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Hi-Def Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Ghost Rider: Extended Cut (Blu-ray Disc)

1080p - Analog Full ResolutionBlu-ray Disc Format
Uncompressed PCMDolby TrueHD

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Ghost Rider: Extended Cut
2007 (2007) - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Released on Blu-ray Disc on June 12th, 2007

Film: D
Video (1-20): 20
Audio (Uncompressed PCM - 1-20): 20
Audio (Dolby TrueHD - 1-20): 18
Extras: B-


Specs and Features:
123 mins, Not Rated, MPEG4 AVC 1080p widescreen (2.40:1), BD-50 DL, Elite Blue HD packaging, Spirit of Vengeance three-part documentary, audio commentary (with director Mark Steven Johnson and special effects supervisor Kevin Scott Mack), audio commentary (with producer Gary Foster), animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, scene access (16 chapters), languages: Uncompressed PCM 5.1 (English), Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English) & Dolby Digital 5.1 (French), subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, Closed Captioned


With the success of A-List superhero movies like Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men and Batman it should come as no surprise when the powers that be in Hollywood demand more of the same. While Hollywood can (and does) continue to pump out sequels to the granddaddy comic book franchises, there is also an almost endless reservoir of second and third-tier superhero books that can be mined for cash. These second-tier franchises sometimes have even better stories and characters than the household names. Graphic novels such as Preacher (soon to be a cable series) and Hellblazer (known to film audiences as Constantine) are far more interesting than any Spider-Man or Superman comic I've ever read. But the majority of filmgoers will have limited to no experience with comic book franchises when entering the theater. Therefore the filmmakers responsible for adapting page-to-film must walk a fine line in crafting a cinematic experience that not only satisfies fans of the comics but also introduces a larger, less-informed audience to the lore. But at the end of the day the filmmakers need to make a good movie. And Ghost Rider, the latest second-tier comic franchise to hit the big screen, is a fairly straightforward adaptation of the comic, but a lousy movie.

Ghost Rider tells the tale of teenager Johnny Blaze, a daredevil that performs a motorcycle stunt show with his father. After finding out his father has terminal cancer, Johnny makes a pact with Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) in which his father will be cured in exchange for a future favor. While Mephistopheles does cure Daddy Blaze, he also decides to make him die in a stunt leaving young Blaze all on his own. Life's a bitch when you do business with the Devil, huh? So, in order to escape the pain of his situation, Johnny leaves his old life (and, inexplicably, his hot girlfriend, Roxanne) behind forever.

Flash forward ten years. Johnny Blaze (only a decade ago a fresh-faced teenager, now a weathered, 42-year-old Nicolas Cage) is a world-famous stuntman with legions of fans. After a chance meeting with his former flame, Roxanne (played by Eva Mendes, who is at least age-appropriate) Johnny seizes the opportunity to heal old wounds. But wouldn't you know it? Now's the time Mephistopheles decides to call in his ten-year chit, and here's where the plot becomes a mess. Mephistopheles' son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley in a Razzie Award-caliber performance), is primed to unseat his father as the most powerful badass of the underworld if he is able to procure a deed to 1,000 souls from some jerkwater ghost town. Under the dark of night, Johnny Blaze becomes the Ghost Rider, working for the Devil to stop Blackheart from attaining ultimate power. Once Blaze figures out what's going on (despite the fact the audience never reaches the same level of understanding) he realizes he must use his new powers as the Ghost Rider against both Mephistopheles and Blackheart in order to stop evil in all forms.

The plot is pretty cut-and-dried comic book fare: superheroes and supervillains battling to save/conquer the world. That doesn't bother me so much because that's exactly what I expect when watching a movie based upon an action/adventure comic. Ghost Rider has several larger problems, but the one that cries out the loudest is the convoluted plot. To be fair, the extended cut found on the Blu-ray and special edition DVD does a better job of explaining the story, but I remember seeing this in the theater, looking over at my wife when the end credits rolled, and asking, "What the hell was that all about?" She shrugged and continued looking bored.

But aside from a muddled plot, the casting for and direction of this film were complete disasters. The casting of a 40-something Nicolas Cage as 20-something Johnny Blaze was covered ad nauseam by critics when the film debuted theatrically so I won't dwell on it here only to say that I love Nic Cage as an actor and respect him to no end, but just because you have a Ghost Rider tattoo doesn't mean you should automatically land the part. Peter Fonda sleep walked through his portrayal of Mephistopheles, while Wes Bentley was absolutely terrible as Blackheart; a herd of goats couldn't chew the scenery quite as completely as Bentley. But to be fair to Bentley I suspect that some of this blame can be attributed to poor direction by Mark Steven Johnson. Johnson directed another Marvel comic book film in 2003 called Daredevil and while I didn't think it was quite as bad as most critics made it out to be (specifically the director's cut), it was still problematic. The trouble with the direction of both Ghost Rider and Daredevil was that Johnson seemed to be more obsessed with the concept of making a comic book movie than simply making a good movie. Convincingly bringing the fantastic imagery of a comic book to life on the silver screen is a challenging task and Johnson delivers the goods. To be sure, Ghost Rider has some amazing effects and offers the audience visuals that could only have been pulled off with modern movie magic (except for a brief segment near the beginning of the film with of some of the worst digital face replacement you're likely to see). But like a video game that has cutting-edge graphics and terrible gameplay, the impressiveness of the flashy images quickly wears off simply leaving you with a bad game. Or, in the case of Ghost Rider, a bad movie.

While Ghost Rider isn't exactly a cinematic milestone, the Blu-ray edition of the film sure delivers an amazing audio/visual experience. As far as film sources go, HD home video doesn't get much better than it does with this 2.40:1 1080p MPEG4 transfer. The video is crystal clear and as sharp as can be. Fine detail is never muddled, which, ironically, works against the casting of Cage as wrinkles and other signs of age are more apparent due to the precision of the video. Colors absolutely pop off screen without being oversaturated, while blacks are deep and solid. Thanks to the use of a 50GB disc, compression artifacts are non-existent. I originally saw this in a DLP digital theater and I found the BRD to be a superior presentation.

The audio on this BRD is as equally impressive as the video. Sony included two high-resolution audio tracks: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and uncompressed PCM 5.1. While both are high quality tracks the PCM option is noticeably better than the TrueHD variety. While the PCM track is louder than the TrueHD option, the PCM version boasts more defined directional and ambient effects. I did an A/B comparison of the prologue of the film through the raucous opening credits and the PCM track was hands-down more precise. From a broader perspective both tracks deliver an ultra-aggressive experience that more than complement the kinetic action sequences. Rear channels are used liberally and the lower registers emphasize the roar of Ghost Rider's demon chopper and give added punch to explosions. This is world class surround sound.

The preeminent feature included on this BRD is a three-part documentary called Spirit of Vengeance. Presented in 1080p, the doc runs well over an hour and, while informative, is really only worth wading through for die hard fans. Whether or not you liked this film, the commentary track with director Mark Steven Johnson and special effects supervisor Kevin Scott Mack is worth checking out. Johnson spends a good deal of time defending the film against critics, and, depending on your slant toward the film, you'll either nod in approval or laugh uncontrollably. There is a second commentary with producer Gary Foster which is entirely redundant and unnecessary. Overall the disc includes a respectable, but not definitive set of supplements for fans.

If you liked Ghost Rider definitely spend the extra green for the Blu-ray version. Not only do you get the slightly more consistent extended cut of the film, but you will have a demonstration-worthy audio/video presentation that will melt your home theater. Otherwise, the curious are well advised to rent before plunking down 30 hard-earned dollars on what can be kindly labeled a questionable cinematic offering.




Ultraviolet (Blu-ray Disc)

1080p - Analog Full ResolutionBlu-ray Disc FormatUncompressed PCM

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Ultraviolet
2006 (2006) - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Released on Blu-ray Disc on June 27th, 2006

Film: F
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 16
Extras: C-


Specs and Features:
87 mins, PG-13, MPEG-2 1080p widescreen (1.85:1), BD-25 DL, Elite Blue HD packaging, four "making of" featurettes, audio commentary (with star Milla Jovovich), animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, scene access (16 chapters), languages: Uncompressed PCM 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English & French), subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, Closed Captioned


Ultraviolet is set in a future fraught by a civil war between humans and hemophages, a race of vampire-like humanoids with enhanced senses and physical abilities. Violet (Milla Jovovich) is a hemophage warrior out to stop Daxus (Nick Chinlund), the fuehrer-esque human leader of this future society. The humans have created the ultimate weapon to kill all hemophages once and for all. Violet steals the weapon, which turns out to be a child named Six (Cameron Bright). But Violet's maternal instincts prevent her from destroying the boy; instead she intends to use his poisonous blood to create an antidote to cure the hemophage disease.

I won't mince words: Ultraviolet is a terrible movie on all levels. Director Kurt Wimmer introduced himself to sci-fi fans with the surprisingly engaging Equilibrium in 2002, another film with a dystopian take on the future. But while Equilibrium told an engaging story and had interesting characters, Ultraviolet is the absolute polar opposite. Ultraviolet's tired plot and one-dimensional characters only serve to exhaust its audience in between bouts of boring, derivative action segments that seem like they were inserted into the script veritably at random. The film was shot digitally and mostly against green screens. Unlike similarly photographed flicks like Sin City and Sky Captain, the CGI environments in Ultraviolet are not interesting to look at and are so inconsistently designed that they can distract from whatever else is happening on-screen. Or maybe that's a good thing? I'd start talking about how bad the script is, but I think you get the point. Watch your clothes dry instead of wasting 87 minutes with this flick.

Note that the version of the film presented on Blu-ray is the PG-13 theatrical cut, while the standard DVD received the unrated version. Don't ask me why. Maybe Sony wanted fans to buy copies on both formats, or, God help us, they are planning a more elaborate Blu-ray special edition for the future. I did see the unrated version months ago, but had successfully blocked it from my memory. After watching the PG-13 Blu-ray the only difference I can recall from the unrated version is the addition of half-assed digital blood effects akin to the unrated version of Alien vs. Predator.

Ultraviolet was one of Sony's initial Blu-ray releases, but that doesn't prevent it from having decent video quality. The 1.85:1 MPEG-2 video was culled directly from the digital source files, so the image is 100% blemish-free. But the overall picture has very smeared colors and inconsistent image detail, which was an intentional effect added in post-production by the filmmakers. It's not a decision I would have made, but I certainly won't deride Sony's technicians for delivering the filmmaker's vision to the home theater experience. The biggest complaint I can level at the transfer is that instances in which primary colors are dominant can be noisy. I'm not sure if this is the result of using the MPEG-2 CODEC instead of the more advanced VC-1 or AVC CODECs. It's not a big problem, but it was enough to notice. Despite being housed on a 25GB disc, there are never any problems with compression artifacts, likely due to a short run-time and minimal extras.

Aurally, Ultraviolet is an impressive experience with a few inconsistencies. For the most part the uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio is striking, boasting effective directional effects and tight bass response. But there are certain segments (even action set pieces) that have oddly muted effects or a soundscape that collapses to the center channel. Also, the overall ambience of the track is not quite as convincing as the best out there. But like the video inconsistencies, these audio shortcomings are more the exception than the rule.

Extra features are meager. There is an audio commentary with Milla Jovovich, which is more of an 87-minute chat with Milla about her thoughts on the movie than anything truly informative about either the filmmaking process or the story. If you are a Milla Jovovich fan you'll get a kick out of it. The only other notable feature is a series of four short featurettes that are more in the category of EPK than anything really meaty.

Bottom line: there is almost nothing redeeming about Ultraviolet as a movie, even as mindless, action popcorn fare. The Blu-ray version boasts very good, if slightly inconsistent, audio/visual quality. A weak helping of extras rounds out the package. If you feel drawn to see this movie for whatever masochistic reason, make sure you rent it first.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com



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