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Category:    Home > Reviews > Superhero > Supernatural > Action > Ghost Rider – 2-Disc Extended Cut (DVD-Video Set)

Ghost Rider – 2-Disc Extended Cut (DVD-Video Set)


Picture: B-     Sound: B+     Extras: B-     Film: B-



The school of thought on Superhero films is as amusing as anything, with a supposed body of fans knowing what is best, though they are never identified.  They have their expectations from their love of the comics if they are fans, but when even politely asked why they do not like a given film, they suddenly cannot offer the simplest of answers.  After everyone supposedly disliked the first Fantastic Four film only for it to be a big hit, which proved these “fans” do not speak for everyone by a longshot, Sony delayed Ghost Rider for a few months because they wanted it to do at least well enough to be profitable.  It was shortened and often as criticized as Fantastic Four, yet once again, the film was a larger hit than anyone expected.


Why?  Each film is a different case, but with Ghost Rider, Nicolas Cage was one of them.  The Wicker Man remake (reviewed elsewhere on this site) was a disaster, but the actor has retained his box office credibility in the Action field and that did not fail him here.  If you think about it, he might be the only big star of his generation with the credibility and cutting edge work past to be in the lead of this film.  That helped sell the film.  Then there is the character of Johnny Blaze, who is tricked into a deal with Satan to save the father he loves, only for it to backfire on the original Prince of Darkness when Blaze learns to control his cursed powers to foil the evil that made him that way to begin with.


It is one thing to be fortunate enough to cast the original Easy Rider himself, Peter Fonda, as Satan.  It is another thing for it to work and it does here.  Fonda (who was so evil in Stephen Soderbergh’s The Limey) pulls on that darkness here.  As an in-joke the studio loved, Easy Rider is a classic Columbia Picture and here again is the same studio associating Fonda, counterculture and bikes in one film.  Older fans could appreciate all of this, then to have Sam Elliott as The Caretaker was just icing on the cake.


Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson already did the interesting, underrated Daredevil and the awful Elektra (which he only wrote, not directed), so more than a few were curious where this film would go.  This is the most interesting of the three because it tries to do more things than it should and the incoherence of certain dynamics actually makes for a more interesting film than a first time viewer might catch.


For one thing, Ghost Rider owes his founding to the motorcycle counterculture and Easy Rider, so the roots come from a very special and great moment in comic book history.  That could have called for some kind of art film, especially prior to the dawn of digital effects, yet Johnson still decides to fetishize on the idea of the motorcycle(s) almost as another character and does not pull back from getting his hands dirty in this respect.  Johnny becomes a trapped existential character and all of this is a contradiction of what the film is also trying to be: a 1980s style commercial action film.  How it juggles the two is fascinating, yet one of the reasons it was a surprise hit.


Then there is the tale of two genres.  Yes, this is clearly a Superhero film, but it is also part of a subcycle of these films (like Spawn, Constantine and Hellboy) that are also outright Horror films.  The story bounces from comic Marvel moments as light as Fantastic Four, then turns around and has moments so dark that especially in this longer version, are hard “R” rated types of moments for their deep and unrelenting moments of demonism and the implications of the dark world a Satan and said cohorts inhabit.  This part is not for children by any means and for all the bad Horror film remakes, retreads, rip-offs and prequels (skipping the snuff/torture stupidity), this is the darkest Supernatural Horror A-level film Hollywood has released since Peter Hyams’ underrated End Of Days (see my HD-DVD review elsewhere on this site) with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  This part can get very brutal.


Like Hyams’ film (which he took over at the last minute), the film has Action and Horror mixed in a big budget way.  Both work.  Wes Bentley is a surprise as (supposed son of Satan, though we have heard of others even within the Marvel Universe) Blackheart, the first major opponent for Rider and Eva Mendez is more skillful as the sexual and comic counterpart girlfriend Roxanne, who has known Johnny since they were children.  The result is a film that is always interesting, even when it does not work.


Cage is also funny as expected, then there are the moments Rider talks and can see evil.  He is not a total Superhero and some could argue an anti-hero, doing some ugly things not in line with the current cycle of Superhero films, yet totally faithful to the darkness of his character.  In a particularly media dominated time with too much judgmentalism going on, to have a character that can “see” and “feel” evil is something, as well as something certain religious zealots may not like since it would challenge their dogma.


The result is a situation where anything can happen.  If the film has a failure besides Johnson simply not having the skill to juggle all he takes on, it is not realizing all of the possibilities of the situation before him.  When Johnson is not trying to be comic and commercial, the film has a Rock Music attitude that that is home to the character and even if there is no sequel or series of films, more works in his version of Ghost Rider than many might have first thought.  As more people see it, they just may figure this out.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is pretty good with some rare digital effects that actually have some style and look good.  Sure, they are not always perfect, but most of the effects here unlike a vast majority of films using CG to death actually move the narrative forward.  Russell Boyd, A.C.S., does some of his best cinematography to date, unfettered by the visual effects in what is a very rare case in any film, especially a commercial film like this.  The editing can be rough, though it is not as choppy here as it was in theaters.


The sound design is once again typical of how Superhero genre films and the better Horror genre films tend to take advantage of the best sound design.  Originally issued in theaters at its best in 8-channel SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound), this DVD offers a fairly good Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and an especially impressive DTS 5.1 mix that is one of the best we have heard on DVD-Video or even the HD formats in a while.  Even better than what I heard in my 35mm screening, this is a demo-quality mix like we do not encounter enough and it is not just in the motorcycle scenes and battle scenes, though they excel.  The mix is just consistent with fine dialogue and clever ambience throughout.  Christopher Young’s score is not bad either, in the vein of his underrated music work for past thrillers like Species, Set It Off, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and especially Copycat.  He can do dramas (Wonder Boys) and also scored Spider-Man 3, but when he gets optimal material and runs with it, he is one of the best music composers of his generation.  Combined, this is one of the best A-grade DVDs we’ve played in a while.


Extras include feature length audio commentary with director/writer Mark Steven Johnson and Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Mack, a second feature length audio commentary by producer Gary Foster (both on DVD 1), Spirit Of Vengeance/Adventure/Execution: The Making Of Ghost Rider documentary/three parts, animatics and Sin & Salvation: Featurette Chronicling 40 Years Of The Comic Book Origins Of Ghost Rider (on DVD 2) making for a better combination of excessive value added viewing than usual.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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