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The writer-director-actor Harold Ramis discusses bashing pagan religion in his new comedy, defends the science of the proton pack and explains Egon Spengler's Vulcan ancestry.
A: I don't mean to offend any Christian person, I only mean to offend Jewish people, who I trust completely because I'm Jewish. I've always been interested in comedy that juxtaposes contemporary sensibility in the ancient world. After 9/11 I started thinking about the origins of fundamentalism and orthodoxy. People were arguing about creationism and was the world created in six days or not. I won't say it's an absurd belief, but the arguments are absurd, it seems to me. So I thought, "Let's look at Genesis, the seminal book of Western civilization."
Q: In that sense it's a lot like science fiction of the '50s and '60s, which tackled modern issues through fable.
A: During the blacklist in the '50s when you couldn't do anything remotely political, all these writers used science fiction and westerns to talk about issues in contemporary life. So yeah, I thought if I did a contemporary film about religion I'd be killed. But no one cares if you bash an ancient pagan religion.
Q: What was your favorite Bible story to riff on?
A: One very interesting thing to me was Abraham and Isaac. It's one of the most perplexing stories in Genesis: A father who is going to kill his son. And it's always discussed from the father's point of view, but I was thinking, "How does the kid feel?" There's a lovely essay about Abraham and Isaac heading home, and Abraham is saying, "You know I was just kidding. This is how men kid with each other. We're men now, aren't we? You and me?" And he says, "You know there's really no reason to mention any of this to your mother."
Q: Your original script had a scene with Noah and the flood. Why did you cut it?
A: For one thing, the budget would have been incredible -- recreating the arc, working on water. Then Evan Almighty was coming out -- maybe the most expensive comedy every made, and they were using up all the Noah's Ark capital. And it didn't work that well. So I said, "Well, I don't think we can do a Noah's Ark sequence without being compared to them."
Q: Maybe you can save it for Year Two.
A: There you go. Year One, 2. It sort of begs for Exodus, doesn't it? But I'm not sure I want to take on the Moses story. I never think of sequels anyway, which is ironic because everyone is talking about Ghostbusters.
Q: Does anyone ever try to debate the science of the proton pack with you?
A: No, we made an effort to understand the science of it ourselves. Dan [Aykroyd] and I are pretty good at pseudo-science. We can both write convincingly about these things. In fact I've been thinking of Spengler in the sequel as having spent the last several years working at the Institute for Imaginary Science in Geneva. The work they've been doing can't be explained in any perceptual, conceptual spatial or intellectual model that is currently known. So even we don't know what we've been doing.
Q: Dan Aykroyd has described the Ghostbusters video game coming out this week like it's a sequel to Ghostbusters 2. Do you agree?
A: It's funny, I never thought of it that way. The people involved are huge Ghostbusters fans. They initiated the project and really laid it out -- we get credited as writers, but it occurred to me it's actually ghostwritten. [Laughs] We contributed a lot and we had input on our final dialogue as we recorded it, but I can't say we wrote it. But it does feel like a movie -- my sons fired up the game, and it opened up like you're watching a Ghostbusters movie. Of course whenever my son got frustrated with the game, he'd shoot Venkman or Stantz with the proton pack.
Q: Why aren't you writing the screenplay to Ghostbusters 3?
A: I will share the story credit for this movie with Gene [Stupintsky] and Lee [Eisenberg]. Dan consulted on the story to some extent -- Ivan [Reitman] looked at everything. I won't say I'm skeptical, I'm just not counting on anything. For me, I've loved the Ghostbusters -- the whole concept of it has been great in my life. I'm happy to do another movie if the script was worthy. If it never happened I'd be fine.
Q: We hear you do a killer Leonard Nimoy impression.
A: Not really. I don't do an impression at all. But I always thought Spengler was a new-aged Mr. Spock. That was my concept for him -- a guy with no irony, who never smiled but who had all the important information.