**/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C+
starring Julianna Margulies, Desmond Harrington, Isaiah Washington, Gabriel Byrne
screenplay by Mark Hanlon and John Pogue
directed by Steve Beck
by Bill Chambers Ghost Ship is better than its director Steve Beck's previous film for Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver's "Dark Castle," the repugnant Thir13en Ghosts--but we're talking incrementally. Somewhere in-between the two pictures, Beck learned that even though the AVID editing machine makes an infinite number of cuts possible, he shouldn't take that as a dare, and in Ghost Ship, he embraces the démodé in a way that he ironically didn't in Thir13en Ghosts, the one of them that's a remake. Ghost Ship opens with large, dissolving titles drawn in pink cursive script that would be at home in a Fifties movie with Vic Damone on the soundtrack. It's a striking touch (if not entirely appropriate for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre aboard a sinking, possessed ocean liner), and it precedes a dazzling, disgusting prologue wherein the passengers on the deck of the Antonia Graza are slaughtered like so much cattle.
About forty years later, a weather spotter named Jack (Desmond Harrington, lovechild of Wes Bentley and Edward Norton) advises a salvage crew led by Murphy (Gabriel Byrne, permitted to sound Irish) of the Antonia Graza's whereabouts; Murphy knows of the vessel and others like it--ghost ships that have floated into oblivion without placing any sort of distress call. Claiming the abandoned Antonia Graza for his own, Murphy sets a plan in motion to repair its damaged hull before it's unsalvageable. While exploring the ship's interior, Jack and Murphy's second-in-command, Epps (Julianna Margulies), find a stash of gold, which seems to unleash vengeance-minded supernatural forces.
Dark Castle's first original production (House on Haunted Hill and Thir13en Ghosts were both based--in theory--on William Castle movies), Ghost Ship may be less of an assault on the senses than Thir13en Ghosts, but it's just as much of a snooze. For that you can blame characters lacking in not only individual and distinguishing traits, but also conflict: Ghost Ship is a mission movie, tailor-made to say something about greed yet missing the key ingredient of internal strife, leaving a cast of neutralized players to tour the soundstage. As with Thir13en Ghosts, the narrative is pulled along by characters trying out new doors; the procedure of first-person shooter videogames has finally poisoned the cinema.
Then there's the inciting conversation that Murphy has with Jack: it suggests that the one of them with something up his sleeve had blind faith in the other guy's responses aligning with his master plan. A smarter script than that which co-scenarists Mark Hanlon and John Pogue have given us would've made the schemer's offer logically irrefutable, since he is helpless without a partner. I also wondered why Margulies stared helplessly at a reinforced glass tank whilst wielding a shotgun--psst!, Epps: it actually fires; it's not just there to make you look like Ellen Ripley. As banal as its corny tagline--"Sea Evil"--promises, Ghost Ship is unredeemed by another great Dark Castle set. Coulda been worse, however: coulda been PG-13, robbing us of that delightfully gory intro.
Sporting a 3-D lenticular cover, Warner's DVD release of Ghost Ship presents the feature in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. (A full-frame version is also pointlessly available.) Though the image meets the benchmark established by the Warner disc of Thir13en Ghosts, the audio is not quite as grandiloquent as one expects: Surrounds are consistently active, but bass is relatively reserved, socking it to the gut on few occasions--fewer, at least, than was the case with Thir13en Ghosts.
The Ghost Ship DVD's so-so supplementary material includes an utterly disposable, incomprehensibly-titled "documentary" ("Max on Set of Ghost Ship" (15 mins.)) in which cast and crew, many of whom receive bios in a separate section, summarize the plot. A "Visual FX Featurette" runs 6 minutes and focuses, as does its companion piece (the 5-minute "A Closer Look at the Gore"), on the film's integration of CGI (courtesy Photon) and practical effects (courtesy KNB), in addition to Ghost Ship's brilliant use of miniatures. (The cost-cutting tactics we see bear some measure of genius: the Antonia Graza dummy is spit-polished on one side and rusted-out on the other, allowing for the same model to be flipped according to the time period of a sequence.) "Designing the Ghost Ship" (6 mins.) finds production designer Grace Walker discussing his intricate sets, which are decorated with murals inspired by Gustav Dore's Miltonian illustrations.
A puzzle game reminiscent of the interactive "Ghost Files" on the Thir13en Ghosts platter (click letters and be treated to 'A'-for-effort vignettes about the spirits that haunt the Antonia Graza), a non-video (clips from Ghost Ship) for Mudvayne's atrocious song "Not Falling," Ghost Ship's trailer, and ROM-enabled studio weblinks round out the disc. Originally published: March 13. 2003.
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