Delving into Ghostbusters: The Expanded Supernatural Spectacular Universe…

By Shawn Robare

I had such a fun time reading the long sought-after Goonies novelization recently that I decided to dip back into my movie novelization collection to find another fun one to devour.  I wasn’t sure what to dip into next when I stumbled across a very reasonably priced copy of the Ghostbusters tie-in (reasonable being less than $10), so I decided that had to be the next on the reading pile.  As a quick side note, I really can’t believe how insane some of the secondary market prices are on a handful of these movie novelizations.  A nice copy of the American Ghostbusters (subtitled The Supernatural Spectacular) typically goes for around $30-$100, which is just loony toons.  A reader named Erin also recently pointed to the scarcity of the Labyrinth tie-in, and doing some research I found that it sells for between $50-$200?!?  WTF?  I understand that these can sometimes be a bit rarer than say your average Stephen King or Janet Evanovitch paperback, but those prices are downright crazy town.  Actually, I’m surprised that these two in particular haven’t been re-issued over the years due to the popularity of their respective franchises.  There’s some new-ish Labyrinth manga and a slew of special edition DVDs, why not a newer printing of the novelization?  I guess I feel lucky that I’ve managed to pick a bunch of these up here and there over the years for a buck or less, but there are still a few volumes that are just too rich for my blood (in particular the horror novelizations like Return of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th, and the Thing.)  Anyway, back to Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters Novelization

This paperback, which was printed in 1985 by TOR, was written by Richard Mueller and was adapted from and expanded on the screenplay by Aykroyd and Ramis.  The book is a little odd in that it’s not the first adaptation/novelization of Ghostbusters, that honor goes to Larry Miline who wrote a very faithful and dry translation of the script for Coronet, which was published in ’84 in the U.K.  That isn’t a slight against Miline, by the by, it just points to the fact that in the world of movie novelizations there are basically two philosophies, straight/faithful adaptation into prose or expansion.  Are either better or worse?  Well, I don’t think there’s a right and a wrong, just expectation and desire and what experience you want out of reading one of these.  I’m finding that I’m falling into the expansion camp.  I mean, the standard complaint one hears when watching a film that’s been adapted from a novel is that there was so much left out (whether it be plotlines or subtext.)  So when we reverse the polarity and adapt a movie to the novel format, it just stands to reason that there should be ample room to add a bit more story.  My wife, on the other hand, is four square against the idea of expanding the story and considers stray plotlines and subtext to be outside of “official” cannon.  Having grown up reading comics, I have to say that it’s a hard point to argue against.  But I’m also really fond of the Laser Disc/DVD/Blu-Ray format and all the wonderful bits and pieces it brings to the experience of watching films.  Deleted scenes, director and actor commentaries, and alternate casting snafus (like the original segments of Back to the Future shot with Eric Stoltz), all this stuff really goes a long way to enriching my love of these films.  Are deleted scenes canonical?  Who the hell knows.  All I know is that I love watching Michael Beihn and Bill Paxton set up the defensive robot machine guns in Aliens, or Troy picking on Mouth, Chunk, Data, and Mikey in the convenience store scene in Goonies.  Even though a lot of the stuff I’ve been finding in these novelizations is weird and at times swarthy (see my update on the Goonies novel review), I love that it exists.

So how does Ghostbusters: The Supernatural Spectacular fair in terms of expanded novelizations?  I’d have to say that so far it’s setting the gold standard for what a great expansion can be.  Whereas James Kahn took all sorts of weird twists and turns with the Goonies (both in the formatting, tone and added material), Mueller has done a pretty darn good job of keeping the added material and odd formatting in line with the experience of watching the film.  There are some included scenes that were either filmed and deleted (like a framing device for the film featuring two bums, Harlan Bojay and Leonard Cooms, that witness most of the story from afar), or some that I don’t think ever made it from script to production (like a sequence involving a newly wed couple encountering Slimer in their honeymoon sweet, prompting the hotel to contact the Ghostbusters.)  There’s also some space given to fleshing out the backgrounds of the majority of the main players; nothing too in-depth, but enough to flesh out the characters a bit more.  That’s not to say that there aren’t some weird aspects and wrong turns in the novel…

Some of the weirder aspects involve some odd point-of-view work in the text.  Though the book is largely written in 3rd person/omniscient, every so often Mueller dips into 1st person when he wants the characters to offer commentary.  It’s generally a weird shift in narration, but like I mentioned in the Goonies novelization, 1st person is a really tricky device to use when dealing with the transition of characters from film to page.  Dipping into the mind of a character that we’ve come to know and love though a film can be a very weird and disconcerting experience the writer goes “off script”.  For instance, everyone thinks about sex to one degree or another, but if I’m used to dealing with a character where this is never brought up, say the Librarian in the opening sequence of Ghostbusters, then when she starts “thinking” about how she feels guilty for seeking out all kinds of ancient kinky woodcuts featuring taboo sexual practices in the library’s non-public collection, well, I get pretty weirded out.  As far as I can tell, the librarian character in the script is slightly different; she’s written to be rotund and in her mid to late twenties, but for all intents and purposes the scene in the script is almost shot for shot what we’ve come to know and love in the final film.  Mueller, though, felt the need to paint her as a bit more sad and depraved, which for an incidental character is pretty weird.  This sort of thing pops up here and there in the novel, including in the scene where we’re first introduced to Dana as she gets out of a cab and goes into her building.  The narrative is fractured into a bunch of perspectives as a handful of people on the street take notice of her and give their two cents.  One of these includes an elderly man walking his dog who glances at her and thinks, “…how long (has) it been since it’s been long…”  I might be reading too much into the passage, but I’m pretty sure he’s referring to having a boner.  WTF?  On the other hand though, these dips into character’s minds can sometimes be fascinating, like the sequence when one of the terror dogs, Vince Clortho the keymaster, is hiding in Louis Tully’s spare bedroom during his client soiree.  Mueller actually dips into the terror dog’s mind to get his take on Louis.  Weird, but cool!

There’s another weird sequence that actually manages to answer a nagging question I’ve always had about the flick.  In the movie, during the big Ghostbusters success montage, there’s an odd dream sequence bit where Ray is being, um, “serviced” by a rather fetching ghost.  The bit that’s always bugged me is that Ray is wearing some sort of period military outfit in the scene with no explanation as to why.  I guess, since it’s framed as a dream (the screen has one of those flowing wavey filters as a transition into the scene) I always just assumed he was dreaming about being in the Civil War or something.  As it turns out, there’s an explanation for the military garb.

Ghostbusters Deleted Scene

In the book (as well as in the shooting script), there’s a sequence later in the film, right after Ray and Winston are driving through the city talking about the end of the world, when the two go to Fort Detmerring looking for a spook.  They split up and Ray stumbles upon a room that is a replica of a revolutionary war officer’s barracks.  He finds a uniform and puts it on, lays on a bed and promptly falls asleep.  When he wakes, the ghost they were looking for is about to go to town on his junk.  Apparently this sequence was largely cut, but I’m betting none of them wanted to ditch the blowjob joke, so they sandwiched it into the montage.  What’s even weirder is that this is actually the culmination of a plot thread in the book where Ray is both lonely and changing his feelings about catching the ghosts.  Since Peter is courting Dana and (in the book) Egon and Janine are becoming an item, Ray is looking to blow off some steam, and the experience with the ghost is just what he was looking for.  Also, there’s a bit with Ray thinking about how it might be wrong to catch these ghosts just to jail them in the containment unit, and when he awakes to his spectral date-night he wonders if maybe some ghosts are good.  Weird.

Ghostbusters Novelization 2

As far as what’s new, there are a ton of little interesting tidbits like the fact that Janine designed the Ghostbusters logo (the iconic no-ghosts image), while Peter came up with the name.  In the Ghostbusters success montage (and yes, there is even a montage in the book) there are segments when the GB’s are contacted by Revell models, Marvel Comics and TSR about licensing deals (none of which came to pass in reality even though all of this merchandising did end up at other companies including a West End role playing game, an Ertl AMT model kit, and a NOW comics series.)  Ok, there was a UK Marvel comics, but not a domestic one.  Their phone is also different in the book, consisting of a real number, 1-212-NO-GHOST.  There’s also some neat details with Ecto-1 and their equipment that is different than in the movie.  Part of the rig on top of Ecto-1 is there to sense and destroy (with lasers) anything placed on the vehicle when it’s locked and left alone, like parking tickets.  Also, the proton packs produce a generator field when powered on that will affect people standing near by that don’t have their own pack on.  This field will make your hair follicles itch as well as heat up any metal on your person including the fillings in your mouth.  Another interesting tidbit is a slight difference in the containment unit.  In the book (and I believe in the script as well), there is a observatory window on the unit so that you can see the ghosts that are inside.  This comes up in a few scenes, most effectively when Ray ends up coming down at night to look inside, getting bummed by all the sad trapped ghosts that are just pacing around inside.

Ghostbusters Novelization 3

I don’t want to spoil all the differences in the book for those that might want to read it, but I did want to point to the fact that Mueller did a really good job of fleshing out Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston.  There are sequences that illustrate the friendship of Peter and Ray, including a scene where Ray takes Peter home with him for a family reunion only to have him run off with his sister and his brother’s rental car, effectively making Ray an outcast in his own family.  According to Mueller, Egon has a bit of a destructive thread in him starting back in childhood when he constructed homemade bombs that he used to detonate in deserted parking lots.  Egon is also painted as fairly asexual, much in the same way that Sheldon Cooper is portrayed on The Big Bang Theory, though he does end up hooking up with Janine by the end of the book.  My favorite bit of character background involves Peter’s family being part of a traveling carnival.  He grew up a carney, and extremely devoted to his family (both immediate and communal), and viewed all other outsiders as rubes, marks, or those to be avoided.  It illustrates why he has the extremely outsider and sarcastic streak in him…

All in all, this is the type of reading experience I’m loving with these movie novelizations, and I’m dreading the first book that reads chapter and verse straight from the finished film.  I think the next book I’m going to cover will be Gremlins, by George Gipe, as I’ve heard that there’s an expanded back-story involving the Mogwai as aliens.  Here’s to hoping it’s half as good as Mueller’s Ghostbusters.  Oh, and before I forget, here’s a link to where you can download PDF copies of either Larry Miline’s original novelization, or Mueller’s The Supernatural Spectacular.  I don’t condone piracy by nature, but this book tends to be so darned over priced on the secondary market that it might take awhile to luck into an affordable copy like I did…

  • Trekie313 – Cool! Just another reason why I need to finally take the plunge and buy a Blu-Ray player…

  • Trekie313

    Actually the scene with Slimer haunting the honeymooners was partially filmed. It’s on the Blu-Ray/DVD

  • Finky – Cool! Thanks for posting those. I ended up picking up the Poltergeist and Howard the Duck books. I need to snag that Fast Times book soon. I actually wrote about the Goonies book here:

  • Finky099
  • Finky – I have the Ferris Bueller novelization. Haven’t read it yet, but it’s sitting next to another odd ball tie-in, The Three Amigos. Neither of these feel like they’d make a great book, but I had to have both. Hmm, Fast Times, now that I’m really curious about…

  • Finky099

    Shawn- A Ferris Buehler adaptation? I. MUST. LOCATE. Fast Times At Ridgemont High is one of those novelizations that I’ve seen for sale at a crazy ridiculous price. I remember looking for it about ten years ago when I found out such a thing actually existed. I found one or two copies on the internet but they were going for $80-$100. Go forth and complete your BTTF novel trilogy (I saw Part III on Amazon as well.)

  • Finky – Not sure about why exactly, though if I had to guess it’s probably because novelization seem to be much more popular in Europe, and since their version was published first it leads me to believe that the US publisher didn’t see a lucrative return on investing in a manuscript. But after the film was released (the tie-ins are usually scheduled to be released at least a month before the movie to “lend a literary credence” to the production), the flick proved so popular that they felt the need to capitalize on the interest and they hired a new writer as it was probably cheaper and easier than optioning the UK book. It amazes me the books they get over there that we never saw back in the day (Ferris Bueller, Innerspace, the Goonies, etc.) I still need to read the BTTF books. I have the first, but I need to pick up the second. Thanks for the link!

  • Finky099

    Shawn, I had no idea there were TWO adaptations of Ghostbusters. I’d be interested to know what resulted in that. Speaking of other movie-to-novelizations, the first I ever read was Back To The Future 2. I was maybe a junior in high school and being a big, big BTTF fan, I was (1) amazed I never knew about the adaptation (this 1993, so internt didn’t exist as we now know it) and (2) surprised there was story expansion beyond what we saw in the final cut of the film. unfortunately, time has wasted away specific memories of what was different, but I just found some relatively inexpensive copies on Amazon, in case you want to add one to your collection: Keep up the great work on Branded! Ryan

  • Joseph – Yeah, I love the slower moments in flicks that really give the time to breath and just be. Oh, and not only was the scattering of the photos weird, but they’re also out of order. There’s a few of the Gozer battle way before they even get there in the book. That’s interesting about the Dr. Who novels, I wonder if some of the other TV series adaptations follow suit (thinking about Quantum Leap and Highlander…)

  • Paxton – Just looked through your flickr set, and the rest of your sets and lost a couple hours. I need to scan the covers of more of my copies soon. Looking forward to your coverage of the horror novelizations this Halloween for sure!

  • This is not unlike fans who collect novelizations of old Doctor Who stories – the books offered a second chance to improve on what was shot onscreen. They’re so highly regarded that reprints of a select few packaged in issues of Doctor Who Magazine a few years back and now, new “special editions” with introductions and afterwards by other authors are being published. Thanks for the link to the novel. It’s interesting how the book scatters the photos randomly – nowadays they just offer a separate middle section with the photos in color. That scene with Winston and Ray in the car is one of my favorite scenes in the film – I think it’s because the plot is very busy and somehow, someway, there was time to shoot this little scene where they talk shop. It’s actually a thing of the past to have scenes like that. You don’t see that in the Transformers movies!

  • I was able to get both Ghostbuster movie novelizations off of for free (technically about $2 for shipping). My Ghostbusters novel is the Milne version and it’s almost a scene for scene rewrite of the script. Disappointing. I have scanned in a bunch of my collection on Flickr. Check out my movie novelizations set. I’ve actually borrowed several of the Friday the 13th/Nightmare on Elm Street novelizations from a horror collector friend of mine after I had trouble obtaining copies. I’m reviewing them for the Halloween Countdown this year. It’s insane how high priced those have become. By the by, I’m firmly in the expansion camp. Why read the novelization for a straight up adaption when you can just watch the movie again?

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  • Calum Neil Ryan

    I read the gremlins novelization, I think it’s slightly infamous for a chapter made up entirely of two words.

    • I need to finish that one, I started reading it and got sidetracked.