Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2002

Here on the Kenai, there were only two major movies opening this weekend: Ghost Ship, and it's idiotic competitor, Jackass. People, my students, especially, have been asking me for days, "What're you going to review this week?" Generally this question is answered with a little more than my customary sarcasm, because I want to make the point clear that I'd rather be strapped to my seat and forced to sit through a twenty-four hour Pay It Forward-o-rama than go to see what will, I'm sure, be biggest movie of the weekend. Ghost Ship certainly won't bring home any Oscars, but at least you don't have to feel like a jackass for going to see it.

I could tell I'd made the right decision when we got to the theater and saw the hordes of teenage boys clamoring to get into to see their idol, Johnny Knoxville and his gang of imbeciles make fools of themselves for the movie-going public. "C'mon man! You gotta get me in!" This was a familiar refrain uttered throughout the line. Thankfully, the theater management was sticking to it's guns on the seventeen and older rule. Apparently, however, the Jackass-attitude didn't confine itself to the adolescent set. After watching a family of twelve attempt to cut in line in front of people who had been waiting ten minutes and more, I had to sic my wife on 'em. "Excuse me. The line starts way back there, and these people have been waiting a long time!" As they were sent, grumbling, to the back, I heard one of the boys exclaim loudly, to whoever would listen, "Well, I ain't waiting in no line!" No question as to which movie you're going to, kid.

We finally made it to our seats and settled in. After a fairly creative, and disturbingly frightening beginning, the movie sails into very familiar waters, and I realized that the battle to get into the movie was going to have been somewhat more interesting than the movie itself, hence my protracted introduction. The ghost ship in question is the Andrea Graza, an Italian luxury liner lost since the early 1960s. As the movie opens, we see the Graza in all it's splendor, the toast of continental society. Suddenly, on the deck's crowded dance floor, a hundred people are gruesomely and shockingly murdered. I won't elaborate, but I would suggest if you have a weak stomach, you might want to hide your eyes. Flash forward to the present day, and we are introduced to an intrepid band of salvagers; modern day scalawags, taking advantage of whatever booty they can scavange on the high seas. The high sea of the day is the Bering Sea, and this is where the sense of the movie completely broke down for me. I understand, suspension of disbelief and all that, but the first time heroine Julianna Marguilles dives into the water in nothing heavier than a t-shirt and cargo pants, it was all over for me. It's obvious that the producers have never been to Alaska, nor have they ever done any research on the Bering Sea. I think they just thought it would be cool to keep talking about Anchorage as the exotic port their heroes would be sailing into, as if that were even possible with a luxury liner. That, and a lame northern lights montage at the end were the only possible reason to set this movie in the icy seas near the top of the world. Ice itself, however, must have been too much to ask. Though the movie would have had to take place in either the late fall or early spring because of the daylight cycle, there isn't even the hint of ice on the seas.

That major distraction aside, Ghost Ship isn't so much bad as it is typical. It is little more than cliche piled upon tired premise piled upon pointless gore. A pilot, doing fly-overs in the Bering Strait, has discovered a derelict ship, floating apparently without course, where no ship of it's size should be. He brings it to our motley crew, who just happen to be in port after bringing in a damaged tanker. For a mere ten percent finder's fee, he agrees to lead them to the boat's last known location, and, voila, the missing Andrea Graza is found. The salvagers decide to tow the Graza home, and despite several near deaths and ghost sightings, the crew continuously splits up to search the endless bowels of the ship. Even the discovery of dead bodies only two or three weeks old doesn't dissuade the treasure hunters. After all, they've found just that, treasure. Millions of dollars worth of gold bars to be exact. Haven't these people ever seen a movie? If you ever find millions of dollars worth of gold just sitting there for the taking, run the other way. Nothing good can come from it.

This movie, despite it's tired, been there done that feel, has a few good frights and one pretty good twist. The little ghost girl from the preview is sufficiently creepy, and the scene where the death of the Graza is finally explained is well done. It just doesn't take any chances, and settles for typical Halloween scares rather than trying anything new. For a good fright, The Ring is a better choice. If, however, Ghost Ship is a little too highbrow, I'm sure you can join the jackasses whooping and hollering in the theater next door. Grade: C+

Ghost Ship is rated R for violence, nudity and language. Correction: Last week I listed The Ring as being rated R. It is, however, PG-13, though scary as hell.

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