitman, who expects to see a cut of the film in the next two weeks. “That may be true. But I believe the movie is going to be quite wonderful, because I know the cast works. The ladies in this new film are in every way as talented as that original group of actors were. They’re at the same place in their lives as Bill and Dan and Harold were when we did Ghostbusters. I have a lot of faith in it, and I have a lot of faith in Paul.”