Before Hollywood took on the business of "reimagining" every horror film, the industry was still putting together some interesting ideas for the genre. And while I completely (though unintentionally) avoided 2002's Ghost Ship when it first came out, I could at least respect some of the unique ingredients in the film.
Based on a screenplay by Mark Hanlon and directed by Steve Beck (Thir13en Ghosts), the film follows a group of salvage experts that are given an interesting proposal by a mysterious man (Desmond Harrington, Dexter). A long lost cruise ship is found floating at sea, decades after being reported missing, and the passengers and crew presumed dead. The man would like the crew to bring the ship back. The captain of the salvage team, Murphy (Gabriel Byrne, The Usual Suspects) wonders about the ship's history, but those thoughts are put on the backburner when the crew finds several crates full of gold bars. Greer (Isaiah Washington, Grey's Anatomy) wants to report the discovery, but Murphy convinces him otherwise. While the work to repair and tow the ship in will take a few days, the reward stands to be high. However, when strange things start happening, culminating in the explosion of the tugboat and the death of a crewmember named Santos (Alex Demitriades, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo), the surviving crew is apprehensive of what may happen next. Mwahahahahaha!
The overall concept behind the story is only slightly derivative. Get a bunch of strangers in a foreign environment, gently clip them off one by one, until you get to your battle in the third act with the protagonist, whom is likely to be discovered in a twist ending. If the ending isn't a twist, then it'll be something else a little more convention. And on Ghost Ship you can see all of this coming from a fairly good distance, so the only thing left to figure out is how the protagonist(s) pulls out of the sticky situation.
There are some intriguing psychological elements in play during the film. The introduction of the gold into the story gives the crew a chance to imagine grand futures for themselves. Some of them talk about what they're going to do after they leave the ship. The fairly reserved diver, Epps (Julianna Margulies, ER) plays things close to the vest, while Dodge (Ron Eldard, Black Hawk Down) and Munder (Karl Urban, Star Trek) are characters with minor screen time, and honestly you don't care what they have to say. The film's setting, the Antonia Graza, gives the film nice ambiance, not to mention a genuinely spooky backdrop. With such a large ship and missing passengers, the stage is set for the cast's demise in the opening sequence of the film.
And yet, it seems as if the cast doesn't seem to care much for the work they're doing. I've always thought a movie is only as good as the cast's devotion and belief in the material, and there are quite a few skeptics in the bunch. Eldard and Washington do what they can with their roles, Harrington (whose character makes the ship ride) is even convincing. However, you get the impression that Byrne doesn't want to be there, and Margulies is hardly very relatable as Epps. Beck tries to keep things going with some scary shots here and there, but for the viewer, it's like being taken into a surprise party where you're the guest of honor, but you've been told about it a week in advance.
Ultimately, Ghost Ship could have been better than it was, and ironically, its biggest fault comes from the disenchanted cast. I say ironically because the film will likely be remade in a few years, but the ship will morph into a haunted reality show or something, and the much younger cast will put more effort into the remake than the older cast did. The circle of life continues.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Warner Brothers presents Ghost Ship in 1.85:1 widescreen using the VC-1 codec, and the results are underwhelming. There is some fine image detail in things like close-up shots, but wider shots tend to be softer and lose detail and dimension. Black levels are decent though inconsistent in some of the shots on the ship, and it looks like the whites are on the hot side of things. If you've got the DVD and are considering upgrading to Blu-ray, I'd seriously consider just how much you like the film before parting with your cash; I see little difference worthy of pulling that trigger.
There wasn't very much for the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack to do in the film. Much of what occurs in the film sonically is dialogue, and it's fairly weak and unbalanced in parts. Any sudden directional activity is adequate, though hardly effective. During big explosions, including the last one of the film, the subwoofer is engaged scarcely, leaving the speakers to do the work and the viewer feeling hollow. Clearly, more could have been done with the sound on this film; a somewhat recent release like this is disappointing.
Not a heckuva lot. A "Max on Set" featurette produced by Cinemax is the longest of the few extras here. At 15:04, it features interviews with the cast and crew as they share their thoughts on the film and the characters they play, while Silver discusses his intentions for the film. There are some obligatory raves on the set design and visual effects components of the production. Following that is "Secrets of the Antonia Graza," which would appear to be a set-top game of sorts that allows the viewer to unlock "re-enacted" footage that sets up the role the ship plays in the film. "A Closer Look at the Gore" (5:32) interviews Howard Berger and the makeup effects crew as they share their work from the film, while "Designing the Ghost Ship" (6:02) looks at both the miniatures and set design for the film of said ship. "Visual Effects" (5:42) flaunts the computer effects and a music video (3:10) for the Mudvayne song "Not Falling" is next. A trailer for the film (2:15) finishes things up.
Well, Ghost Ship is a nice idea executed with lackluster feeling. There's little to crow about dramatically, technically and supplementally. I'd take a pass on this, even if you have seen the film before and wonder what it'll be like in high definition.