Formed in 1999, Dark Castle Entertainment was created to pay homage to the wonderfully horrific films of the great William Castle. The first two endeavors upheld the mandate to remake his films, resulting in House on Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts, but the studio began to expand to original ideas and non-Castle remakes in subsequent years. The first of these original ideas was Steve Beck’s 2002 Ghost Ship, which, despite sharing a title, had nothing to do with the 1952 film of the same name. The film was successful enough at the box office, but was mostly ravaged by critics of the time. The film definitely has major issues, mainly that it is not scary, but could it have some redeemable qualities that have been forgotten over the years? The new Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory offers up the perfect excuse to revisit this one and decide for ourselves.
The film focuses on a marine salvage group that has just returned from their latest successful effort, only to be approached by pilot Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) with a tip that a seemingly abandoned ocean liner has been detected in international waters. The crew in question is that of the Arctic Warrior, consisting of Captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne), Maureen Epps (Julianna Margulies), Greer (Isaiah Washington), Dodge (Ron Eldard), Munder (Karl Urban), and Santos (Alex Dimitriades). The crew has been anxious to return home, but the large windfall that could befall them proves too desirable to pass up. Their journey leads them to literally running right into a mysterious abandoned ship that seemingly appears out of thin air. This is the least of the mysteries this particular ship holds, as the crew of the Arctic Warrior are soon to find out in a violent fashion.
The ship in question is the Atonia Graza, which has been missing since the early 1960s and has long been sought after by salvage crews. As we learn from the deliciously violent opening, the original passengers of the ship met a grisly end, leaving the ship floating unoccupied ever since. This particular sequence is by far the best part of the film, as it is often cited as one of the best horror openings of this time. Through a mixture of practical and CGI effects, passengers get bisected, an image which has stuck with me for the nearly eighteen years since I last saw the film. Unfortunately, the film never gets close to capturing the excitement that the opening inspires. From the time the crew reaches the ship until the end, the spirits of the former passengers descend upon them for a good ole fashioned psychological mind-freak. The film unfolds almost like a more crowded version of The Shining as crew members one-by-one start to lose a grip on what is real and what is not. But, when the most haunting part of this portion of the film is the presence of maggots in food, you are probably missing the mark somewhat.
The lack of strong scares is quite disappointing considering the strength of other aspects of the film. Visually, the film is pretty excellent from the old-school aesthetic established in the opening moments to the production design of the ship itself. The cinematography techniques at play likewise establish an atmosphere that seems perfect for scares, which the scripts promptly squanders. The performances range from solid to quite excellent, especially the trio of Byrne, Margulies and Washington. These three are delivering work that tries hard to elevate the film to something more special. A talented young Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) also shows up as a ghost who is actually trying to help the crew. Even during a disappointingly average middle portion, you still feel that the film is passable entertainment. Then the script really goes off the rails with its nonsensical explanation of why all of the events on the ship are really happening, and you start to feel a bit irritated. Ghost Ship held such promise from the first scene, but a creative collapse allowed the film to go steadily downhill from there. There are aspects to enjoy about this feature, but mostly you pine for what the film could have been.
This new Blu-Ray from Scream Factory gives Ghost Ship an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1 that is derived from the same master as the 2009 Blu-Ray released by Warner Bros. While I do not have access to compare the two releases, they should offer up largely a similar experience. The transfer shows its age in spots, but provides a pleasing viewing experience overall. The film has a pretty solid grain structure that preserves the filmic look of the picture, showcasing subtle details in the thoughtful production design of the ship The practical effects of the various terrors hold up well under the scrutiny of high definition. Skin tones look natural, and colors are rendered faithfully. Black levels hold up pretty well with some admirable depth to the image. There is no apparent damage to be found in this presentation. Scream Factory has done a nice job with the encode in lieu of a fresh master from Warner Bros.
This Blu-Ray comes with DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that opens up this world in a pretty interesting way sonically. The time on the ship offers distinct sounds that creep through the surrounds to provide some excellent ambient details. All of the various sounds in the mix seem accurately placed so that nothing ever feels off. Dialogue sounds perfectly clear without sound effects or the score trouncing on important information. Moments of bickering among the crew members are employed appropriately in precise channels in the front and rear. The subwoofer is given a small workout at points with some weighty explosions and moments of violence. The soundtrack provides different stylistic flourishes from the big band sound of the flashbacks to the heavy metal and techno aspects of the modern times. Overall, this is a pleasing track that does everything it needs to do.
- Audio Commentary: Justin Beam from Shout! Factory interviews director Steve Beck about his experiences on the film. Beck is incredibly informative and candid about the film, revealing how the script changed dramatically from its origins as Chimera, how 9/11 shifted the tone of the film, how he tried to avoid traumatizing Emily Browning, his role as a “hired gun” and more. This is an essential listen to learn why so many of the creative missteps could have been avoided.
- This Isn’t Real: A nearly seven-minute interview with Isaiah Washington conducted over video conference in which he shares his experiences working on the film. Washington reveals the way in which his character went from being the lead in the original script to more of a supporting role, his respect for director Steve Beck and his relationship with his Italian co-star Francesca Rettondini. Apparently, Washington changed the way in which his character is dispatched by adding a bit more class to his ending.
- Every Body On Board: A six-minute discussion with Makeup Effects Supervisor Jason Baird in which he talks about his journey to the project, how they pulled off the grisly opening scene, the challenge of pulling off the death of Francesca Rettondini’s character and more. The best part of the interview is when Baird brings out Gabriel Byrne’s rubber head from the film.
- Dark Castle At Sea: A seven-minute discussion with Producer Gil Adler in which he talks about developing the film, his stipulations for putting it into production, the ways in which he had to ensure the actors’ safety shooting in the sea and more. Adler gives some enlightening anecdotes that are worth a listen if you are a fan of the film.
- Max On Set – Ghost Ship: A 15-minute archival featurette in which the cast and crew are trying to pitch the film as an exciting proposition in which you should invest your time. The participants give an overview of the production from the sets and visual effects to the characters and themes of the film. This may be mostly in pitch-mode, but it does offer up a few interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits.
- Visual Effects: A six-minute archival featurette in which the crew explores what went into bringing the CGI of Ghost Ship to life. It is most interesting to see how the film employed practical effects to bring some of the thrills to life. For the time period, the special effects hold up really well.
- A Closer Look At The Gore: A nearly six-minute archival featurette in which Makeup Effects Supervisor Jason Baird and Howard Berger discuss the carnage in Ghost Ship. The production tried to rely more on practical special effects with only a minimal amount of CGI enhancement. The opening, the best scene in the film, is examined in greater detail, which is quite fun.
- Designing The “Ghost Ship”: A six-minute archival featurette in which the creation of the ship in Australia is examined in greater detail by production designer Graham Walker and others. This one is worth a watch to see how they transformed the ship from pristine to decrepit.
- Secrets Of The Antonia Graza: Six minutes of vignettes which attempts to explore the history and passengers of the ship in greater, creepy detail. This is a nice companion to the movie, but it does not appear that the voices in this supplement match the same characters in the film, which is a bit distracting.
- Music Video: A three-minute music video for “Not Falling” from Mudvayne is featured here. The video consists of clips from the film.
- Theatrical Trailer: The two-minute trailer is provided here which showcases the film pretty accurately, for better or worse.
Ghost Ship is not a particularly memorable film after the jaw-dropping opening that has been seared into my mind for nearly twenty years. From the sounds of it, Warner Bros. would have had a better shot at something more engaging if they had stuck with their original script. While the film may not deliver in the scare department, it does offer up some impressive production design and strong performances. Scream Factory has provided a new Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray filled with entertaining and informative extras to go along with a solid A/V presentation. If you happen to have a soft spot for the film, this new Blu-Ray should hit the spot.
Ghost Ship is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Scream Factory has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.