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Ghost RiderGhost Rider on DVD

The latest Marvel title to hit the big screen, and then the small screen, is a tale of a stunt biker who sells his soul to the devil, then has a hell of a time as the Devil's Bounty Hunter, also known as Ghost Rider.

Nicolas Cage, undoubtedly to the surprise of some, stars in this live action comic book. He's Johnny Blaze, part of a father/son team of stunt bikers. When his father is at death's door, Johnny is given a chance to sell his soul (to a devilish Peter Fonda) to save him. But even though Johnny has never seen a story like this before, the rest of us know that the devil doesn't play fair and so even though, technically, his side of the bargain was performed, it was to no avail when it came to impacting Johnny's life.

But a deal's a deal.

Flash forward numerous years and teenaged Johnny is now middle aged Nicolas, still performing death defying stunts on his motorcycle – outrageously dangerous stunts so spectacular you might think he has a death wish – or maybe he's immortal.

Well, guess what?

Along the way, his childhood sweetie (Eva Mendes), now a TV news babe, comes back into his life – but at a time when an old debt is also called in.

And of course his paying that debt is why we plunked the movie into the player. As it turns out, his job is to find evil souls on earth and bring them back to papa in Hell – literally when he discovers he must defeat the devil's son himself, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), who wants to muscle in on pop's gig and supersize it to include the new hell on earth he envisions.

Nasty guy, this Blackheart. Fortunately, even Ghost Rider has a mentor to help him through the effects scenes. The Caretaker (Sam Elliott) seems to know all about the Ghost Rider legend, and all the ins and outs of being a flaming skeleton. Handy guy to know, as it turns out.

The story's interesting and, though this won't go down in history as one of the greatest Marvel movies (that title seems destined to stay with Spidey a while longer), it's a fun diversion and a great ride in the home theater.

Cage is good as Johnny, the reluctant hero who, along with his bike, turns into the flaming Ghost Rider. And it's always fun to watch Sam Elliott playing yet another tough and tired cowpoke, even one with a secret like this one does. Mendes doesn't have a lot to do, but what she does she does decoratively – and Bentley chews the scenery appropriately.

But it's the effects that are the star, and they deserve to be mentioned. The transformations of Johnny and his bike into burning horrors are very well done, and the fiery action is pulled off beautifully.

It's a good thing, 'cause otherwise this movie is mostly bun, with little more than the special effects burger. But it's fun.

The DVD is excellent. We received the Pan&Scan version, which was unfortunate, but what area of the picture we could see was terrific. The image is razor sharp, the contrast top notch, and the color is outstanding. If we'd received the anamorphic widescreen version we'd undoubtedly use it as one of our reference discs.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and you also get a dts track, which is a nice bonus and was the track we preferred. Audio is excellent, which is especially important for a movie full of motorcycles and fiery explosions like this one is.

Extras include two commentary tracks, one by writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and his special effects guru Kevin Mack and the other with producer Gary Foster. There's also a pair of "making of" documentaries: Sprit of Vengeance and Spirit of Adventure as well as a selection of trailers.

Time Sagas

Ghost Rider, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
110 min. Pan&Scan (1.33:1, not 16x9 TV compatible – widescreen version sold separately)/Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 surround
Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda, Sam Elliott
written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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