Judge Brett Cullum was called a flaming biker once, but only because he was driving a moped in his pink Izod.
Our review of Ghost Rider: Two-Disc Extended Cut, published June 11th, 2007, is also available.
Mephistopheles: "Perhaps you'll ride for me some day."
Ghost Rider was derided by critics and fans alike as being a sub par project out of the Marvel stable of comic book characters to hit the big screen. The movie was no Spider-Man 2 or even Thor, but thankfully it wasn't quite as tasteless as The Green Lantern either. Truth be told, I think this one has some cool moments and a cast that works, for the most part. Ghost Rider is middling, true, but heck, a monster movie set in the west with motorcycles works any day for the twelve year old boy inside me. Let's ride!
Facts of the Case
Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage, Kick-Ass) sold his soul to the devil (Peter Fonda, Easy Rider) to save his father from cancer only to watch dad die the next day in a fiery motorcycle crash. He becomes a haunted shell of a man, a lonely motorcycle stunt driver who flirts with death because he knows the devil will not let him die until he gets his due. On the same day he reunites with his high school sweetheart (Eva Mendes, The Spirit), the devil's son (Wes Bentley, American Beauty) comes to earth to raise hell. And so Johnny is turned into the mythical Ghost Rider, a human who has the powers of hell at night. When he is around evil he turns into pure vengeance or at least a flaming skeleton on a big ole helled-out chopper. Evil has a new enemy even more frightening than what it could ever be: Nicolas Cage and his alter-ego the Ghost Rider.
The movie is a bit of a mess with logic holes and not any good explanations for who and what the Ghost Rider is. His powers are unclear, his reason for fighting is never focused, and the bad guys don't make much sense either. The penance stare and hellfire concepts are explained in clumsy terms, and the film relies on the Sam Elliott caretaker character to explain things to the viewer. To top things off, none of this is 100% true to the comic. Rather than sticking to the Johnny Blaze timeline and narrative, it blends the story lines and imagery of two eras of the Marvel character to include some of the second Ghost Rider elements. Even worse, the director allows Nicolas Cage to add his own goofy mannerisms to the role. I doubt the rock and roll persona of Johnny Blaze from Marvel magazines would ever admit to listening to the Carpenters or decide to drink jellybeans instead of booze. Cage just goes all bug-eyed and odd solely for the sake of being strange. It made me wonder if the original star, Johnny Depp, would have made this franchise work a little better a decade ago when he was attached to the first proposed version.
Even bigger issues are the action sequences and the threat the villains just don't deliver on. Thanks to a whole lot of CGI, things never look or feel very real. I never felt any suspense that people were going to be hurt by anything, because for the most part it was animated specters taking each other on. The bad guys seemed far too easy to defeat, and the head bad guy's plan never seemed clear. Getting things he wanted made him weaker, ultimately, and thus seemed like a poor plan.
The problem is this latest Blu-ray release is a copy of a previous DVD release minus some of the best extras. You get the three-part making-of documentary that covers every inch of the production, and also there are the two commentaries. We get to hear producer Gary Foster talk solo, and then director Mark Steven Johnson and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack talk even more about the project. Missing is the excellent two-part documentary on the history of the comic, the two-part making of featurette, and the animatics comparison. For all of that, you need to find the two-disc collectors edition of the DVD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The saving grace of this Blu-ray lies in the demo-worthy transfer that pops and preens pretty well. Colors and black levels are spot-on, and the CGI sequences look exquisite. There is a ton of depth to the images, which often play on differences in light and dark in the same shot. Flesh tones look surprisingly accurate, and the level of detail is amazing. This is one of the best looking transfers on Blu-ray out there. The soundtrack delivery is also incredibly well done. The rear speakers are used almost constantly, and there is a nice balance to effects and dialogue.
Also, Ghost Rider does work on a primal level. Let's face it, the comic book was always mired down in theological strangeness and juvenile rock and roll imagery. The movie could never capture its awkward mix of the profound and simple, but what does work on the silver screen is why the transfer is so important. What was always cool was just the look of the character, and they do get that right with some of the best CGI fire and imagery I have seen. You can't deny the power of a Western sequence which features two riders streaking through the desert. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Ghost Rider has better extras on DVD, but you can't deny the upgrade in the transfer. Fans will probably want both editions to be complete, and I am sure Sony is fine with that. What a shame they couldn't give us the best of both worlds here with a superb transfer combined with all the extras you could want. Ghost Rider certainly has its moments, and it sounds like it is about to get a vastly improved sequel. This one is worth checking out for the visuals, and for that the Blu-ray is epic. It should on some level satisfy the twelve year-old boy that lives in all of us that worships skeletons on motorcycles driving around in flames to classic rock.
Guilty enough to be hurt by its own penance stare.
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