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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD Review

Ghost Rider DVD Review

Ghost Rider (2007) movie poster - click to buy Ghost Rider

Theatrical Release: February 16, 2007 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Mark Steven Johnson

Cast: Nicolas Cage (Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider), Eva Mendes (Roxanne Simpson), Wes Bentley (Blackheart), Sam Elliott (Caretaker), Donal Logue (Mack), Matt Long (Young Johnny Blaze), Peter Fonda (Mephistopheles), Brett Cullen (Barton Blaze), Raquel Alessi (Young Roxanne Simpson)

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By Aaron Wallace

After five each of Batman and Superman and trilogies for both Spider-Man and X-Men, it is inevitable that studios will have to look elsewhere if they hope to continue their string of superhero success at the box office. They seem to have realized this over the last few years, evidenced by Hollywood's recent roll call of comic book heroes whose genders aren't indicated in their title: Hulk, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and Punisher, for example.

The most recent revival of an obscurer super-hero is this year's hit Sony/Marvel collaboration, Ghost Rider. The film is based on the original Marvel character of the same name, who made his debut in 1972 and has undergone various changes since.
At the center is Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), a world-famous stunt motorcyclist whose ability to defy death is somehow linked to a pact he made with the devil as a young man. As a result of that agreement, each night, Johnny turns into a bike-riding skeleton with his head on fire (what else?). Atop his Harley from Hell, the Ghost Rider (as Blaze is known during night hours) must do the devil's bidding, a real nuisance for a lovesick good guy like Johnny.

Ghost Rider starts off on a bad note and quickly goes down in the flames that engulf the title character. The opening narration establishes the film's hybridity of superhero film and western, sounding all too reminiscent of a Wilford Brimley commercial. The ridiculous premise about age-old connections between devils and deserts is hastily laid out. Before anyone's had time to digest it, the narrative has moved onto Johnny Blaze's youth and any hope of a decipherable story is lost.

Here you have Ghost Rider, a flaming skeleton whose computer-generated appearance is apparently enough to greenlight a movie and take in millions. Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) grants an exclusive interview to his long-lost love Roxanne (Eva Mendes).

A number of contradictions plague the already weak plot. Most problematic is that Blaze's deal with the devil isn't even voluntary -- an accidental spilling of blood somehow forever binds him to evil, erroneously regarded as the protagonist's tragic "mistake" from there on out. That pact loses its weight when it turns out that the Ghost Rider isn't all that subservient to the devil after all. Most of his time as burning bones is spent fighting injustice or battling a demon who is laughably revealed to be Satan's son. The politics of good and evil are never clearly worked out, but that's an indication of a muddled story, not of complex character morality. The conflict itself is never really explained. Instead, the audience is asked to accept that one character is opposed to another with little motivation.

Some viewers might be willing to overlook these vices in the name of edge-of-your-seat action. I'm afraid that they'll be even further disappointed in that department. There's surprisingly little action in this movie, meaning that the film can't even muster an alternative to plot. When it does spring up, it's extraordinarily lackluster. Adam West kicked more ass as Batman in the 1960s.

Visual effects are often quite impressive, but at other times are entirely unbelievable. Even at their best, they're excessive; the movie is nearly reliant enough on CGI to qualify as animated. The best-looking scenes don't even involve fighting. Always pervasive is a distinct and unwelcome 1970s vibe. If Evil Knievel played a cowboy in a Meatloaf video, I imagine it would look a lot like Ghost Rider. Suffice it to say that much of the movie looks and feels cheesy, never landing safely in the realm of nostalgia but instead striving to attract those for whom motorcycles, chains, and flames excite.

It's a demon in a church... ah, the irony. (Save your biggest tomato for Wes Bentley.) Jeepers, Peter, where'd you get those peepers? (In case the black suit, thunder, and demon-shaped shadow didn't tip you off, Peter Fonda's orange eyes let you know that he's the devil.)

With no central problem to work out, the film's conclusion is expectedly unsatisfying.
There's simply nothing to resolve. The character most readily identifiable as the villain is defeated seemingly only because it's time for the movie to end. Up until that point, he's untouchable. The one source of conflict that can actually be identified for Johnny Blaze -- the whole "Help me, I'm a demon on a dirt bike!" thing -- is turned on its head and treated as anything but a problem, likely for a sequel's sake.

A certain amount of camp is permitted within the superhero genre, but Ghost Rider doesn't just abuse its license; it destroys it. The script combines an unbelievably bad story with unbelievable dialogue, producing gems like "Hey, dirt bag" and "You guilty!" Cheap scare tactics (it becomes a horror movie every now and then, you see) and a romantic storyline that is as textbook as they come only make matters worse.

Bad as it is, the material can't get all the blame here. The embarrassing performances from the cast are at least as bad. One might expect Nicolas Cage's A-list status to elevate things a bit, but alas, he succumbs to the overriding silliness of it all. As Roxanne, Eva Mendes (Hitch) proves herself inept as a news reporter, hostage, and love interest. Donal Logue ("Grounded for Life") plays to type and annoys in each of his scenes. Screen legend Peter Fonda (Easy Rider) is the least offensive as Mephistopheles (the devil) but still falls flat, with his ensemble doing more for his character than his acting. Save your biggest tomato for Wes Bentley (American Beauty), however, who plays Blackheart (Satan Jr.) with all the depth and finesse of a Power Ranger.

In an unholy union of cinematic awfulness, one of recent history's worst stories, worst scripts, and worst casts converge to take their audience through Hell and back again in a way that wasn't at all intended. Like a bike crash on the side of the road, the only value to this movie is spectacle, only there's not enough destruction here to warrant tapping the breaks -- or your wallet. I don't know who I feel more sorry for: writer/director Mark Steven Johnson or the audiences he's subjected to this movie. Ghost Rider somehow managed to rake in more than $225 million worldwide, so I think I'll side with the latter. Fortunately, you're now among the enlightened who can save themselves time by staying as far away from this blunder as possible.

Buy Ghost Rider DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
(1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen available separately)
DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 12, 2007
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.95
Black Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in Two-Disc Extended Cut DVD and Extended Cut Blu-ray

Marvel Comics T-Shirts & Posters

VIDEO and AUDIO

Video quality on the transfer of this brand-new film to DVD is expectedly stellar, leaving no complaints whatsoever. Unfortunately, Sony only supplied the fullscreen version of this DVD for review, cropping the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio down to 1.33:1. This drastic compromise means that quite a bit of picture is lost. Fortunately, the single-disc DVD is available separately in widescreen and the double-disc edition (more on this below) is sold exclusively in widescreen. Needless to say, no one should purchase the fullscreen edition.

Audio is made available in both DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks. The DTS track is just about perfect, supplying the right amounts of rear channel reinforcement, bass, and clarity. Listening to a few select scenes in Dolby Digital 5.1 suggests that the Dolby track is just about equally pleasing, supplying perhaps a little more bass but a little less overall engulfment.

The "Vengeance" featurette shows Nicolas Cage and Sam Elliott filming the earliest of their several graveyard scenes. Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson talks on the set of "Ghost Rider." Ghost Rider's 16x9 main menu kicks off with a little animation before cycling through quick movie clips such as these.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

Sony has released both a single-disc and double-disc version of Ghost Rider to DVD. The double-disc set provides an extended cut, all the bonus features found on the single-disc release,
and a few additional extras that include a featurette on the original comics and some animatics. The single-disc version is all that Sony provided for review. Its contents are detailed below.

There are two feature-length audio commentaries. The first is by writer-director Mark Steven Johnson and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack and the second is by producer Gary Foster. Both are fairly screen-specific, striking a healthy balance between technical discussion and anecdotes. Anyone wanting to listen to both of these would have to be a true fan. Those opting to choose just one should go with Foster's. Though he touches on some material that's covered elsewhere on the DVD, it's one of the most candid audio commentaries I've heard, with Foster criticizing various elements of the movie and the path to its production. That said, all three commentators have a tendency to excessively praise the overall product and its key players (i.e. Nicolas Cage).

There are also two making-of featurettes: "Spirit of Vengeance" (28:59) and "Spirit of Adventure" (29:53). There's not much to distinguish these two from one another. "Vengeance" ends abruptly while "Adventure" ends awkwardly and it's not clear why they weren't fleshed out into a single documentary. Everything from casting to filming is covered, but none of it in detail. Much of the cast and crew are interviewed, including Cage himself. As this kind of featurette goes, these are pretty standard, offering a little insight but nothing on which to justify a DVD purchase.

The main menu is a rather ordinary one. A piece of the score plays while various clips from the film rotate in quick succession. All the standard menu options are there on the primary screen. The sub-menus are all silent, still screens. The disc is housed in a standard black keepcase, which is itself packaged inside a cardboard slipcover (complete with square hole for the barcode). There are no inserts of any kind.

Though the trailer for Ghost Rider is notably missing, the disc does contain eight trailers for other Sony properties. The first three of these play automatically when the disc is inserted, but all can be accessed from the main menu and special features menu screens. They are: Across the Universe, Premonition, Blood and Chocolate, Spider-Man 3, "Seinfeld": Season 8, The Messengers, Hellboy, and Stomp the Yard.

Oh no! Someone's rattled Johnny Blaze's Cage! Get it? Nic Cage! "YOU GUILTY!"

CLOSING THOUGHTS

True to its name, Ghost Rider speeds along with a barely visible story that makes its viewers want to scream. Not at all suspenseful or engaging, there's nothing to compel the audience to keep watching. With a small handful of standard bonus features and pleasing audio/video treatment, the DVD is decent enough for a single-disc affair but not great. Unless you're fond enough of the movie to spring for the double-disc set, it's probably sufficient. That doesn't mean it's one to add to your collection, though, as this is destined to wind up on the short list of 2007's worst movies. Unfortunately, its undeserved box office gross almost certainly ensures that Ghost Rider will be back to haunt us again.

Buy Single-Disc DVD from Amazon.com Buy 2-Disc Extended Cut DVD from Amazon.com

Also available on Extended Blu-ray

Related Reviews:
Marvel Superheroes: Fantastic Four: Extended Edition Spider-Man: The Venom Saga Fantastic Four: The Complete Animated Series
Featuring the Cast of Ghost Rider: National Treasure Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition The Miracle Match
Epic Movie: Unrated Night at the Museum: 2-Disc Special Edition Ladder 49 The Devil and Max Devlin
The Incredibles The Tick vs. Season 1 Darkwing Duck: Volume 1 Gargoyles: Season 1 Sky High

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Reviewed June 6, 2007.



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