Ghost Town (US - BD)
Gabe watches David Koepp's second swing at an 'I see dead people' movie
Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) hates people, but has found the perfect job. As a dentist he can shove utensils into the mouths of those that may want to engage him in conversation. But Pincus’ perfect little life is compromised when he briefly dies during a routine medical exam. Now Pincus can see dead people, and they all want to talk to him. One particularly smarmy ghost named Frank (Greg Kinnear) strikes a deal with the humanity shunning dentist—if Pincus can break up Frank’s widow Gwen’s (Tea Leoni) latest relationship, Frank will keep the other ghosts away.
Director David Koepp, Steven Spielberg’s go-to script doctor, has basically made a comedic sequel to his previous ghost story, 1999’s Stir of Echoes. Stir of Echoes was almost entirely overshadowed by 1999’s more popular supernatural melodrama The Sixth Sense. Both films were modern retellings of classic ghost story themes, and apparently Koepp didn’t feel like he was done with the subject, because Ghost Town explores all the same themes minus the horror story overtones. In fact, Koepp also sort of re-explores many of the same undertones found in Stir of Echoes, those of discovering or rediscovering one’s self through ghost-induced trauma. Perhaps he really liked these themes and figured he could re-evaluate them without incident since very few people actually saw Stir of Echoes.
The three leads are cast very much by type. Ricky Gervais plays yet another misanthropic loser, Greg Kinnear plays yet another cocksure bastard, and Tea Leoni plays yet another awkward victim. Casting for type is boring, but it does sort of serve a purpose, especially for harmless romantic comedies like this one. Koepp seems to have hired his cast at least partially based on their improvisational skills. For the highest paid scriptwriter in the world, Koepp obviously understands the value of good ad-libbing. This offers a lot of natural warmth to a film that basically only works because of its natural warmth.
Up until this point Koepp hadn’t attempted a straight comedy, he’d only directed thrillers and horror movies. Jurassic Park, Spider-Man and Zuthura all have some reasonably funny lines, but the only real comedy I can find in the man’s writer’s CV is the dreadful Death Becomes Her. Based on these facts even a trace of genuine humour should probably be considered successful. I personally racked up about five laugh-out-loud moments, which is a pretty good average for me, and my eyes rolled only once or twice. The bad taste line is more or less never pushed, which is a bit disappointing, but this also means I didn’t have to sit through another hour and a half of fart jokes. It’s a perfectly pleasant little movie.
Ghost Town has a pleasant look to go along with its pleasant script and performances. A quick look at cinematographer Fred Murphy’s IMDb page seems to reveal he, too, was cast for type. The man’s filmography is full of candy coloured mainstream comedies, and slicker than shit horror movies. Ghost Town is bursting with bright pastels, even flesh tones, and soft lighting schemes. The story is set in New York during fall, a universe geared towards the colourful, and the costumes and set designs are equally warm. The hi-def transfer works best in these solid colours, which would likely feature noise on a standard definition transfer, and the solid blacks, like Kinnear’s suit, which is stunningly dark and hard edged. My problem with all this sharpness is the special effects scenes, which are few and far between. There are actually two surprise moments in the film that are ruined by the obvious presence of a green screen, where a green screen is not apparently needed.
Ghost Town is not a very aurally impressive motion picture. Dialogue heavy romantic comedies, even ones involving ghosts, aren’t the ideal forum for Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtracks. The dialogue is perfectly clear and even moves around the channels a bit, but it doesn’t fully envelope the surround sound experience. Even the bustle of New York city is basically missing from the mix, as Ghost Town is a pleasant movie, and violent bustle isn’t pleasant. There is a touch of whizzing vehicular noise, and chatty ghosts moving throughout the rear channels, but on the whole only the music is going to do much to let you know all six channels are even working. Geoff Zanelli’s score is as equally pleasant as the rest of the film, as it buzzes with the same slightly jazzy overtones often equated with New York City, but it’s also just as unoriginal, and underwhelming.
Things start with a commentary track featuring Koepp and Gervais. Things start out not so well, as Koepp’s self-introduction isn’t recorded, but things get better pretty quickly. Koepp’s Stir of Echoes commentary was a personal favourite in the earlier days of DVD, so I expected to enjoy myself, and wasn’t disappointed. Koepp is intelligent and not at all afraid of self-effacement. Gervais is a nice cherry on the top, offering funny bits here and there without totally refocusing the discussion. When things really slow down Gervais makes fun of the situation, which is much appreciate by a guy like me who’s forced to listen to these things even when he hates the movie they’re based on. And by the way, Ricky, I did listen to the whole thing. ‘Symbology’ is not a word, you are correct.
‘The Making of Ghost Town’ is your basic made-for-TV featurette, featuring on set interviews with various cast and crew members who have nothing but great things to say about the production, behind the scenes footage that shows how easy going and fun the filming obviously was (right), and scenes from the film that somehow also found their way into the trailer. The whole thing runs about twenty-two minutes. ‘Ghostly Effects’ is a two minute look at the production of a few of the film’s less than impressive digital effects. ‘Some People Can Do It’ finishes the extras with a series of amusing outtakes, mostly featuring Gervais losing his cool.
On the whole Ghost Town features but one surprise—it isn’t that bad. Point of fact, I’d even call it a good time at the movies, though I’m forced to lower my expectations to meet the film half way. It’s no masterpiece, but I’d have to be a total prick to hate the thing. I definitely recommend the film to fans of all the lead actors. Though nobody really pushes themselves, they fully meet expectations. I also recommend the film to lazy couples looking for an easy date night. I don’t recommend the film to hard core horror fanatics scouring Netflix for ghost stories, unless they’re particularly afraid of love.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 27th December 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
Extras: Director/Actor Commentary, The Making of Ghost Town, 'Ghostly Effects', 'Some People Can Do It'
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Koepp
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Téa Leoni, Jordan Carlos, Dequina Moore
Genre: Comedy and Romance
Length: 102 minutes
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