Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ghost Rider

Way back in 1989, it was the summer before my Senior year in college (one of the most stressful years in my life—maybe I'll tell you about it some time) and Tim Burton's BATMAN film had just come out. Though it hasn't aged all that well, at the time, it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. The costume and production design were amazing. The cast was top-notch. And, as a movie music afficianado, Danny Elfman's original score hit me like a breath of fresh air. I ate it all up. It was intoxicating. In fact, seeing BATMAN cost me one of the three jobs I was working at the time. (Maybe I'll tell you about that sometime too.)

At the time, I was studying Film and Video Production at VCU. Technically, my major was Communication Arts and Design, but the vast majority of my classes involved filmmaking, including sound design and film history. So, when BATMAN was released, I viewed it with the eyes of someone who was hoping to follow in Burton's footsteps.

When I got home from seeing the film, it was after midnight. I just parked my car, got out and lay on the warm, ticking hood of my car. I stared up at the sky and thought about what I had just seen. And I was excited. Not only was this the BATMAN film we'd all hoped for, but it had undeniably opened the way for future comicbook adaptations that would be treated seriously. I planned on being one of the ones doing the adapting. Over the next few weeks, until I got back to school and was regretably distracted, I fantasized about being the director of one of the multitude of comic book films that I was sure was coming down the pike.

One of the films I wanted to do was THE FLASH. Mike Baron and Butch Guice's new post-Crisis version had been out for a while and I had loved it. The Flash had always been my favorite DC character and their take on it just captured my imagination. It was so...cinematic. When I listened to the score of BATMAN, it wasn't visions of the Dark Knight swinging through Gotham City in my head but, rather, images of a red and gold blur streaking down the Keystone City streets. (Ironically, Elfman was hired to write the theme when The Flash eventually made it to TV in the short-lived CBS series.)

The other film I wanted to make was GHOST RIDER. I'd been buying GHOST RIDER since I was old enough to buy my own comics. In retrospect, the book was never very good. The writers seemed understandably stymied when it came to making such a difficult concept work within the traditional trappings of superhero comics. Towards the middle of the first run, things improved when the idea of Zarathos, the spirit of vengeance, was introduced, but it was never a top tier book. But the visuals (a man in black leather on a motorcycle with a flaming skull for a head) were so captivating, so visceral, that the book just screamed out to be made into a film. Best of all, I knew that filmmaking technology was not yet to the point of being able to properly translate those tempting visuals onto celluloid. I was counting on that to keep the property open until such time as I made my big splash in Hollywood.

Alas, that big splash never occured and, many years later, GHOST RIDER fell into the hands of other folk. Mark Steven Johnson's GHOST RIDER film came out last February to horrible reviews. I was not a big fan of Johnson's DAREDEVIL film and I went into this follow-up smugly expecting...even hate it. The release of this film was sort of one last reminder to me that yet another of my dreams has gone unrealized. But when I saw GHOST RIDER in the theater, I just couldn't hate it.

It's an awful film, to be sure. The acting (except maybe Cage) is just terrible. Eva Mendes, though breathtakingly beautiful, seemed to be speaking her lines as if she was reading them off cue cards. Wes Bentley is unintentionally hilarious as the villain Blackheart. And Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles (or, as my brother calls him, Mephistofeces) is just never scary. But, I just. Couldn't. Hate it.

The visuals were everything I'd hoped to accomplish in my little filmmaking fantasies that summer. And more. They actually pulled it off. This was Ghost Rider. It also doesn't hurt that there's a level of cheesy campiness to the proceedings that make this the superhero version of SHOWGIRLS. And the scene in which Ghost Rider heads off to his final battle against Blackheart while Spiderbait's terrific cover of "Ghost Riders In The Sky" blasts on the soundtrack is toe-tappingly scrumptious. So, while Johnson's movie fails on just about every level, it's still eminently watchable.

So, I can't really hold it against Johnson that he beat me to making a GHOST RIDER movie. I had a 17 year head start, after all, and lost fair and square. No hard feelings. And, to prove it, I'll be first in line this Tuesday when the DVD comes out.

1 comment:

kurtman said...

Being a big fan of the 80's series, the movie was a big let down for me. The idea of Ghost Rider being big on brawn just does not fit this character. They should have focused more on the supernatural Zarathos with the constant struggle from within. #70 Freaks would have made a great movie.