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August 11, 2007
Ghost Rider - Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
15/2/20073/7/2007Sony PicturesMark Steven Johnson
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVCDD5.1 448kbps
PCM 4.6Mbps
MNicolas Cage

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Nic Cage as Johnny Blaze...
Hollywood seems to be infatuated with comic book properties of late - and it's probably not unexpected when you look at the success of franchises such as X-Men, Spider-man, Superman, Batman, Blade and Fantastic Four. One of the lesser known comic books has also been given the big screen treatment by Crystal Sky, Marvel and Sony Pictures; Ghost Rider. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this movie is that Nic Cage has been handed the lead role - a move which has divided fans given his age compared to that portrayed in the comic books. So anyway what's this movie all about...

Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) was only a teenaged 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 bringing them to hell. But when a twist of fate brings Johnny's long-lost love Roxanne (Eva Mendes) back into his life, Johnny realises he just might have a second chance at happiness - if 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 hell on earth - unless Ghost Rider can stop him.

I can honestly say that I was surprised by this movie. After seeing an average rating of 5.4/10 on IMDB and only 28% Rotten Tomato Freshness from 114 reviews I was concerned that this would be a total disaster. A couple of weeks ago I hired the DVD release and was pleasantly surprised. This wasn't a bad movie at all, there's certainly some great action sequence, and a few moments of witty dialogue - although it offers few twists or surprises along the way. I now have the Blu-Ray version to review, and I managed to watch it a couple more times with my impression of the movie still leaning more towards positive then many may expect.

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...and now Nic Cage as the Ghost Rider.
Perhaps assisting my positive opinion compared to reviews of the theatrical release is that, as with the DVD release, this is the extended cut of the movie. Around 9 extra minutes of footage has been cut back into the film including scenes which add to character development and back story. Much of your acceptance of this movie may come down to the decision to place Nic Cage in the role of Johnny Blaze. Personally I don't mind him as an actor, and without being a reader of the comic book I didn't have any problem with his portrayal of Johnny Blaze. He's a man tricked early in his life, and it scars him. He seeks vengeance on evil, but his life is complicated by the return of his love interest. Eva Mendes is suitable eye candy in the movie - I can't say I've ever been a big fan of her acting ability. Other actors including Peter Fonda, Sam Elliott and Wes Bentley all put in entertaining performances throughout the movie. The films finale in the old Western township will have you on the edge of the seat and while some of the CG is a bit noticable it's not too bad either.

With a worldwide gross of approximately $US228 million, or double the original production budget, Ghost Rider was a moderate success at the box office (and a big movie for film production in Melbourne where the majority of the film was shot). This is certainly not the disaster that many people say it is, but isn't a classic comic book adaptation either. If you go into this movie expecting a big, loud, popcorn flick then you will probably walk our satisfied. This is not a movie I'll object to seeing again in future - and I certainly hope they make a sequel somewhere down the line.

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Eva Mendes is gorgeous as usual!
As such a recent release into cinemas the print which this Blu-Ray disc has been mastered off is pristine. Presented in the films original 2.40:1 using the AVC MPEG-4 codec this is one of the most gorgeous transfers to Blu-Ray that we've seen to date. For the most part the transfers bitrate seems to hover around the 25-35Mbps but on numerous occasions that shot up well into the 45+Mbps range. Assisting the look of this film and transfer are the stellar visual effects which are found throughout the movie - not least of which are the stunning flame effects on the Ghost Rider himself. With much of the movie taking place an night I was a bit concerned about the amount of visible detail in dark areas, but as with almost every Blu-Ray release the contrast levels were superb with even the smallest detail visible in dark scenes.

Audio is provided in two flavours. As well as a Linear PCM 5.1 track at 4.6Mbps the disc also includes Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448kbps. We have to admit that we are disappointed in the DD5.1 track only being encoded at 448kbps - we would have hoped for 640kbps at the very least. With the lower bitrate there is certainly a difference between that audio track and the stellar PCM track - the latter of which is much clearer and offers a much more energizing experience. If you really want to hear a differenc elistend to the movie between 1:25:20-1:26:55 when the Ghost Rider is racing down the side of a building with glass shattering, and then gets shot at by the police - the difference is quite marked. I would go so far as to say that the PCM track is as perfect a reproduction of the original movie soundtrack as we could ever hope for. The disc also offers both sound formats in Italian.

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Flame effects in the movie are stunning.
For a movie which didn't exactly do massive business at the box office, and for one which has been panned by both critics and the public alike it would have been easy for Sony Pictures to release a disc with a couple of 'fluff' extras and forget about providing quality and quantity. Fortunately, as with the video and audio, Sony Pictures have gone all-out to ensure there's a decent set of extras included on this disc. While the Blu-Ray release misses out on a couple of extras that appeared on the DVD release (including a look at comic book origins, and some animatics for the movie) this disc does include two commentaries and a brilliant documentary.

Audio commentary by Director Mark Steven Johnson and Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Mack:

    A decent commentary which goes into quite a bit of detail about making Ghost Rider including some detail on the visual effects. The commentary does go off on a tangent at times - including a decent dig at reviewers! - but is certainly worth listening too.

Audio Commentary by Producer Gary Foster:

    A second commentary with quite a bit of detail (again), but with some stories repeated from the original commentaries. Good, but not as entertaining as the other commentary..

The Making of Ghost Rider Documentaries (81:54/HD):

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    The video transfer is superb.
    Split into three parts " Spirit of Vengeance" " Spirit of Execution" and " Spirit of Adventure" these three documentaries are certainly well worth a look. Presented with MPEG-2 encoding in HD with 192kbps stereo sound these documentaries cover quite a large amount of the development process that went into this movie. It's pretty clear though that this was a full documentary which has been cut up into sections less then 30 minutes in length only to reduce the fees payable to the participants (any content over 30 minutes in length requires actors to be paid - even for interviews etc). In any case these documentaries have some fantastic behind the scenes 'fly on the wall' type segments where you truly get a sense of what went into the development of this movie. There are plenty of interviews with cast and crew, and while not the best documentary we've ever seen, it's certainly ranks as one of the better ones.

Trailers (4:41/HD):

    Trailers for Spider-man 3 and Surf's Up both presented in HD with MPEG-2 compression with 448kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. I still find it strange that few Blu-Ray discs include the original trailers for the actual movie.

It's not the best comic book based movie that we've ever seen but having said that I quite enjoyed the ride. This Blu-Ray disc includes an extended cut of the story which adds a bit more depth to some of the characters. As well as a superb transfer both in terms of visuals and audio this disc offers a decent set of extras. If you want a showcase title to show off the Blu-Ray technology, and your brand new HDTV then this may do the job quite nicely.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Sony Pictures. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.