HD DVD
Bad Flick, Good Disc
3.5 stars
Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
1.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
3.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Bad Flick, Good Disc

Ghost Rider (French Import)

Street Date:
September 7th, 2007
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
February 18th, 2008
Movie Release Year:
2007
Studio:
Warner Home Video
Length:
114 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
France

Editor's Notes

This is a review of the French HD DVD release of 'Ghost Rider.' This movie has already been released on Blu-ray by Sony, which is currently not releasing titles on HD DVD. (For more information about importing HD DVD discs, visit the HD DVD imports thread in our forums area.)

Non-format-specific portions of this review were first published in our review of the domestic Blu-ray version of 'Ghost Rider.'

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

With Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man responsible for the lion's share of big-screen blockbusterdom these days, what's a Hollywood studio to do when it needs to save itself at the box office? Apparently, they raid the Marvel and DC vaults for any even remotely marketable, half-remembered character that they can spiff up with CGI and try to pass off as cool.

So it went with 'Ghost Rider,' the latest entry in Hollywood's continued obsession with superpowers and spandex. Though he's a character unfamiliar to most mainstream moviegoers, Sony apparently felt he had enough potential cachet to helm his own big-screen adventure. Alas, as re-imagined here, poor Ghostie seems like the second-rate character you're stuck playing in one of those Marvel Alliance videogames for the PlayStation, not a star capable of steering his own Hollywood franchise.

Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) was only a teenage stunt biker when he sold his soul to the devil (Peter Fonda). Years later, Johnny is a world renowned daredevil by day, but at night, he becomes the "Ghost Rider." The devil's bounty hunter, he is charged with finding evil souls on earth and delivering them to hell. But when a twist of fate brings Johnny's long-lost love (Eva Mendes) back into his life, he realizes he just might have a second chance at happiness -- if only he can beat the devil and win back his soul. To do so, he'll have to defeat Blackheart (Wes Bentley), the devil's nemesis and wayward son, whose plot to take over his father's realm will bring about hell on earth -- unless Ghost Rider can stop him.

While it earned more than $100 million at the domestic box office last winter, 'Ghost Rider' took a drubbing from critics and diehard fans alike. I wish I could say that the critics were wrong and this is just another case of a fun entertainment being misunderstood, but 'Ghost Rider' really does suck pretty hard. Director and screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson previously helmed 'Daredevil,' the now-notorious Ben Affleck-in-red-spandex laugh-fest, and for my money he's batting zero-for-two. I don't know if he has a thing for low-rent, second-tier superheroes, but Johnson is fast becoming the Uwe Boll of the genre.

The film's first problem is that Nic Cage is about twenty years too old to play this part. He looks pretty ridiculous in his faux-Ghost Rider getup, and his love scenes with Mendes are extra-queasy because of the age difference. Cage is also, tonally, all over the place. It would seem that Johnson didn't know what to do with him, so he just let him go at it and figured he'd save it in the editing room. The result is a mess -- Cage pouts like a teenager on the verge of a temper tantrum one moment, than plays fiery, adult bravado the next, but the overall effect is that he just seems psychotic. Cage can be great in serious roles when he has a strong director, but in material like this, he just seems to be camping it up like it's all a lark with a big fat paycheck at the end.

The script (written by Johnson)is just as misguided. I will freely admit that I'm unfamiliar with the Ghost Rider character and comic storyline, but a vast prior knowledge should not be required to understand a movie about him. The narrative is nearly-incomprehensible at times. Johnson acknowledges in the supplements that the film was heavily altered during the test screening process, and indeed it feels like a case of trying to please every demographic. What falls by the wayside is clear character motivation, believable villains, and a love story we care about. Every plot "twist" and emotional beat is made too clear (and usually telegraphed ahead well in advance), yet the connective tissue either wasn't there in the first place, or has been test-screened right out of the movie. It's a bizarre concoction, and all of the actors, not just Cage, seem completely lost in the muddle.

It's worth noting that both the domestic Blu-ray and this Warner HD DVD import of 'Ghost Rider' contain the "Extended Cut," with nine minutes of additional footage. Alas, there is no amount of extra material that can fix the inherent problems with the film. Although the added scenes are all designed to further illuminate Johnny's backstory and motivations, the film is no less confusing. Aside from some neat CGI and a few enjoyable action sequences, 'Ghost Rider' offers little more than an overacting, overage Cage on a motorcycle surrounded by lots of flames. You've been warned.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Sony's domestic Blu-ray version of 'Ghost Rider' contains a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, while for this HD DVD, Warner gives us another of their 1080p/VC-1 encodes. After much flip-flopping between the two, I'm still quite happy with both. As is typical of the VC-1 codec, the image on the HD DVD is a bit "smoother," with a slightly less hard/grainy look, which some may find more appealing (while others may find it too slick). Both are so close that I can't imagine either side having much to complain about.

'Ghost Rider' has a vivid, striking visual look, with rich blacks and no print issues. CGI sequences pop off the screen, with the image spit-shined to a glossy sheen that almost looks like a videogame. Contrast is certainly tweaked, but not as harshly as some other recent Sony efforts, and the film's photography is big on extreme differences in light and dark areas in the same shot, which certainly enhances depth. The color palette is loaded with deep blues and fiery oranges, all of which are rock solid. Even fleshtones are spot-on -- 'Ghost Rider' looks about as natural as is possible for a comic book milieu such as this. Overall detail to the image is also truly excellent.

My only minor complaints are the same as on the Sony Blu-ray -- a very slight black crush in the shadows, and some quite minor noise in spots. Otherwise, 'Ghost Rider' looks as great on HD DVD as it did on Blu-ray.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

'Ghost Rider' hit Blu-ray with both uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround tracks -- an embarrassment of riches. For the HD DVD, Warner gives us DTS-HD High-Resolution 5.1 Surround mixes (in English and French), but they don't make the cut. The Blu-ray is clearly superior here.

'Ghost Rider' was blessed with very aggressive sound design that was a real treat in PCM and TrueHD. This DTS-HD mix doesn't have the same juggernaut effect. The "wall of sound" effect in the rear channels just isn't quite there, with less of the airy, 360-degree feel of zooming sounds that so impressed on the Blu-ray. Likewise, the subtle and sustained ambiance that was audible on the Sony release is weaker here, resulting in a much more front-heavy mix.

Dynamics aren't bad, though, with a nice, wide sonic spectrum. Low bass isn't as forceful on the HD DVD, but the subwoofer remains pretty strong and active throughout the film. The few straight-ahead dialogue scenes are well balanced, and I had no volume level issues.

'Ghost Rider' on Blu-ray was true demo material, but with the watered down DTS track on the this HD DVD, it merely rates as serviceable.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

The 'Ghost Rider' Blu-ray was a pretty packed release, containing most of the extras from the standard-def DVD versions, but still dropping a couple of notable extras (the documentary "Sin and Salvation: Comic Book Origins of 'Ghost Rider'" and some animatics). I didn't find those omissions fatal, but Warner has reinstated them for this import edition, so fans of supplements will find that the HD DVD gets the edge. (All of the video-based materials are presented in full 1080i/VC-1 video, and include forced French subtitles only.)

  • Audio Commentaries - There are two tracks here, the first with director Mark Steven Johnson and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack, and the second with producer Gary Foster. While I found Foster's track to be overkill (there is much repetition of stories, only from a producer's perspective -- yawn), Johnson's is much more entertaining, because he launches into a fairly heated diatribe against critics, whom he feels harbor ill will against any comic book movie that isn't high-falutin' and stars Kate Winslet. Of course, he misses the obvious, which is that maybe his 'Ghost Rider' really is a piece of cinematic doo-doo, but nevermind. Though Johnson's rant isn't really enough to warrant sitting through this whole track (he also covers the effects with Mack, gushes over Cage etc.), it's certainly a humorous highlight.
  • Documentary: "Spirit of Vengeance: The Making of 'Ghost Rider'" (HD, 82 minutes) - The centerpiece of the disc, this three-part monstrosity, is extensive in focus, and includes interviews with just about everyone (and I do mean everyone) involved with 'Ghost Rider' -- over thirty subjects in all, including director Mark Steven Johnson, producers Gary Foster, Avi Arad, Ari Arad, and Michael De Luca, visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack, production designer Kirk Petrocelli, cinematographer Russell Boyd, stunt coordinator Glenn Boswell, "motorcycle technician" Mark McKinlay, plus all the actors, among them Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Peter Fonda, and Sam Elliott.

    After part one, which gives us the usual brief 'Ghost Rider' history, casting etc., part two delivers the real meat, focusing on key scenes and characters, while part three offers a much more video diary-esque approach, with fewer interviews and more "you-are-there: style on-set footage. Interspersed throughout is plenty of info on the effects, including how they created the Ghost Rider on his flaming motorcycle, plus a dull detour on the film's supposed "love story." The only real disappointment here is that the otherwise comprehensive"Spirit of Vengeance" was clearly completed before 'Ghost Rider' came out, so no one addresses all the lame reviews...
  • Documentary: "Sin And Salvation" (HD, 44 minutes) - This cool contextual doc traces the history of the Ghost Rider character in the comics, from his inception in the '70s, through some lean later years in the '00s, as a more marginal character in the Marvel canon (in fact, this four-part doc features a section for each decade). A bevy of artists and comic heavies (include many who drew Ghost Rider over the years) makes this a fascinating watch even if, like me, you knew nothing about the character going into the movie.
  • Ghost Rider Animatics (HD, 5 minutes) - I'm not a big fan of animatics (aka, rough computer-assisted motion storyboards of scenes), but there are three of 'em here, so enjoy if you dig this stuff.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no high-def exclusives.

Final Thoughts

Best appreciated as total camp, 'Ghost Rider' is probably the most inane and miscast comic book adaptation since 'Daredevil.' Nicolas Cage is in full-on weird mode and about twenty years too old for the part, while the script is so muddled with twists and tonal shifts that it's almost incomprehensible. This Warner French HD DVD import is an interesting contrast to the domestic Sony Blu-ray. The video is on par, but I preferred the Blu-ray audio, while the extras on the HD DVD are superior. So I suggest going with the Blu overall, simply because I value video and audio slightly higher than supplements. However, if your preferences lie elsewhere, than by all means pick this one up.

Technical Specs

  • HD DVD
  • HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/VC-1

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD High-Resolution 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit)
  • French DTS-HD High-Resolution 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit)
  • English DTS-HD High-Resolution 2.0 Stereo (48kHz/16-bit)
  • French DTS-HD High-Resolution 2.0 Stereo (48kHz/16-bit)

Subtitles/Captions

  • French Subtitles

Supplements

  • Audio Commentaries
  • Documentaries
  • Animatics

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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