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Ghost Town (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/28/2008

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/29/2008

As someone who writes about entertainment, it's never fun to feel out-of-the-loop or, as usually happens, like you simply don't get something. (I would have to imagine that the only profession where this is worse is science or technology.) Our case in point today is Ricky Gervais. This guy has gotten so much buzz in recent years, but I never got the appeal. In his defense, I didn't see him in many things, but when I did, I found him annoying. As luck would have it, it took the bombing of his first big leading role in the U.S. for me to decide that I do like him.

Gervais stars in Ghost Town as Bertram Pincus, an anti-social dentist who loves his job because his patients can't really talk to him. He lives alone and he never pries into anyone else's life, nor does he let anyone into his. Not longer after the movie begins, Pincus goes into the hospital for a routine colonoscopy. While one his way home from the hospital, he notices that he's being followed by several people, including a persistent man in a tuxedo, Frank (Greg Kinnear). His dismay at people approached by so many strangers is doubled when he actually walks through Frank. Assuming that it's a side-effect from the surgery, he returns to the hospital, where Pincus learns that he was dead for a few minutes during the procedure. Again returning to his apartment, Pincus encounters Frank and learns that the man is a ghost, as are all of the other people who Pincus has seen that day. Typically, the living can't see ghosts, despite the fact that they are all around us, but due to his accident, Pincus can. Frank urges Pincus for help with his widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni). Frank fears that the man whom she is dating is only after her money and he wants Pincus to break them up. Being a natural misanthrope, Pincus is appalled by this idea, but when he meets Gwen, he is charmed by her, and readily accepts the assignment. How can a man who hates people suddenly relate to this woman?

On paper, the premise for Ghost Town may sound somewhat complicated, but it's actually a fairly simplistic premise. The problem with this is that in less-capable hands, the movie could have easily fallen apart. On the surface, the movie appears to be a spoof of The Sixth Sense. Just look at the tagline on the DVD box, "He sees dead people...and they annoy him." Wouldn't you think that this was just a one-note comedy?

Fortunately, there are talented individuals helming Ghost Town. Writer/Director David Koepp has had an interesting career. He's written the scripts for some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters, such as Spider-Man, Jurassic Park, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. However, when he works as a director, he likes to take on smaller, more intimate projects like (the grossly underrated) Stir of Echoes and Secret Window. With Ghost Town, he's taken a very simple and somewhat hackneyed idea and turned it on its ear. Yes, this movie has that scene where the ghost is talking through a person to a loved one, and that loved one doesn't believe that someone is conversing with a ghost. We've seen that scene a thousand times, and they can get old fast. With Ghost Town, Koepp (and co-writer John Kamps) present us with a character who doesn't want to talk to people anyway, much less for a ghost. This really heightens the awkwardness of the situations. However, that's only the surface of this film. At heart, it's a romance where Pincus must not only learn how to talk to people (both living and dead), but he must find a way to express his emotions to Gwen.

The film's other saving grace is Gervais, who really brings something special to the role. Pincus could have been played in many different ways -- he could have been aloof, paranoid, angry, etc. Gervais plays him as a man who simply sees himself as being above others and he can't be bothered by them. His superior attitude carries him through life and he feels that he's all the better for not getting involved with other people. Gervais plays this to the hilt, as Pincus is someone who thinks of himself as the smartest person in the room and is condescending even when he's not trying to be. He attempts to change this when he meets Gwen and watching this jerk try not to be a jerk is very funny. Gervais is also allowed to clearly cut loose at times, and some of his rants and comments (especially about the dog) are hilarious.

Ghost Town is one of those small films which could be nearly impossible to market and thus, could miss an audience. I hope that this will change with its home vide release, as this is an enchanting movie. Koepp is able to take the age-old story of ghosts who can't move on and give it a very nice twist. The romantic-comedy aspects of the film work quite well, and the cast is very good. However, Gervais steals the show and afterwards, you won't be able to imagine what the film would have been like without him.

Ghost Town haunts DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no intrusive grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are very good and the image is never too dark or bright. I did note some slight shimmering at times and some scenes lack in detail. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track provides clear stereo effects, which certainly benefit from the Manhattan street locations. Chapter 11 shows off the subtle, but present surround sound effects on the track.

The Ghost Town DVD offers only four extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director David Koepp and star Ricky Gervais.  "Making Ghost Town" (23 minutes) has Koepp and co-writer John Kamps discussing the idea and story. We get comments from the cast on their characters, and Koepp talks about how the actors fit into the film. There is a look at the special effects in the film and how the ghosts work in the movie. The costumes and sets are also examined. The nice thing about this piece is that Koepp is involved throughout. "Ghostly Effects" (2 minutes) offers a breakdown of the various elements involved when characters walk through ghosts. "Some People Can Do It" (6 minutes) is a blooper reel.

Paramount Home Entertainment has also brought Ghost Town to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is especially sharp and clear, showing no grain and defects from the source film. This is a very crisp transfer and this is only helped by the depth of the image and the impressive level of detail. The colors look good and the image never shows the shimmering seen on the DVD. The Disc provides a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a quiet comedy, we don't get a lot of theatrics from this track. The stereo effects are detailed and solid. Again, the museum party scene lets us know that the surround sound is definitely there. However, there's little in the way of subwoofer action and we are mainly treated to crisp, audible dialogue.

The extras on the Ghost Town Blu-ray Disc are the same as those on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long