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Blackbeard's Ghost DVD cover

Movie - Theatrical Release: February 8, 1968 / Rating: G / Running Time: 107 minutes / Studio: Disney
Genre - Family, Comedy
Cast - Peter Ustinov, Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette, Elsa Lanchester, Joby Baker, Elliott Reid, Richard Deacon, Norman Grabowski
Director - Robert Stevenson
DVD - 1.33:1 pan & scan, Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
subtitles - English; Closed Captioned
single-sided, single-layered disc; $14.99 SRP, Released June 4, 2002

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Movie - Blackbeard's Ghost comes to DVD with little fanfare, and Disney has found this live-action comedy worthy only of a barebones low-quality DVD release. Though the DVD cover might lead one to expect a swashbuckler pirate adventure, Peter Ustinov's character of Blackbeard is in fact just an apparition in a contemporary setting. Dean Jones plays Steve Walker, the new man in town, set to be Godolphin College's new track coach. On his first night in town, Coach Walker summons Blackbeard's Ghost...but the Coach is the only one who can see this dead person.
Naturally, this paves the way for the comedy elements, which start strong and are good for some laughs, but are overdone soon enough. The film relies on physical comedy to carry it near the end, and it seems to go on about a half-hour longer than it should.

However, while not on the level of the charming Old Yeller or Mary Poppins, Blackbeard is not a total disaster of a film. Ustinov has a lot of fun with his role; he breathes life into the rather limp screenplay with his energetic performance. Dean Jones is also capable in his lead role, and the two leading men's chemistry on screen is able to evoke some big laughs early on. However, the film is dated in a number of ways. While that may mean favorable feelings of nostalgia for some, it also means some painfully dated visual effects (yes, this film did come out the same year as Stanley Kubrick's Space Odyssey) and unspirited comedy that plays as foreign to this generation. Particularly, the gangster slapstick content that goes on for so long at the end, is an endurance test for the viewer. Still, watching Jones and Ustinov interact upon their meeting is good for some light comedy before the concepts wear thin.

Overall, Blackbeard's Ghost is an amiable film that does not hold up so well these days. The performances will keep you engaged more so than the screenplay and predictable plot.

Peter Ustinov as the dread pirate Blackbeard.
Peter Ustinov as the dread pirate Blackbeard.

Video - While I was unable to find definitive original aspect ratio information for Blackbeard's Ghost, this 1.33:1 DVD is definitely NOT the original aspect ratio. Framing is rather dreadful thoughout,
as characters get faces chopped off and action seems to just wander off the screen. It's not even really "pan & scan" in that there is no panning or scanning to keep the main action centered or even on-screen. It's unclear how much visual information is missing, but it's a constant distraction throughout. Coming on the heals of the 4 Vault Disney releases which look wonderful restored in anamorphic widescreen, this Blackbeard's Ghost DVD looks hideous. I don't believe a single effort has been made to allow for this film to look halfway decent for DVD release. The film stock used is clearly not the most durable, and it looks rather worn, jittery, grainy, and noisy.

The lack of black bars results in shots like this.
The lack of black bars results in shots like this.

Audio - The Dolby 2.0 Surround track is less dreadful. The audio remains practically Mono throughout. There is the infrequent scene which uses the rear channel for music. But this isn't the type of movie that really calls for a 5.1 remix (and such a remix would likely be as front-heavy as the Vault Disney title's audio tracks are). Dialogue is clear enough, and fortunately, the DVD is pretty stable in its dynamic range, so you won't have to turn down the speakers for the loud action scenes (not like there are any, anyhow). I'm sure that no effort went into making the audio sound good, but it seems that the film's audio materials have not degraded as much as the video, so it is less problematic.

Extras - Menus and English subtitles...no wait, those aren't extras. That means there are none at all!

Pure Pan & Scan Magic: New guy in town gets help from kid with half-a-face.
Pure Digital Pan & Scan Magic: New guy in town
gets help from kid with half-a-face.

Closing Thoughts - Even reduced to a $14.99 retail price, there's really not much attraction to buying this DVD. It offers just about nothing that the VHS could not, except for the fact that it's on a non-degrading format. But, of course, when the product is rather degraded and unsightly to begin with, it's also worth keeping in mind that this DVD is not going to look any better. No extras, horrible video quality, and not in its original aspect ratio, Blackbeard's Ghost is definitely a DVD to pass on, unless it's something you're bound to watch over and over again. Even then, you'd likely be better off going for the lower-priced videocassette.

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Related Reviews:
The Ugly Dachshund (1966) The Shaggy D.A. (1976) Gus (1976)
The Happiest Millionaire (1967) The One and Only, Genuine Original Family Band (1968)
The Love Bug (1969) That Darn Cat! (1965) Monkeys, Go Home! (1967)
Snowball Express (1972) The Million Dollar Duck (1971) The Jungle Book (1967)

Related Interview:
Click to read our interview with "Blackbeard's Ghost" actor Hank Jones on this DVD, his other seven live action Disney comedies, and much more.
UltimateDisney.com Interviews Hank Jones (team captain Gudger Larkin in Blackbeard's Ghost)

The Ultimate Guide to Disney DVD Home
Complete Older (Pre-1980) Live-Action Title List

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Reviewed May 2002.