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Based on the Marvel Comic of the same name, Ghost Rider is one of those films that reeks of wasted potential. Anyone familiar with the comic knows that the universe that Johnny Blaze inhabited was one of bizarre demons and brooding antiheroes and while some of that has been transferred over to this film, so much more of it was left at the wayside.
The movie tells the story of one Johnny Blaze (played with much unintentional goofiness by Nicholas Cage), a famous motorcycle stunt rider who years ago sold his soul to Satan (Peter Fonda of all people) to save his father from the ravages of the cancer that is killing him. Of course, when you make a pact with the devil it never goes your way and soon Blaze finds out that he's basically unable to die until the devil decides it is his time. While this makes him a fantastic stunt rider, it also makes him pretty darn miserable.
Soon enough, a sinister demon named Blackheart (Wes Bentley) shows up on the scene, Hell-bent (pun intended) on finding a scroll containing details on thousands of damned souls which he hopes to acquire in order to beat the devil at his own game. Satan is none too pleased with this and so he calls on Blaze upon whom he bestows some crazy evil super powers that allow him to turn into a vengeful flaming skeleton when evil around and in need of a smack down. Of course, this all happens to poor blaze just as he's finally found his long lost love, Roxanne (Eva Mendes). Not only is Johnny trying to rekindle what he once had with her but he's also coming to terms with the fact that he's been turned into a spirit of vengeance against his will. Thankfully Roxanne and a weird old cemetery worker (Sam Elliott) are around to help him come to terms with what he has become, help him overcome his strange new predicament and to help him stop Blackheart before he goes too far.
Borrowing elements from the original comic book series and the re-launch that revived his popularity in the nineties, the film is entertaining enough even if it doesn't have much going for it in the way of any real substance. The effects, though very CGI heavy, are fairly impressive in a cartoonish way and some of the stunt scenes are very well done. The film certainly has a better, darker tone to it than director Mark Steven's previous attempt at bringing a Marvel property to the big screen (that'd be Daredevil for those not in the know, though the un-rated version of that film is definitely a lot better than the theatrical cut). Speaking of un-rated cuts, don't go into the slightly longer version of the film contained on this DVD expecting more sex or violence as you're not going to get it. Pretty much everything that has been restored in this version of the movie is characterization bits - that's not a bad thing, it does flesh out the central players a little more, but it's doubtful that any of this material was cut at the request of the MPAA, rather, it was likely excited for pacing reasons.
The film benefits from an interesting cast. It's hard to tell if Cage is hamming it up on purpose here or not but regardless, he makes for a decent, tortured Johnny Blaze even if he does pour it on thick in more than a few scenes. Eva Mendes is about as hot as it gets as the love interest and it's fun to see Sam Elliott and Peter Fonda show up in important supporting roles, as both actors have great screen presence and add their charm to the picture.
Ultimately the picture is a fun ride, even if it's empty. You're not likely to want to return to the world of Johnny Blaze any time soon, as it's fairly vapid; lots of style but little actual substance. Characters are a bit one-dimensional, the story is a little predictable and there are a few cringe inducing moments of bad acting and bad dialogue. That being said, seeing Nicholas Cage ride around on a bike with his head on CGI fire is pretty cool and the film is definitely entertaining on a base level.Video:
Sony's 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is that is solid but not as good as it could have been. Detail levels fluctuate a fair bit in that some scenes look razor sharp while others are definitely on the soft side. There aren't any compression artifacts and aliasing is definitely kept to a minimum but it isn't hard to spot some obvious edge enhancement in a few different scenes if you're looking for it. As far as the black levels go, they're pretty decent and they don't break up at all although there are times where the detail levels in the scenes that contain a lot of shadows do suffer a little bit. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural and color reproduction is very good considering what a dark looking film this is and there are no problems with print damage or heavy grain. Overall, Ghost Rider looks pretty good but it should have looked a little better.Sound:
As far as the audio on this release goes, the film contains 5.1 Surround Sound mixes in both Dolby Digital and DTS flavors. The DTS mix might have slightly stronger bass but that's about the only difference you're likely to hear and it's a minor one at that. The film benefits from a fairly aggressive soundscape and both tracks do an excellent job of bringing that to your home theater. Plenty of action from the rear channels adds to the suspense and action scenes nicely while your subwoofer will be bouncing around nicely throughout the film. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about. The score comes through nicely and everything is properly balanced across the board.Extras:
First up, in terms of extra features on the first disc, is a commentary track courtesy of writer-director Mark Steven Johnson who is joined here by Kevin Mack, the special effects supervisor for the film. All in all, this is a solid discussion of pretty much every facet of the production. Johnson touches on casting choices, script ideas, locations and technology while Mack fills in the blanks and details what we done for certain effects heavy scenes and how certain set pieces were constructed. The two have a good chemistry with one another and there's really very little dead air here. Johnson also points out which scenes were extended for this un-rated cut of the film as opposed to the theatrical cut.
A second commentary track finds producer Gary Foster flying solo. There's a fair bit of repetition here in that he covers much of the same ground that's already been covered in the first discussion but at least if we're going to hear some of the same stories we get to hear them from a different point of view. Foster covers pre-production in a bit more detail here and casting as well. He comes across as an amicable and intelligent guy and he does a decent job of covering the production from its origins right through to its theatrical release.
Rounding out the extra features on the first disc are a handful of trailers for other, unrelated Sony DVDs and some nifty animated menus.
On to disc two! The most impressive of the supplements on this release is a lengthy three part documentary entitled Spirit Of Vengeance: The Making Of Ghost Rider which clocks in at just under eighty-two minutes in length. The first two parts cover the origin of the film and its production while the third part details post production work. There are plenty of interviews in here with the producers, director, F/X crewmembers, and all the major cast members as well. Hearing about how some of the motorcycle stunts were performed is interesting as are the F/X segments though some of the interviews in here tend to sound more like sound bits and are a little promotional in nature. That said, this is a pretty interesting and very in-depth look at how this picture was put together.
Up next is Sin And Salvation which is a really interesting look at the comic book history of the title character, one section a piece dedicated to 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000's by way of some interesting interviews with the various artists and writers who have worked on the different incarnations of the Marvel Comics that the film was based on. When combined the four parts of this documentary clock in at just over forty-five minutes in length. Those who are familiar with the various comics will definitely enjoy this look back at the character's history and hearing about it from the people who made it happen.
Rounding out the extras on the second disc is a trio of Ghost Rider Animatics, and some more nifty animated menus. All in all, Sony has provided a pretty extensive selection of supplements for this two-disc set.Final Thoughts:
Ghost Rider isn't as bad as a lot of people made it out to be, in fact, as a brainless action-horror film, it works. Unfortunately, for those familiar with the source material, it wasn't nearly as good as it should have been and it feels like a lot of potential was simply wasted. Sony's un-rated edition of the film adds very little but the extras are plentiful and the presentation isn't bad. Recommended for those who know they like the movie, a very solid rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.
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