Warner Bros. // 2002 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 17th, 2009
"Leave the ship while you still can!"
In the year of our Lord 1962,
The Antonia Graza sailed the ocean blue,
An Italian vessel sailing the sea,
Providing rich passengers oceanic luxury,
But one day things went terribly wrong,
As passengers danced and sang all night long,
Oh, the horror! Oh, my Lord!
An accident killed everyone on board.
In the year of our Lord 2002,
We meet Captain Gabriel Byrne and his crew,
They salvage lost treasures, it's quite a career,
But their next mission will prove creepy and queer,
They find the Antonia Graza at sea,
It's run-down and quite scary-looking to me,
The crew boards the ship looking for treasure,
And at first they find gold (which brings them great pleasure).
But alas, as the salvagers explore each new room,
They walk closer and closer to their most certain doom,
For the ship is quite haunted and loaded with terror,
Julianna Margulies admits that it scares her,
Isaiah Washington lusts after a ghost,
A ghost that is naked (she's the ghost with the most),
People see images of people long dead,
Is this nonsense real or is it all in their head?
You know how some people say that merely average, not-terribly-good-yet-not-terribly-bad films are the hardest to review? Ghost Ship is that sort of movie. You know how some people say that they would rather see an ambitious failure than a mild success that plays it safe by sticking to a formula? Ghost Ship is the sort of mild success they're talking about. You know how every now and then the sort of plot that is usually reserved for low-budget, straight-to-DVD horror flicks gets turned into a big-budget, A-list release by a major studio? Yep, that's Ghost Ship.
After watching the film for the first time (I missed it during its initial theatrical run), I feel nothing towards it quite so much as apathy. The movie is maddening in its own inoffensive manner, refusing to ever become bad enough to really criticize, but never actually delivering on any of the potential it seems to contain. Sure, the film indulges in plenty of cliches: there's an idiot who insists on going around scaring people despite the fact that everyone is on edge, there are doors that open and close by themselves, corpses pop up out of nowhere, blood starts coming out of walls, and people have hallucinations that lead them to behave in self-destructive ways.
However, whenever an opportunity for a character to act truly stupid arrives, the movie pulls back and decides to start being sensible. For instance, there is a moment when the crew discovers a bunch of gold on board the ship. Everyone is delighted, naturally, but there are so many other treasures on the ship that I was certain the crew would attempt to stay on board a few more days in order to preserve everything. "If I were on that crew," I muttered aloud, "I would put that gold on my little tugboat and get out of there as quickly as possible." Believe it or not, that's exactly what the crew decided would be the smart thing to do. And they would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for those meddling screenwriters and their pet deus ex machina!
When it comes to horror subgenres, I've always been a little bit frustrated by haunted house movies. If you're in a haunted house, there generally aren't any rules to play by. It's difficult to know what's real and what isn't, the powers of the haunted house are seemingly only limited to the imaginations of the writers, and anything you can do the house can do better. While you can try to formulate strategies to combat serial killers, zombies, vampires or werewolves, when it comes to a haunted house you're essentially stuck in a never-ending shadowboxing match. So in Ghost Ship, we're not so much watching a series of struggles as various characters meet their doom, but rather a hit parade of siren songs as various characters are lead to their inevitable doom. If the loophole found towards the conclusion rings a little false considering how dominant the ship was up until that point, remember that in Hollywood the common belief is that there's no problem a good explosion can't fix.
The performances are adequate if somewhat disappointing. Gabriel Byrne (Miller's Crossing) fares the best as the weary captain, bringing a convincing gravitas to the proceedings that lends the whole thing an air of credibility. Julianna Margulies (ER) probably gets the most screen time, but I was disappointed that her character is never really given anything of interest to do. She seems to be the slightly blank bystander, looking concerned and puzzled while the colorful supporting characters run around panicking. Isaiah Washington (Grey's Anatomy) and Karl Urban (Star Trek) are both okay in their roles and are granted a few fun moments. The only real failure in the cast is Desmond Harrington (Dexter) as the guy who gives Byrne and co. the hot tip on the abandoned ship. It's a miscalculated turn that is grating at worst and laughable at best.
Ghost Ship is a film with a generally dark and murky aesthetic, but the Blu-ray transfer thankfully manages to provide a rather satisfactory level of clarity throughout the proceedings. Blacks are modestly deep while shading is above-average. The level of background detail is solid for the most part, though it's hard to tell during some of the more lacking moments whether the film itself or the transfer is responsible. Facial detail, on the other hand, never really falters at any point. The audio is excellent, and I was pleased to discover the professional nuance of this track. Too many horror films simply go for loud chaos rather than creepy complexity, but Ghost Ship opts for the latter. The few loud moments do pack a punch, but this track is mostly noteworthy for its clean distribution of the complex sound design. John Frizzell's serviceable score comes through nicely, too.
The extras are ported over from the 2003 DVD release, and honestly they aren't much to write home about. I suppose the best of the bunch is the 15-minute EPK-style featurette "Max on the Set: Ghost Ship," offering the usual behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews. You also get three too-brief-to-bother-with featurettes, "A Closer Look at the Gore," "Designing the Ghost Ship" and "Visual Effects." Finally, you get a bland puzzle game called "Secrets of the Antonio Graza" and a music video featuring Mudvayne.
There are two sequences in the film that I actually have strong feelings about. Both of these are flashback sequences detailing tragic events. The first is the giddily gruesome opening scene, which opens like a lost episode of The Love Boat before plunging wholeheartedly into the film's most gory and grisly moment of violence. It's a terrific way to open the film, giving the proceedings a nervous air of danger that lingers for quite a while. As much as I liked that scene, I despised the second flashback, which details slow-motion scenes of vicious murder to the strains of an awful techno number. This sequence is no more violent than the opening scene, but the manner in which it is presented makes it feel a lot more like gratuitous splatter porn.
The movie is average. The Blu-ray release is okay, but provides little incentive for those who own the DVD to upgrade.
Guilty, I guess? I don't really care.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Music Video