Ghost Rider appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While packed with plenty of attractive sequences, the transfer suffered from too many minor issues.
Most of these affected sharpness. I noticed some light edge enhancement, and wide shots tended to be a little vague and ill-defined. Though the majority of the flick showed good delineation, these tentative moments created distractions. At least I saw no shimmering or jagged edges, and source flaws appeared to be absent.
Despite the dark subject matter, Rider featured a surprisingly lively palette. That was especially true during the slightly gold-tinted first act, but it continued throughout the movie, as colors were tight and full. Blacks seemed reasonably deep and dense, but shadows tended to be a little too thick. The film offered many low-light shots, and they came across as just a bit too opaque. The transfer was good enough for a “B-“ but no better than that.
On the other hand, the audio of Ghost Rider proved more consistently satisfying. The DVD came with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I thought the pair sounded virtually identical, as I noticed no substantial differences between the pair.
I figured that a comic book flick like this would come with aggressive audio, and I was correct. The soundfields provided an auditory assault from start to finish. Thunder roared from all speakers, while vehicles zipped around the spectrum. Battles raged across the realm, and all these elements combined to create involving, forceful soundscapes.
Audio quality was very good. Speech sounded natural and concise, with no edginess or other problems. Bass response was always deep and firm, and those elements made the effects powerful. Music also showed nice dimensionality and range. This was a top-notch auditory experience.
When we shift to extras, we find two audio commentaries on DVD One. The first comes from writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. With Mack present, we find the expected notes about visual effects, but Johnson dominates and covers many other subjects. He gets into story and editorial choices, changes for the extended cut, cast, performances and Nicolas Cage’s take on his character, sets and shooting in Australia, stunts and action, visual decisions, and other specifics from the production.
Overall, the commentary provides a pretty good overview of the flick. It touches on a good array of subjects and remains reasonably involving and informative. In an unusual twist, Johnson discusses the movie’s negative reviews and provides a semi-angry rebuttal. (He thinks critics didn’t like it because they only want to see dark, depressing art films. No, critics didn’t like it because it wasn’t very good.) Though this never turns into a stellar chat, it touches on enough useful material to deserve a listen. I must admit I couldn’t figure out why Johnson sometimes pronounced “Johnny” and “Joanie”, though.
The second commentary features a running, screen-specific piece from producer Gary Foster. He covers the same array of topics addressed in the first track. However, Foster provides a different perspective and talks about these subjects from the producer’s point of view. Although some repetition occurs, Foster’s alternate side of things allows his chat to become valuable. It’s not a great commentary, but it remains stimulating and worthwhile.
DVD One opens with some ads. We get promos for Spider-Man 3 and The Messengers. These also appear in the Trailer domain along with clips for Across the Universe, Seinfeld Season Eight, Premonition, Blood and Chocolate, Hellboy and “Ray Harryhausen In Color”.
Over on DVD Two, we start with a three-part documentary called Spirit of Vengeance: The Making of Ghost Rider. This one-hour, 21-minute and 53-second piece mixes behind the scenes materials and interviews. We hear from Johnson, Foster, Mack, producers Avi Arad, Ari Arad and Michael De Luca, production designer Kirk Petrocelli, vehicle supervisor Darren Loveday, motorcycle technician Mark McKinlay, makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt, cinematographer Russell Boyd, stunt coordinator Glenn Boswell, second unit director Kimble Rendall, stunt performer Shea Adams, costume designer Lizzy Gardiner, special effects makeup creative supervisor Dave Elsey, special effects technician Sonny Tilders, stunt double Eddie Yansick, executive producer E. Bennett Walsh, PIC Agency creative directors Jarik Van Sluijs and Julio Ferrario, designer/animator Gary Hebert, 3D animators Hai Ho and Robin Boepjtorff, and actors Sam Elliot, Nicolas Cage, Laurence Breuls, Mathew Wilkinson, Daniel Frederiksen, Peter Fonda, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Raquel Alessi, and Matt Long.
The program opens with info about bringing Ghost Rider to the big screen, the script and story, cast and Nicolas Cage’s interest in the project, the flick’s tone and its motorcycles. From there it digs into sets, characters, costumes and makeup, music, shooting in Australia, cinematography, and stunts. In addition, “Spirit” looks at visual effects, editing, score, and other aspects of post-production.
Though this won’t seem apparent from the notes I listed above, “Spirit” essentially follows the production in chronological order. It detours for related issues but stays connected to the shooting schedule. For instance, a scene that highlights Roxanne offers our introduction to Mendes.
Part Three of the program mostly drops the interviews to completely follow the “fly on the wall” approach. We watch the various post-production stages without any commentary and just see them as they happen. Though this means we lose many overall thoughts on those issues, we get a nice sense of immediacy. I really like these segments.
Its structure makes “Spirit” a little disjointed at times, but not to a significant degree. Instead, the program manages to meld the footage from the set with interviews to become quite informative. It fleshes out many aspects of the production and turns into an amiable and useful piece.
Ghost Rider Animatics goes for three minutes, 34 seconds. These let us see a series of crude computer generated previsualization shots. They’re worth a look, though they’d be better with commentary.
Finally, we find a collection of featurettes under the banner of Sin and Salvation: Comic Book Origins of Ghost Rider. These go by decades and include “1970s” (10:05), “1980s” (4:08), “1990s” (19:06) and “2000s” (12:46). These include notes from co-creator/editor (1972-73) Roy Thomas, co-creator/artist (1972-73) Mike Ploog, writer (1982-83) JM DeMatteis, writer (1990-96) Howard Mackie, artist (1990-92, 2006-07) Mark Texeira, artists (1992) Adam, Joe and Andy Kubert, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, editor (2005-07) Axel Alonso, and artist (2005-07) Clayton Crain.
“Sin” looks at the creation of the character and his early days. We hear about a 1950s Ghost Rider, Marvel’s 1960s Western take on him, and the design and development of the 1970s version. We get notes on the series’ characters and their psychology, visual concepts, and aspects of the comics over the decades.
I don’t think that “Sin” acts as a great history of the comic series, as it tends to skip from one era to another without a great attempt to smoothly depict the books’ growth and changes. Nonetheless, we learn a lot of interesting info about the comics such as the series’ cancellation in the Eighties and resurrection in the Nineties. These featurettes are a fun way to learn about the comics.
While Ghost Rider boasts a good cast and some solid visual effects, it skimps on story and character elements. Those flaws leave it as something decidedly ordinary and forgettable. The DVD offers decent visuals along with excellent audio and supplements. Rider creates a passable diversion but lacks the pizzazz to turn it into a great comic book flick.