I have to admit I was skeptical when Ghost Rider was announced. The interesting casting, both in-front and behind the camera, and a peculiar script, had me worried. Most of my worries were justified upon seeing it, but I still found it to be an enjoyable movie on its own rights. Despite being shorter than it shouldíve been and not as developed as it couldíve been, the movie brought in major box office dollars. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson, this movie now sees release in both its theatrical cut and an extended edition. But does the extended version of the movie truly help fix the flaws?
From Marvel Comics, creators of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men, comes a new hero... Ghost Rider. Long ago, superstar motorcycle stunt rider Johnny Blaze made a deal with the devil to protect the ones he loved most: his father and his childhood sweetheart, Roxanne (Eva Mendes). Now, the devil has come for his due. By day, Johnny is a die-hard stunt rider... but at night, in the presence of evil, he becomes the Ghost Rider, a bounty hunter of rogue demons. Forced to do the devil's bidding, Johnny is determined to confront his fate and use his curse and powers to defend the innocent.
I was a fan of Johnsonís Daredevil when that movie hit back in February of 2003. Sure, the movie wasnít a piece of cinema art, but it was fun in a pop-y sort of way. When the movie was re-released in a longer directorís cut, I found it to be even better. That alone is why I was glad to hear there was an extended cut of Ghost Rider set for release alongside the regular release. Having seen both versions, both in theaters and DVD (I was also sent the regular one-disc Ghost Rider in full screen for some reason, and man . . . pan and scan is just so horrible), the extended cut is better than the theatrical, though it doesnít add to the movie much like Johnsonís Directorís Cut of Daredevil. And why? Well, I think the extended edition just threw in a bunch more scenes instead of actually composing a new movie like the Daredevil: Directorís Cut did.
Much like the recent Spider-Man 2.1 and Fantastic Four: Extended Edition releases (see a pattern?), not much of a difference is made, but the new scenes do help the movie flow better. The new scenes add more to Johnny Blazeís travailís, but donít make any real difference in the movie whatsoever. However, director Johnson points out in the commentary that the movie was test screened multiple times (I can only imagine Sony was worried about the movieís rising budget and C-list main character), robbing the movie of any real complexity and complication that may have benefited the movie.
Johnson tries so hard to give the movie the feel of an old spaghetti western and, for some scenes, is successful. When we see the Ghost Rider charging down an empty highway or alongside another Spirit of Vengeance (which is an impressive scene featured in just about every other TV spot and trailer). Those scenes captured the essence of the character perfectly, the one I remember reading so many years ago as a young comic book reader.
But the movie does slip in other aspects. I found the romantic interest to be a bit flat (well, in terms of her acting abilities, at least) and the villain to be sort of ho-hum. It seemed that none of them could really live up to the bizarre and odd behavior that Nicolas Cage unleashed for this role. Itís not his best role or his best performance, but he makes every script quirk his own, matching it with his own ticks. That alone sold the character for me. He made the character absolutely believable in every respect, which made the rest of the cast pale in comparison.
The love interest is played by Eva Mendes, providing a stiff and somewhat bored take on an underwritten character. She shows scenes of potential, but those are quickly dashed when she either pouts and stomps off-screen or just stands there emotionless. Wes Bentley, who at one point had a promising career, is the baddie Blackheart, who comes off more like a spoiled Goth kid than a real threat. His performance seems to range from self-mocking to hammy, resulting in a disappointing showdown with the Ghost Rider. Sam Elliot does a serviceable job, adding some grit to the flick, but no real impact (he literally vanishes off screen in one scene). Peter Fonda seems to be having a lot of fun in the role of Mephisto, but isnít given much to do besides acting slimy. Itís a shame. Heís having a lot of fun in the role, which is easy to tell, but he has nothing to do, ultimately robbing his performance of any spice. Still, they do what the script tells them to do, moving the movie along nicely, I suppose.
Itís a fun movie. One that you can switch off your brain and watch the special effects explode onscreen and, boy, there are some great special effects. Ghost Rider looks absolutely spectacular in this movie. Not every single effect is a home run, but for the most part, they did an excellent job getting that Flaming Skull onto the big screen. The CGI may not be perfect, but it looks top notch and crystal clear on DVD. Itís a fun ride, one of those critic-proof movies where the movie-going audience will want to go see it anyways, and they should. It can be a bit goofy at times and should be a bit darker, but there are some genuinely amazing scenes. The obviously enthusiastic director did a fine job in his Daredevil follow-up. There are flaws to be sure, and ridiculously predictable, but itís an enjoyable ride when Nic Cage or the Ghost Rider itself are blazing across the screen.
Any yes, the DVD is pretty excellent two. Not the best two-disc set Iíve seen, but one worth checking out. The packaging includes a regular Amaray case with a foil-embossed cardboard slip cover. Despite what some other reviews are stating, there are no inserts whatsoever included. The two-disc set includes one commentary by writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack, and another by Gary Foster. The second disc special features include the ďSpirit of Vengeance: The Making of Ghost Rider" documentary, featurettes about the comic book origins of the character, and animatics.
And no, before I go any further, the Ghost Rider trailer and TV spots are not included. Sony, please, stop this and put the trailers back in. As a movie fan, I like having the movieís marketing included.
Okay, now the extras which were included? Pretty good! The ďSpirit of Vengeance: Making of Ghost Rider is a nice look at the creation of the movie. While it could be a bit more organized (perhaps having a sub-menu to jump to a specific part of the production), itís a very in-depth look at the movieís origins. We get to see some great on-set footage of Nicolas Cage preparing for his role, showing just how bizarre and quirky he was willing to take this character. Heís clearly having a ball here and it shows. The documentary pretty much touches on every aspect on the filmís creation and does a good job at relaying the information to the viewer.
After that is a series a featurettes focusing on the characterís comic book origins divided up by decades. Whether itís the characters 1970ís conception or present day adventures, it touches upon the comic book origins in nice detail. It does a great job on bringing those familiar with only the big-screen conception of the character up to date. Itís a nice handy history lesson, though not as in-depth as some of the comic book documentaries that have crept their way onto DVD. Also included on the disc are a series of animatics for key scenes from the movie. It's a nice package of extras!
Overall, itís a very pleasing two-disc set for a movie such as Ghost Rider. The movie itself is worth a watch on a Saturday night surrounded by friends and junk food. Comic book fans may take more pleasure out of it, or just hate it outright, but itís worth watching. Since Iím a comic book fan, Iíd have to say this release comes Recommended. Itís not a great movie by any means, but the stellar special effects and quirky performance by Nicolas Cage are worth checking out. On top of that, the extras are pretty informative and well done. Give Ghost Rider: Extended Cut a spin!