Producer Joel Silver's 'Ghost Ship' is a pretty lousy movie, riddled with clichés and a plot that is conversely thin and needlessly convoluted. But it's a movie that starts with a spectacular opening sequence that everyone should see.
We begin on a 1960's luxury ocean liner. No, wait, let me back up - we start with a swelling of music and a cursive font that could have come out of any early 1960's frothy romantic comedy. Then we push in to see the goings-on on said luxury ocean liner. People in tuxedos and gowns are dancing on the main deck underneath a clear, crisp night sky. A voluptuous female singer croons. A bored little girl sits and mopes. Soon, the captain of the ship asks the little girl to dance. The ship looks like an absolute dream. But elsewhere, a nefarious force is at work.
A figure is seen behind the scenes of the ship, screwing with the ship's machinery. He is toying with something that winds and unwinds a large length of cable. And, as you would guess, he releases this cable just as the ship's main deck dance floor is at its fullest. It's a brief moment - we see a length of cable whisk through the passengers, now dripping red.
Then, there's a moment of silence. And everyone becomes unglued (literally). The studio mandated that there be no decapitations, so instead, the bodies come apart at the waist, with top and bottom halves falling off, complete with slippery entrails. Passengers are seen bisected, with their top halves reaching out for their bottom halves. And the little girl with the captain - he comes apart at the jaw line, all his bits sliding apart in front of the little girl. The little girl, the lone survivor amongst the splashy carnage, lets out a bloodcurdling scream.
And with that, 'Ghost Ship' committed to film a ghastly and haunting opening sequence that is so spectacular that the rest of the movie just can't recover from it. (Let's call it the 'Blade' scenario, because nothing tops that opening blood-coming-down-from-the-fire-extinguisher sequence.) From there we travel to present day, where we meet a bunch of hardscrabble tug boaters with names like Murphy (Gabriel Byrne), Epps (Julianna Margulies, who has to say humiliating stuff like "It took me 3 months to get her off the bottom, I won't lose her now!"), and Dodge (Ron Eldard). A mysterious stranger (Desmond Harrington) tasks the crew to find and retrieve the titular ghost ship.
Once they get on the ship, all manner of ghostly apparitions make their presence known. These sequences aren't particularly spooky or scary - the buxom singer from the opening scene, now naked, tricks a horny crew member (Isaiah Washington) into falling down an elevator shaft - but a few of them do manage a few jolts through shock value alone. What the film misses in atmosphere, it more than makes up for in bloodshed. It gets pretty boring pretty quickly - and confusing too. You'll never really know what's going on, just that people are murdered and things blow up and everyone is always scared and wet.
By the end of the movie, a demonic force is introduced, as well as a quest for missing gold, and despite a few amusing sequences (like formerly legitimate actor Gabriel Byrne having a casual chat with the ghost captain), 'Ghost Ship' sinks... er, stinks. It's just a retread of countless nautical ghost stories, but without characters to root for, interesting ghosts, or anything even remotely compelling taking place, it's just a waste of time. Supposedly, most of the cast signed onto the movie based on a script that was radically rewritten before shooting began. By the time they showed up to the set, saw the changed script, and protested, it was already too late. They were locked in and it was full sail ahead.
Even as a B-movie throwback, 'Ghost Ship' is terrible. As for that charming and blood-splattered opening sequence? Well, you can probably find that online and skip the rest of this sinker, er, I mean stinker.
'Ghost Ship's high def bow isn't entirely unimpressive. The single-layer 25GB disc 1080p VC-1 transfer (aspect ratio 1.85:1) is undoubtedly a marked improvement over previous home video iterations. While not exactly reference quality, it's not half-bad either.
The picture is mostly sharp, with noticeable (but not overwhelming) grain, but no digital noise reduction or edge enhancement. The various skin tones overall look good, detail is very good, texture is well defined, particularly during the gorier effects or make-up sequences.
Where the transfer really excels is in blacks and shadows, of which there are many in this film. Blacks are seemingly bottomless and shadows are dark and inky and for a horror movie about a haunted cruise ship, the transfer can live or die by these specifics. Well done.
There are no nagging technical issues, either. As said before, there is no DNR or edge enhancement, no artifacts, and very minimal noise or macro-blocking (with none of it distracting). Overall, the 'Ghost Ship' transfer is nice, especially for a movie that probably doesn't deserve it.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track here is surprisingly muscular. (Which, by the way, 'Ghost Ship' has a TrueHD track and 'Speed Racer' doesn't? Oh Warner Bros.) Just like the rest of the movie, it isn't often subtle, but when the crewmen are walking around the boat, there is some nice surround stuff, pumped up to maximum spookiness. Dialogue is crisp and clean throughout, no matter what nonsense is going on, and the entire mix has nice dimensionality. Both the score and the soundtrack (made up of heinous hard rock songs) sound good, too.
There aren't any nagging technical issues, no pops or glitches, and while it isn't the most robust audio mix you've ever heard (quieter scenes have an unusual flatness), it's far from the worst. When the mix needs to really stretch, as in a few of the action set pieces, it delivers, and there are some nice subtleties, like the way the water effects are brought to life. Again, it's probably better than the movie actually deserves.
'Ghost Ship' also comes equipped with an absurd number of audio options. Besides the audio options in French Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, there are subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Chinese, and Portuguese.
All the extras are ported over from the standard DVD release, and none of the extras have been bumped up to high definition. Still, there's a healthy selection here. Also, the disc is region free.
'Ghost Ship' is terrible, but if you're one of its ardent supporters (are there ardent 'Ghost Ship' supporters?), this disc should have you salivating - with above-average audio and video and a host of special features, Warner Brothers has adequately upgraded the previous home video versions. Anyone looking for a remotely scary horror flick should stay away. Find that opening sequence on YouTube or something and just pretend you saw a really cool short film. Let's split the difference and say that, if you're really bored and want to see some gratuitous gore and naked ghost lady, then rent it.