How 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' pays loving tribute to late legend Harold Ramis

Ghostbusters: Afterlife might feature a new cast of leading characters, but it's still overflowing with nostalgia.

The sequel directed by Jason Reitman, heir to the Ghostbusters franchise as son of original director Ivan Reitman, welcomes McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, and People Magazine's 2021 Sexiest Man Alive, Paul Rudd, to the ghost-busting family. However, it's the return of OG cast members Billy Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson that seals the deal because, let's be honest, is it really a Ghostbusters movie without the original busters?

Speaking of OGs — the film is largely and undeniably a tribute to the fourth member of the original Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989) crew: the late, great Harold Ramis, who so memorably played sharp-witted scientist Egon Spengler and who died in 2014 at the age of 69.

Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murray in a scene from the film 'Ghostbusters', 1984. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)
Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murray in a scene from Ghostbusters. (Photo: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)

The film "is clearly for my family, but also for the Harold Ramis family," Jason Reitman tells Yahoo Entertainment during the film's virtual press day (watch above). "They were amongst the first people to ever read the script. I wanted to make a film that honored Egon Spengler, who always was my favorite Ghostbuster. I had this image in my head of this 12-year-old girl, the proton pack and a field, and this teenage boy finding Ecto-1 in a barn. And I didn't really know who they were. And then in 2014, when Harold Ramis passed, I suddenly knew who they were. They were Spenglers."

"Of course, one of the most palpable things about being in this film was feeling the absence of Harold," states Coon. "He was such a huge part of writing the [original Ghostbusters] script with Dan Aykroyd, and then they invited Bill Murray in to bring his special Bill Murray nature to all of it. You know, I live in Chicago now and Harold occupies such a special place in that city, as does Bill. I think we all felt like we were honoring Harold in an appropriate way. The tribute just feels really, really loving."

Rudd worked with Ramis on Judd Apatow's 2007 comedy Knocked Up: "I actually knew Harold, and got to work with Harold, and I was such a Harold Ramis fan. He couldn't have been lovelier. That was always his reputation, like, oh yeah, Harold Ramis, really nice guy. He was such a bright guy, a very calming presence, hilarious, full of all of these amazing stories. I didn't know him well. I certainly knew him enough that I was there and I just kept thinking about him. I just kept thinking about these great moments I got to have with him, and I really missed him."

'Ghostbusters Afterlife' (Sony)
Ghostbusters Afterlife (Photo: Sony)

Afterlife is set 30 years after the events of the second film. Callie Spengler (Coon) is a single mother to Phoebe (Grace) and Trevor (Wolfhard) who relocates her family to a small town in Oklahoma, where they discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind.

Jason, whose directing credits include Juno (2007), Up in the Air (2009) and Tully (2018), once stated he would never make a Ghostbusters movie. "I [would] try to hide from that question as much as possible," he explains. "My father, and Ghostbusters in general, cast a very big shadow and I was certainly intimidated. And I thought people wanted to see my Ghostbusters movie. But the truth is they just wanted a Ghostbusters movie. They wanted to see the proton pack again, the trap again, Ecto-1 flying around the corner again. They wanted to see the original guys again. It was a gift to be able to make the film that brought that all back to screen."

Jason also had the advantage of having his dad Ivan, who served as a producer on the film, present on set with him every day. But don't assume it was a complete dream for Jason. "You could imagine what it would be like if your parents came to work with you every day, and weighed in on all of your decisions. I mean, look, it's both things at the same time. One, I have the world's greatest Ghostbusters expert and storyteller there. It was only helping me become a better filmmaker, who can weigh in on whether — is this the right color slime, or is that how the terror dog would really move. But yeah, every once in a while, there's a little bit of friction. We had to figure out how to be father-son and producer-director at the same time."

Ghostbusters: Afterlife opens in theaters Friday, Nov. 19.

Watch the trailer: