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The heyday of the Ghostbusters failed as a voluminous movie franchise. The public got two great entries, but when sequels are the talk of the town, no one seems to have quite deciphered the formula that made Ghostbusters work to apply to a new take. The material must be understood and it takes a proper combination of a grounded sense of scale and a sense of humor. The genre fusion of sci-fi, action and comedy that Ghostbusters is categorized under has seen its fair share of misses, even from the likes of Ivan Reitman with 2001’s Evolution. It’s a tricky recipe that even the original creators of Ghostbusters haven’t been able to take to the next step of a third film. But thanks to licensing, the Ghostbusters have survived. Have they thrived? More so more recently. No need to just collect spores, molds and fungus. In the new millennium, the prominent and comprehensive lines of Ghostbusters-themed products have come out of the gates of Mattel and Diamond Select Toys, with an honorable mention from NECA. The Ecto-1 is running and puttering, so let’s stay on this road of memory lane after the jump.
“Very cheerful, my parents didn’t believe in toys . . . We had part of a Slinky. But I straightened it.” – Egon Spengler
NECA – National Entertainment Collectibles Association
NECA in 2004 did what 88MPH Studios did and celebrated 20 years since Ghostbusters. But instead of building off the old brand, they revisited it with collectible figures and bobble heads branded as Head Knockers. And like 88MPH Studios, their quality was of perfection. The figures included Gozer, Slimer, the Terror Dogs known as Vinz Clortho and Zuul. The bobble heads consisted of Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The precision in detail was remarkable for the pricing to the extent of even taking a sense of realistic texture into account. The two Head Knockers are some of the best bobble heads ever made with pristine sculpts and priceless paintwork. It’s only a shame their price has increased so much with the rarity experienced over the years. Well, a shame for those who didn’t get it at first at least. But with Vinz Clortho and Zuul looking as similar as they do in the pictorial compendium of Ghostbusters, I question whether the two Terror Dogs should have been released in separate packaging as they were. Selling the duo together in a combo pack, at a price only 50% higher than their fellow single figures, would have streamlined the toy line and made them more attractive to buyers.
But as with 88MPH Studios, the line was hampered from going further. The difficulty in licensing the men in jumpsuits just proved too much. The ordeal was especially tough considered the status of NECA. Where 88MPH Studios’ goal was valiant, NECA’s position was valid in the marketplace. It was one thing to have a startup like 88MPH Studios fail, but another entirely to have an established player like NECA not succeed with such a major brand in an anniversary year. 2004 was the year that made fans jump in excitement and 2005 drove a blow into the guts of them. If nothing could kick-start from the 20th anniversary with the quality in the attempts there were, could anything Ghostbusters-related, let alone a sequel, ever stay on its feet?
All was quiet after 2004 and then like the words on-screen at the introduction to Ghostbusters II, “5 years later,” is all it took. Mattel made a big splash in the headlines in 2009 when it acquired the license to produce Ghostbusters action figures. The toy line would become so long that it most definitely got fans excited into thinking there was momentum for a movie building up, many of whom had been waiting for the release of film-realistic figures for 25 years. The first figure, a slimed Egon Spengler with Slimer, was released exclusively at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Convention and received a very positive response from both action figure collectors and Ghostbusters fans alike. This was the same year the new Ghostbusters: The Video Game was released, so all of this was much to the itching of Ghostbusters fans from around the world, and could have been the merchandising world’s pulling technique to convince Columbia Pictures to get its act together and make a sequel already.
I haven’t been the biggest fan of Mattel’s work in the for-collectors category as a whole. It hasn’t been so much quality. It’s been the offering for the price, which at times has been too pricey. Often enough, you’d be in smarter company opting for something from DC Collectibles like their Batman: Arkham Asylum line, for instance. When it has come to Mattel’s Movie Masters, some series have left much to be desired. The Dark Knight trilogy had its fair share of nice sculpts and accessories that weren’t plentiful, but were understandable, be it a mask or gun. While these weren’t the cheapest, a fan could justify the pricing until maybe when it came to 2012 and after. The figures from The Dark Knight Rises that year were disappointing. They were awkward with poses that stood for nothing. The Toys“R”Us exclusive premium set of three costumed Batman figures from across the Dark Knight trilogy didn’t differ enough in my book, when you factored in their size and visual appeal, to justify asking around $50 for the box. The Man Of Steel figures this year have been plain and lacking any accessories. The costumes they were basing them on to begin with weren’t the most sensational to have replicated on a small scale, but excuses can’t be respected when they ask money for them nonetheless, especially the money Mattel likes to ask.
But the start of the 6-inch Ghostbusters figures from Mattel was superb when the company launched its Ghostbusters lineup. Mattel designed a series based on the original movies with great bundling within in each single package. You got your money’s worth when you had pack-in interchangeable heads, vibrantly-colored spooks, specters and ghosts, and a wide array of characters that encompassed Dana Barrett to Walter Peck and Vigo. It’s a bit shameful to have stalled before getting to the Terror Dogs though. Even the nameless Rookie that you played in the 2009 video game was molded into a 6-inch figure. That’s pretty unique: to have a video game’s avatar be available to offer you the opportunity to pretend the toy was based on you. The only thing that would have made the Rookie any cooler would have been personalized engravings of a customer’s name. What? I can dream.
The pricing slowly crept over the years to firmly over $20, but really it just reached the level of other collectible figurines. Now, I don’t outright defend the pricing, but I attempt to justify it with a grain of salt. Mattel’s 6-inch offerings aren’t cheap, but not entirely ridiculous in the collectors market. They’re pricey, but are they overpriced? It’s conflicted and so I’d have to say they are a tad. The one-note coloring of each feature on every figure may have made the figures less attractive to more high-end collectors craving that finely crafted artisanship. In fact, the figures seemed like realistic interpretations of the cartoony figures based on The Real Ghostbusters. They could mingle with your old collectible, but were the figures too junior-like nonetheless? That’s up to an individual’s taste. Certainly, based on what NECA released in 2004, that firm would have gone with more elaborate paintjobs and sculpts. What I’m saying is the route Mattel took wasn’t an outright hindrance to the appeal of the action figures, only potentially for some consumers with the price tags attached as the campiness may not have been ideal.
But aside from pricing in relation to taste, think logistics: many lines based on franchises for collectors are limited in the number of figures out there over a certain track of time. Mattel’s expansive Ghostbusters collection of characters was surely the dream of fans from the onslaught, but with the coupling of prices has been difficult for the average person to collect them all, which is often the ultimate goal and often reachable enough. The scope that Mattel committed to over the years with their Ghostbusters toy line does make me wish the presence in retail locations had been more consistent and expanded over that same period. Paying shipping and handling over and over again can get annoying.
The Retro-Action series based on The Real Ghostbusters felt like a poor legacy of the original GI Joe line. You know, dolls with plastic bodies and fabric clothes aimed for boys. The Real Ghostbusters came off too campy in this style and not presentable enough. Their size was around 8-inches, which worked perfectly for what they were, but the products were neither here nor there when compared to the favorable 6-inch and 12-inch lines. The Retro-Action had to be your last of things to want because the sizes below and above offered way more for a shelf. While the 6-inch line didn’t include ghosts as main figures or, to drive sales of character variants, separate accessory packs; it’s The Real Ghostbusters series that should have been the prime catalyst to experiment with action figure releases that featured single versions of characters and ghosts as the main figure in a package. Although from animation, which some high-brows frown upon, the 8-inch size would have even made them great collectible display pieces. Otherwise, the Retro-Action falls short in comparison to what was done in a smaller scale.
The 12-inch Ghostbusters figures were the genuine legacy of the original GI Joe line. They were limited to the Ghosbusters team of the movies and had some great details only visibly worthwhile and possible in the 12-inch size. Each uniform’s sewing was impressive, the Proton Pack lit up and the distressed paint job lent itself well to what the Ghostbusters are: scruffy, hard-working men who get their hands dirty. The Proton Pack, apart from the dings that come with the occupation of ghost-busting, had individually-colored wires and the smallest of warning labels that were unimaginable to comprehend the intricacy of creating. The Ghost Trap that came with didn’t get skipped over in quality either and featured opening doors at the push of a button and a moving pedal. All in all, it only fell short when it came to containing a real ghost; that and maybe the length of the cable from the pedal to the trap. It was flimsy-short and I think too short to safely operate according to the Ghostbusters handbook. At around $60, these came in at just the right price.
But if your budget wasn’t an issue, the prop replicas were fantastic and could have easily been your accessories for a night on the town. They were modestly priced when their uniqueness and authenticity were factored in, but maybe you’d like more figures for the same price of one replica. Each replica came packaged in colorful crate-like cardboard boxes with humorous warnings wrapped all over. Then inside: how can you beat a film-accurate Ghost Trap with a pedal activator and removable carrier, which had a prop-mode and scary interactive-mode, featured light and sound effects? It actually shook to simulate when a ghost was trapped inside. If that wasn’t enough, the box came with both red and silver interchangeable side power bars to switch between Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. Whoever thought up that replica was a madman. So mad that their only soul mate in life could come from the mad mind behind the PKE Meter replica, which featured light sequences from both of the original movies, adjustable LED and screen animation speeds, three reenacted screen displays as seen in the film, oh yeah, and opening wings. This PKE Meter’s sound element differs a bit from the original movie. Its tone is more of a beeping than a buzzing. Don’t laugh, that’s enough to destroy some people. Maybe Mattel decided on that sound to fit better with its volume, which does seem louder than what’s in the movies. For $70; not too shabby.
And then Mattel, when it was doing so well, also revisited the reason I’m not such a fan of theirs all the time. Through its Hot Wheels Elite brand, they brought out an Ecto-1 and Ecto-1A in 1:43-scale and priced both at a point range only the 1:18 scale should exist in. Why? Because if the 1:43 is between $50 and $100, guess what a 1:18 would cost. Better yet, guess what a vehicle scaled to Mattel’s 6-inch figures would cost you. I’ll tell you: a whopping $215. That’s right; MattyCollector.com released a new video as recently as August 3, 2013, that revealed some more details about the possibility of their upcoming Movie Masters Epic Creations Ecto-1 vehicle from Ghostbusters. Did you notice I mentioned only a possibility of that product happening? That’s because fans can only currently pre-order the Ecto-1 from MattyCollector.com. And only if the minimum number of pre-orders is met will the vehicle then go into production for a fall 2014 release. But you do get a prize for your faith and loyalty. An exclusive pre-order bonus poster of the Ecto-1 schematic will arrive for you if the vehicle is made. But it’ll still be a tough pill to swallow if the threshold of orders isn’t met after you convinced yourself to commit to a hefty price tag of $215. Don’t forget shipping and handling.