Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ghostbusters @ 25: Ernie Hudson, Winston Zeddemore and the fourth wheel

In Ghostbusters: Winston Zeddemore is hired a half hour into the movie, and for what? To carry the workload? He has no special skills. He doesn't seem to be compelled by the job, either, but answers an ad in the paper and is screened by Janine Melnitz simply because he needs work.

Janine: Do you believe in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis?

Winston: Ah, if there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say.

Why would Stantz and Spengler hire someone who doesn't share their passion for the paranormal? Maybe it's because Winston is the only person to show up for the interview. Or the only person who is open-minded enough to believe in the work. (Wikipedia says Winston was a firefighter, which has a passing relationship with ghostbusting I guess.) When Ray first meets Winston, he treats him with a certain dismissive acceptance. The most we know about Winston is that he's a bit religious, if not superstitious. Winston loves "Jesus's style," which maybe prepares this newbie for facing a demon. Winston does get some good lines ("That's a big twinkie," "Ray, if someone asks if you're a god, you say YES," "I've seen shit that will turn you white" and the final line of the movie: "I love this town!"), but he never grabs for the movie's center. He just adds a little bit of color (excuse the pun) and flexible skepticism to the otherwise academic trifecta of ghost-obsessed white men. Notice the blocking in the screenshot at the top of this post.

The biographical rundown: The Ghostbusters series was obviously Ernie Hudson's one-and-only huge hit. He made the first when he was 39. The Yale graduate subsequently appeared in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Congo. He's often cast in roles of authority: a sergeant in both The Crow and Airheads, the warden on "Oz," FBI assistant director in Miss Congeniality, detective in "Desperate Housewives" and a doctor in several other minor movies. Today, at 62, he seems to be a regular on the comic convention circuit and is, with the other members of the original cast, lending his voice to the newest Ghostbusters video game.

What it all means: One wonders how the franchise might be different if Eddie Murphy had accepted the role. The dynamics certainly would've changed. In the '80s, no one was a bigger comic star than Murphy. Ghostbusters 2, especially, would've probably been all about Murray and Murphy battling for screen supremacy. But with an unknown like Hudson in the role, the franchise started as a buddy comedy between three white guys. The first movie's poster did not include Winston Zeddemore. The trailer didn't mention Ernie Hudson. This would be rectified when the sequel came out. Either way, Hudson and Winston always felt like the fourth wheel on a tricycle. This wasn't an entirely bad thing. It was just curious. I assume Hudson will be asked back for the third movie so the purists do not erupt with anger. Here's hoping. And to close, here's how the original movie's trailer would've looked if Hudson had been the star:

Upcoming: Bill Murray, Annie Potts, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver. Previously: Dan Aykroyd, Rick Moranis.

6 comments:

Rusty said...

I haven't been keeping up with blogs as of late. But missing these Ghostbuster posts is unaccpetable.

I will be a better reader.

Re Ernie Hudson, my DVD copy of Ghostbusters II doesn't have Ernie Hudson's name on it. Weaver? Moranis? Of course.

But no Hudson.

J.J. said...

Yeah, I noticed that too on my copy. I watched both movies last night and there's even a brief episode of egregious framing. When the Ghostbusters are lined up outside the museum in the sequel, the camera swoops in to get a reaction shot from Ramis, Murray and Aykroyd. Hudson is behind them, obscured by one of the proton packs. It's really quite striking, and kind of unfair.

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