PictureGhost Rider's got an extremely eye-catching image, that's for sure. If you like the sight of fire, then you are going to be in heat-haze heaven with this one. The 2.40:1 1080p transfer is literally afire with comic-book visuals that take colour to a whole new dimension. Think of the Fantastic Four (another dodgy super-movie, I know) and its tremendously colourful presentation and you are on the right tracks. But Ghost Rider likes to project such retina-embracing spectacle from out of a predominantly dark background which, if anything, makes them all the more vivid and captivating. For example, just check out Blackheart's crimson eyes during the climax, or every shot involving flames. Primaries literally pop from the screen and that smooth night-time blue cast is terrifically soothing and never too heavy or too washed-out. Skin-tones are good too, even if they are a little too rosy with Hollywood health. But, naturally, the image leaps to riotous life whenver Ghost Rider blazes across it. You've never seen orange look this dynamic before, that's for certain. That burning skull is breathtaking to behold, and when Blaze uses his demonic powers to transform his bike, the combination of gleaming chrome and curling flame is simply irresistible. I watched this on a 52 inch 1080p LCD screen and the effect was simply astonishing.
Detail is extremely high, with the image holding up nice and sharp to close scrutiny. The composition of those intricate flames is a rippling delight and the little subliminal flash-cuts of true demonic flesh beneath human guises are acutely realised. But check out the detail, clarity and colour on the high stained glass windows in the city church when Blackheart pays a nasty visit. But there is a problem with the blacks which are, sadly, a little too strong and deep, creating a crushing effect upon the detail that is contained within the shadows. This is especially noticeable during some of the night-time desert sequences and throughout the finale. However, just when you think that the image couldn't get any darker, Johnson has his Rider light up in those ravishing flames, and the contrast between the two ends of the spectrum is nothing if not mind-blowing. So, I may have to concede that the transfer has deliberately strengthened the blacks just to make this effect all the more dazzling.
Three-dimensionality is marvellously showcased with this disc, too. The impressive compositions from DOP Russell Boyd mean that there are a good few shots when Ghost Rider's bike occupies a foreground portion of the screen whilst Blaze, himself, is positioned mid to background - and the visual effect is stunning. Likewise, the Rider coming up out of the water and revving across the surface is presented with great depth. Desert-set sequences almost all have hugely intoxicating levels of depth, too, with figures standing, strutting or riding proud against the background. The majestic shot of the two riders hurtling across the twilight desert is the exact epitome of what this transfer does best - startlingly sharp and vivid imagery, detail-rich and bathed in radiant colour against a swirling sea of impossibly deep shadow.
It goes without saying that the print is in pristine condition and the disc betrays no evidence of smearing, edge enhancement or compression artefacts. Stunning ... but not quite in the same league as POTC Dead Man's Chest. I really am tempted to knock a point off this for that loss of detail in the gloom, but because the overall image is just so arresting, I'm going to be courteous and bestow Ghost Rider a 9 out of 10.
SoundFor ages now, I have wanted to test PCM Uncompressed and Dolby TrueHD back to back on the same disc. And now, finally, the opportunity wings its way courtesy of Ghost Rider. Yep, that's right, two lossless tracks for the price of one. How does that grab you?
Well, to my ears, both tracks sound simply amazing. Both create a truly awesome and totally immersive aural experience that really gives your full system a thorough workout. The tracks are pin-sharp in clarity, boasting glorious high-ends and deep, boom-boom-shake-the-room bass levels. The mid-range is warm and rich and flows sublimely across the soundscape with no hint of distortion and a terrific presentation of the musical score and the dialogue.
Directionality is near-faultless, with action effects, voices and score all sent around the set-up with absolute precision and a great adherence to what is seen on-screen. The streetlights clicking off and then on again as the Devil appears and then vanishes features smooth separation and placement. Motorcycle engines roaring, cars careering, helicopter rotors whump-whumping, demons whooshing, gun-blasts and screams are steered around the speakers with fantastically seamless pans, creating a design that is almost constantly engaged with activity and hell-bent on involving you within it. Smaller effects like bullet cases hitting the floor, shattered glass tinkling underfoot, crowd and individual movement and general hubbub are marvellously integrated, keeping ambience textured, detailed and alive throughout. Ghost Rider's cackles and deep, throaty roars tickle and rumble the tracks, respectively and, of course, Sam Elliott's voice rasps, scratches and crawls throughout every facet of the sound design, his own whistle later on even ensuring that he captures the high end, too. All round great stuff, folks.
Now it's crunch time. So which one sounded better? Well, as far as I'm concerned, the PCM takes the lead because, it opens up the film just that little bit more and feels slightly more powerful, with deeper bass and a design that is immediately louder and a tad more aggressive without ever once sacrificing clarity, resonance or naturalism. But whichever track you opt for, you will not be disappointed.
ExtrasFirst of all come two commentary tracks. The first is by producer Gary Foster and is easily the worst. Not only does he repeat himself from time to time, but he is boring to boot. The second, which features Mark Steven Johnson and Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Mack, is much better, if only to hear the writer/director's determined response to all the critics who lambasted his film and his, admittedly, convincing love for the character.
Now, I normally love in-depth making of documentaries, especially the ones that Marvel puts together. But this one, which comes in three parts - Spirit Of Vengeance, Spirit Of Adventure and Spirit Of Execution - wore me down, burned me out and left for dead long before the final episode ended. In fact, if I am totally honest with you, I didn't actually make it all the way through. Whist the overall making of, which runs for over 80 mins in all, has a fly-on-the-wall approach to the production and tackles practically everything that went on behind the scenes, from conception, casting, story, effects and stunts to the filming in Australia, the building of the bike and the copious CG work, the material lacks coherence and direction. We have lots of interviews with the stars - even the bit-parters - and all those in the crew, from the director and Marvel honcho Avi Arad (who really doesn't seem that passionate about this particular project) down on through the ranks, and we get to see effects tests, bike tests and even watch the actors performing some scenes for the camera and then watching themselves back on the monitor - with Cage making a complete fool of himself in the process (“Monster movie ... yeah, yeah! Monster movie!”), but the whole thing is so spectacularly haphazard that it just seems that no-one is taking it seriously at all. Producer Gary Foster takes us on a tour of the sets but gets tongue-tied or lost for words, even stumbling at one point, and springs surprise interviews on people who clearly don't want to be interviewed. The thing is in desperate need of tightening up and just comes across as too unprofessional.
So despite being ostensibly what most fans of the film should enjoy, this package is ultimately a depressing letdown. The making-of triple-act is unbelievably convinced that it is coming up with something super-special, whilst the director's own commentary is forced to relate to the fact that nobody outside of the production thought that at all once Ghost Rider hits the streets.
VerdictIncredibly silly but thoroughly enjoyable, Ghost Rider is pure comic-book eye-candy. Cage is having a ball, Elliott runs away with it all despite only having about twelve minutes of screentime and the visuals burn an imprint on the mind's eye. All things considered, the movie is a colourful, fun-packed romp through soul-ignited heroics, and even if it lacks the huge-scale spectacle we have come to expect from such outings or, crucially, the potential for a franchise, it still possesses a witty script and enough devilment to satisfy those with a fondness for inane escapism.
The transfer is stunning, racking up points for the tremendous display of colour and three-dimensionality. Audio-wise, the disc literally spoils you with the two leading lossless soundtracks currently available to be fully enjoyed on the home cinema. For my money, the PCM Uncompressed just nudges ahead of the Dolby TrueHD, but both offer absolutely scintillating demonstrations of totally immersive and intricate sound design. However, the extras mainly left me cold, although I will concede that many out there may enjoy them.
So, going against the majority of reviewers and critics, I am going to recommend Ghost Rider simply because it is so damn amusing.
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