How ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ pulled off its tribute to Harold Ramis

by 24USATVNov. 20, 2021, 6 a.m. 20
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Warning: The following story contains plot spoilers for “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” If you haven’t yet seen the film, we suggest reading the review and this feature on the collaboration between director Jason Reitman and his father, Ivan, instead. And then come back when you’ve seen it.

Going way back when he was an impressionable 6-year-old visiting the set of his father Ivan’s 1984 smash “Ghostbusters,” Jason Reitman’s favorite member of the team of proton-pack-wielding specter-catchers was always Egon Spengler.

So when Reitman decided three years ago to pick up the torch of the beloved franchise, he knew that he wanted to pay loving tribute to the man who had brought the bespectacled, socially awkward Egon to life: comedy legend Harold Ramis, who died in 2014 at age 69 from complications from inflammatory vasculitis.

Reitman and his co-writer Gil Kenan constructed the new film “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” around Spengler’s estranged family. Egon’s single-mom daughter (Carrie Coon) and her two children (Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard) have inherited Egon’s decaying farmhouse in Oklahoma — and, as they soon discover, also unwittingly taken on his responsibility for keeping the world safe from malevolent spirits.

Placing Egon at the heart of the film offered a way to bridge the ‘84 “Ghostbusters” — co-written by Ramis and Dan Aykroyd — with a new younger generation that hadn’t yet been born when the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man first terrorized New York. But with Ramis, who also directed such classic comedies as “Caddyshack,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “Groundhog Day,” no longer here, Reitman knew he needed to handle the character with great sensitivity.

“The film’s journey is very much about the Spenglers but it was also very personal for me,” says Reitman, who shared the script before shooting began with Ramis’ widow, Erica, and daughter Violet. “The question was how to be how to be really respectful to the character of Egon Spengler. The question that Gil and I would ask ourselves the most is: what would Harold think of this? And are we actually capturing the voice of Egon, particularly through his granddaughter, who is modeled after him?”

In the film’s final scenes, the ghost of Egon materializes to help his grandchildren and his original fellow Ghostbusters — played by Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson — beat back the ancient, god-like evil spirit Gozer. Before vanishing back into the ether, Egon, with just a kindly smile and not a word of dialogue, makes peace with his daughter and salutes his ghostbusting compatriots. As Egon’s ghost returns to the beyond, the dedication “For Harold” appears against the night sky.

Speaking to The Times before the film’s release, Reitman was hesitant to say too much about Egon’s appearance in the film’s climactic moments. “People have held on to that secret and it’s a real gift to us that people feel protective of it in the same way that we do,” he said.

For Aykroyd, shooting the film’s final sequence, knowing the character of Egon would be standing beside him once again via CGI, was very emotional.

“There would be no ‘Ghostbusters’ without Harold, without his brilliant writing and his frame of reference,” Aykroyd said. “It was deeply moving to play the scene because I loved him and I miss him. He was just so funny and intelligent. Harold was a genius from Second City all the way through his career. “

Having paid tribute to a key member of the franchise’s family and planted seeds for a new generation of ghostbusting, the film delivers a post-credits sequence that teases a potential next chapter ahead.

Back in New York, Hudson’s Winston, who is now a wealthy businessman, appears to have rekindled the old ghostbusting itch. As Winston enters the now-abandoned firehouse that served as the Ghostbusters’ headquarters and runs his hand across the Ecto-1, the camera pans to reveal the blinking red light of the spectral containment unit, suggesting there may soon be something strange in your neighborhood.

Speaking about the future of the “Ghostbusters” franchise, Reitman said there are already ideas cooking for a potential afterlife to “Afterlife.”

“I love these characters, and I love this world,” he said. “I want to see other filmmakers I love making ‘Ghostbusters’ movies. Every culture in the world has a unique relationship with the supernatural, and there’s opportunity for all those stories. ‘Ghostbusters’ has for many years sat dormant at Columbia, and we wanted to make a movie that set a foundation for all kinds of films. And I’d love to be involved in that.”

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