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Ghost Rider (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/12/2007

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/11/07

Over a decade ago, I had a position in the comic book industry. And yes, at that time, I was very into comics. But, when I left that job, I left the world of comic books behind. And yet, I still have fond memories of the powerful stories and art from the comics and I've never let go of some of my favorite characters. I remembered seeing the "Ghost Rider" comics as a child, but I didn't pay much attention to them. When the second coming of "Ghost Rider" appeared in the 1990s, featuring the Dan Ketch character, I immediately took to those books. Which brings us to the Ghost Rider movie, which borrows elements from both versions of the "Ghost Rider" mythos. Does all of this add up to a good movie?

As Ghost Rider opens, we meet young Johnny Blaze (played by Matt Long), who seems to have it all. Johnny performs in a motorcycle stunt show with his father, Barton (Brett Cullen), and he's in love with a girl named Roxanne (played by Raquel Alessi). Then, Johnny's world falls apart. He learns that his father has terminal cancer. That night, Johnny is met by a mysterious stranger (Peter Fonda), who claims that he can save Barton's life in exchange for Johnny's soul. Assuming that the man is a crazy drifter, Johnny accepts, only to find his father healthy the next day. Soon, tragedy befalls the Blaze family, and Johnny learns that the stranger was Mephistopheles (or The Devil). Enraged, Johnny rides off, leaving Roxanne behind.

The story then leaps ahead several years. Johnny is now a world-renowned stunt performer (think Evel Knievel) and he's loved by his fans for his ridiculous motorcycle stunts, despite the constant fretting of his assistant, Mack (Donal Logue). Just as Johnny is about to perform his biggest stunt yet, Roxanne appears. Now a TV reporter, she's come to interview Johnny. Johnny is thrilled to see her and the usually morose man takes this as a sign that his life is about to change. He's more right than he knows, as Mephistopheles returns to collect on his debt from Johnny. A rogue demon named Blackheart has escaped from hell -- with plans to take over the world --, and The Devil needs for Johnny to stop him. Johnny is then transformed into the "Ghost Rider", a being with a flaming skull and supernatural powers. Astride his flaming "hell cycle", the Ghost Rider exists to do the devil's bidding. Horrified by this change, Johnny must find away to protect those around him and try to win back his soul.

Ghost Rider was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, who also brought us the Marvel comic based Daredevil, a movie which many people hated. I can only assume that this dislike is related to the Ben Affleck backlash which was happening at the time. I happen to enjoy Daredevil, and I especially admire the fact that, save for some small changes, it stays fairly faithful to the comic books, especially those from Frank Miller. With Ghost Rider, Johnson has liberally taken bits and pieces from the two volumes of Ghost Rider, and melded them. The Johnny Blaze character and his deal with The Devil are taken from the earlier version of the comic, while Ghost Rider's "Penance Stare”, his use of a chain as a weapon, and his overall look come from the later comic. Johnson has added the love story and Ghost Rider’s role as Mephistopheles’ bounty hunter for dramatic effect, and these elements blend in fairly well.

However, Johnson chose to add some other things to the story in order to make Ghost Rider more appealing to general audiences and some of these decisions are questionable. In both versions of the comic, Ghost Rider is a very dark and often scary character. For the film, things have been lightened-up somewhat...with mixed results. The shots in which Ghost Rider cracks his knuckles was silly, but when he flips off the cops, I nearly stopped the movie. There’s a difference between toning down a character and making them silly.

The positive addition comes in the form of Nicolas Cage, who brings a truly insane quality to the movie. In short, Case plays Johnny Blaze as Elvis (and if you know Cage, this isn’t surprising). This may not gel with the Ghost Rider comic book mythos at all, but it is truly entertaining. Cage’s take on Blaze is a unique one, but he’s certainly convincing as a man who is slightly crazed and always looking over his shoulder. If nothing else, Cage is well-cast as a man who is a very reluctant hero.

Enough of my ex-fan-boy ranting, let’s look at the overall film. On the whole, Ghost Rider is a mixed-bag. As with many comic book films, the movie suffers greatly from being an origin story. The film throws a ton of exposition at us, and the story is needlessly convoluted at times. We’ve got Johnny’s curse, the Devil, Roxanne, Blackheart & his minions to deal with, and then the movie throws in an incredibly obtuse storyline about an ancient contract for 1000 souls. I’m sure that those unfamiliar with Ghost Rider were quite lost at times. There’s also the fact that Ghost Rider doesn’t come across as a super-hero...despite the fact that he’s stopping a demonic apocalypse. Outside of that, there’s one scene of Ghost Rider helping a mugging victim and it feels very tacked on.

But, we’ve also got a movie about a bad-ass biker whose head is on fire. This has always been the appeal of Ghost Rider and the movie does a very good job of exploiting this. The special effects in the movie are very good and the Ghost Rider visuals simply work. While it may be inherently silly, there’s something primal about the visual appeal of this character, and seeing the flaming skull on-screen is satisfying. Ghost Rider is riddled with minor problems, but overall the movie is fun and entertaining.

Ghost Rider rides onto DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in three separate versions; widescreen, full-frame, and a 2-disc extended version. For the purposes of this review, only the full-frame version was viewed. The film has been formatted at 1.33:1 for this version. (Please note that the widescreen version is letterboxed at 2.40:1.) The image is fairly sharp and clear, but there is a mild amount of grain visible here. The colors are good, most notably the reds and oranges. Much of the movie takes place at night, but the action is always visible. The image does look squeezed at times, and there is some artifacting in a few scenes. The DVD carries both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, as well as a DTS track. Both tracks sound fantastic and they really bring the movie to life. The tracks are outstanding at showing off the sound design of the film. The dialogue is clear and audible, and the music sounds fine. The stereo, surround and subwoofer effects are constant and the audio is constantly alive. The surround effects are quite strong and the subwoofer action had the walls shaking.

This version of the Ghost Rider DVD contains only a few extras. There are two AUDIO COMMENTARIES on the disc. The first features writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack. This is an informative, if not somewhat dry, chat as the two discuss the making of the film. Johnson speaks at length about the cast, script, and location-shooting, while Mack comments on the challenge of creating Ghost Rider and the demons in the movie. The second commentary is from producer Gary Foster. Foster pauses some during his talk, but he does a good job of giving us inside info on the mechanics of making the movie, specifically locations and special needs of the movie. The DVD contains two making-of featurettes, “Spirit of Vengeance” (29 minutes) and “Spirit of Adventure” (30 minutes). Both contain a ton of behind-the-scenes footage and comments from the cast and crew. The first has motorcycle test footage and an overall of the production design, while the latter looks at the stunts in the film. But, neither really delve into the story or the comic origins of the character.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long