Ghost Ship Review
In 1980, George Kennedy starred in Death Ship, an obviously cheap film about a Nazi torture ship that had been drifting without a crew since the end of the second world war. When a group of holiday makers board the ship, Kennedy is possessed by the spirit of the ship's dead captain and begins torturing and killing his companions. As the film ends, Kennedy finds himself alone on the ship, standing on the bridge as recordings of speeches made by Hitler play around him. In all respects, it's a terrible film yet when compared to Ghost Ship, it both makes perfect logical sense and is quite the most terrifying film you're likely to see.
Ghost Ship opens with a ball held on the Antonia Graza, a luxury Italian cruise ship, one evening in 1962. As the captain of the ship asks a lonely young girl to dance, there is a terrible accident and a cable sweeps across the deck of the ship, killing everyone in the room but for this one girl, who now finds herself in the ballroom alone once again.
Cut to forty years later and a cruise ship has been discovered drifting in the Bering Sea by a young Canadian aircraft pilot, Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington), who was photographing the region from his plane. Ferriman takes the photographs to Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne), captain of the tugboat Arctic Warrior, whose business is to locate ships that are adrift, repair them and take them to port to salvage the ship and its contents. Murphy, intrigued by the possibility of the riches on offer, agrees to give Ferriman a cut of whatever he makes through salvage in return for information that will lead him to the ship but Ferriman insists on coming along. When Ferriman, Murphy and the crew of the Arctic Warrior, including Maureen Epps (Julianna Margulies), Greer (Isaiah Washington) and three crewmen, make it to the ship, they find it is the fabled Antonia Graza, long since deserted of crew and passengers but is instead host to something more terrifying than all their years at sea have prepared them for...
Where to begin? Well, it's probably best to start with a breakdown of both the good and bad aspects of the film for by no means is it flawless. Firstly, the good - Ghost Ship is set on a boat. Boats, by and large, make for a good location within which to set a horror film, limiting the number of places in which it is possible for the soon-to-be-dead cast to hide in. Boats also offer a suitably unsettling ambient sound, offsetting the peaceful creak of the hull and the wash of water onto the deck with the screams of the victims. Being partial to films set on boats, this reviewer is prepared to state without question that Titanic, The Poseidon Adventure, the marvelously entertaining gem that is Deep Rising, even Raise The Titanic and Beyond The Poseidon Adventure are all wonderful in their own seafaring ways. Other good points? Ummm...well, yes indeed. I'm afraid that would actually seem to be that...
Without going any further, all that is necessary to say is that Ghost Ship is the third film to be released in three years by Dark Castle Entertainment, the production company formed by Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis to annually release a horror movie for Hallowe'en. Dark Castle's first two films were remakes of the William Castle shockers The House On Haunted Hill and Thir13en Ghosts. In both cases, Dark Castle managed to produce a significantly less interesting film than the originals, replacing the one genuine scare in Castle's The House On Haunted Hill with pointless effects and lazy plotting, which was only slightly redeemed by wicked turns from Famke Janssen and Geoffrey Wright. If anything, Thir13en Ghosts was even worse and it is with a weep of disappointment that the director of that film, Steve Beck, reappears as the director of Ghost Ship, released in time for Hallowe'en 2002.
Fans of Event Horizon will immediately recognise the concept of a salvage team approaching the abandoned wreck of a fabled ship that had been lost some years previously. In both instances, there are fine opening sequences, notably in Ghost Ship, featuring an accident on board the Antonia Graza that is wonderfully bloody, if not, for those familiar with Vincenzo Natali's Cube, entirely original. The exploration sequences within both films, as the salvage crews try to discover what happened the crew and passengers, are intriguing but where Event Horizon manages to make one feel slightly ill-at-ease throughout, it soon becomes apparent that Ghost Ship gave up all it was capable of within the first fifteen minutes or so. The principal reason for this is the absence of anything that is truly terrifying, using instead the dummy corpses supplied by KNB, a gore FX company, to spill blood and guts onto the set at regular intervals. Beck, it would seem, is sufficiently incompetent so as not to add any tension to the film whatsoever, such that even those with a weak constitution for such things will quickly lose interest in the rarely shocking yet endless amounts of gore.
Regarding the cast, Gabriel Byrne really out to have known better than to take on this script, given his cliched turn as the gruff Irish tugboat captain, Murphy. Then again, no one really acquits themselves with any honour so singling out Byrne for special criticism is rather unfair. Except, that is, for Desmond Harrington, who plays evil with such a lack of success that Beck could have used Dana in the role and had much the same effect.
Finally, the actual justification for the events on board the Antonia Graza ought to win the award, were there such a thing, for the most hamfisted use of devilry this side of Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate. One suspects that despite claims to the contrary by Ian Paisley, Michael Medved and Christian conservatives about Hollywood being the work of the Devil, Satan must be in despair at how incompetent he is made to look by a film such as Ghost Ship. How the scriptwriters managed to come up with an ending so lacking in any logic or even sense and yet connect it somehow to the Devil, managing to avoid getting struck down during production by doing so must surely have meant that this production was blessed.
William Peter Blatty once posited the theory through the words of Lieutenant Kinderman in The Exorcist that the Devil, well, he was smart and always advertising. That remark gave us something to fear within the passages of The Exorcist. Steve Beck's Devil is, instead, a rather intellectually challenged demon if the reasoning behind Ghost Ship is the best he can come up with and, as a result, is as fearful as a Tellytubby. Much, then, like the rest of this pointless film.
Ghost Ship has been anamorphically transferred in 1.78:1 and looks acceptable if little else. The print from which the transfer has been sourced looks clean and free of blemishes, which does serve to flatter the murky, rusted look of the sets on which the film was made and the DVD transfer handles the blacks, browns and blood reds without a problem.
Ghost Ship is presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which is clean and free of noise but the volume is a little lacking through the rear speakers, particularly as these could have been used more effectively to portray the ambient sounds of being on a wreck of a cruise ship.
Ghost Ship is rather light on features and what there is tends to be rather more interested in the visual, gore and design effects than anything else on the production:
Cast & Crew: A single page of text listing the main cast and crew without any further details being provided.
Documentary (15m06s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This adds little to any overall understanding of the film's development, only really presenting the cast and crew praising the film during its production alongside a little behind-the-scenes footage.
Secrets Of The Antonia Graza: Four short features that can be unlocked by selecting the correct letters on a representation of the young girl's puzzle that appears throughout the film:
- Listen Carefully (1m59s)
- Perfect (1m14s)
- Plan Of Greed (1m37s)
- I Am Katie (1m15s)
Visual FX Featurette (6m03s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This short feature looks at the work of Photon, the design house from Australia that was contracted to provide the CG, model and other visual effects used in the film.
A Closer Look At The Gore (5m34s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This features the work of JMB and KNB effects studios, both of whom were used to provide the gore effects on the film.
Designing The Ghost Ship (5m43s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This examines the work that was carried out in designing the Antonia Graza.
Music Video - Not Falling (3m12s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): By Mudvayne apparently, given the information here, who have provided a rather dull metal yet melodic song with a video based on highlights from the film.
Theatrical Trailer (2m11s, 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): In chronologically using highlights from the film, this isn't a bad trailer and sets up the film quite nicely.
All of the extras but for the music video and theatrical trailer are subtitled as per the main feature.
The advert being printed in time for the DVD release of Ghost Ship runs with the tagline, "At sea, no one can hear you scream". Can you see what they did there?
This is but the last example I will use in saying that Ghost Ship is little more than a witless attempt to combine sequences from much better films in an effort to fashion something approaching entertainment. Needless to say, it fails in a quite mediocre fashion, with there being nothing even to make its failure more pleasant...no studio brought down, no careers ended, not even a sense of vindication from suspecting its failure was imminent. Instead, this slipped in unnoticed and for the majority of readers, will slip out in a similar fashion, which is really only what it deserves to do.
Of course, you may feel I have been unnecessarily severe on this film, in which case I take the opportunity to refer to Kevin O'Reilly's slightly more flattering review here.