Ghost Town (Blu-ray)
Directed by David Koepp
Ghost Town is a sweet little romantic comedy that was quickly buried at the box office. Hopefully it will find a second life and a better fate on home video.
The Misanthropic Dentist
The romantic comedy is a uniquely sensitive genre, its movies are so easily derailed. Too often, they play strictly to the estrogen factor and set up absurdly ridiculous contrivances to get the couple together. Just look at virtually any movie starring Kate Hudson, the marvelous Almost Famous proving as one major exception on her résumé.
The dentist, the Egyptologist, and the ghost.
Well, in the case of Ghost Town it could be said the setup is patently absurd, even without Hudson's involvement. After all, it's about a dentist who dies – for "a bit less" than 7 minutes – as the result of a freak anesthesia incident during a routine colonoscopy. When he's revived, he sees dead people, including the dead philandering husband of an Egyptologist. The ghost wants his wife to dump her scumbag lawyer fiancé in favor of the dumpy, misanthropic dentist.
Hey now, seeing is believing. As contrived and blatantly unlikely as the story sounds, it's also packed with a tremendous amount of heart – and when it comes to romantic comedies in particular, it's supposed to be all about heart.
That big heart comes to life thanks to a right-on-the-money cast featuring Ricky Gervais (England's original The Office) as Bertram Pincus, D.D.S., Greg Kinnear (Sabrina) as Frank, the dead philanderer, and Tea Leoni (Fun with Dick and Jane) as Gwen, the engaged widow.
Egyptology and Dentistry
Giving in to Frank's manipulations in hopes of making all the dead people go away, Bertram learns that Gwen not only lives in his apartment building, she's also working on a new Saqqara exhibit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As fate would have it, Bertram just might have some dental insight to share regarding the exhibit's centerpiece attraction, a mummy named Pepe III.
But, as it turns out, even a philanderer's ghost is hard to trust. That lawyer (Billy Campbell, Gods and Generals) really isn't a scumbag. He's practically a "real-life" Superman, a lawyer who crusades for the underprivileged in underdeveloped countries. He even knows how to whip up a mean dish of curry.
Therein develops something like a romantic quadrangle, wherein the fantastical premise actually serves as a springboard for opportunities to second-guess what happens next. The real treat is this setup leads to what deserves to be called the perfect ending, with Gervais delivering a truly marvelous – and sublimely simple – closing line.
Ghosts and Life
While bigger-budgeted and higher-minded movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button attempt to deal with life and death with an overly-somber stance that masquerades as feel-good, tear-jerking pabulum, Ghost Town takes virtually the same subject matter and theme and puts things in a much more gingerly vein.
As a result, it serves a much sweeter dose of medicine that is much more effective. Ghost Town succinctly presents a spin on ghost movies past: Ghosts don't need to be told to leave their earthly confines, they are dead after all. The problem is their still-living lovers and friends need to let them go so everybody can move on.
Ghost Town was written and directed by David Koepp, the man Steven Spielberg has referred to as his "closer" following their collaboration on a number of movies, including Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In keeping with the baseball analogy, it's an unusual case for a closer to also score runs, but with Ghost Town Koepp manages a solid three-run homer.
The Blu-ray release sports a limited number of supplemental features, but they are entertaining and they are presented in high definition.
The main supplement is a commentary track featuring writer/director David Koepp and star Ricky Gervais. Gervais is quick to start off cracking jokes about how he was the "man behind the man," providing the rationale as to why the actor would be participating in the "director's commentary." Koepp himself, though, starts off on a little shaky ground. He begins by explaining, essentially, that Gervais is there to help him avoid the standard traps of commentary tracks: Talking about how cold it was, how tricky a shot was, how bad the mood was, etc.
Well, after their introductions during the production company logos, Koepp falls right into one of those traps and his first comment is about how the opening shot was "tricky."
Ah, but from there things take a highly entertaining direction, right down to Gervais repeatedly questioning the value of their comments. One of the high points is when Gervais adlibs a hilarious pitch for a remake of Ironside. The discussion starts as a seemingly serious tease of potentially reviving the classic Raymond Burr TV series on the big screen then devolves down to something that might be more appropriately entitled Porcelainside.
And there's even some good filmmaking chatter, particularly regarding the production's goal of downplaying the special effects in favor of making a three-character comedy.
Also on board is a 23-minute documentary entitled Making Ghost Town. There's a little bit of repetition from the commentary track, but it's a decent, standard behind-the-scenes featurette.
Ghostly Effects is a short-cut look at the movie's special effects. Without any narration or explanation, it's simply a 2-minute compilation of the various animatic, RGB, and live action footage that serve as the components of the onscreen presentation.
By its title, Some People Can Do It sounds like it's going to be about how some people really do see dead people. Instead, it's a 6-minute collection of bloopers, including a scene involving bouncing dog poop that is mentioned in the running commentary. The title, as it turns out, comes from a line supplied by Gervais.
There are none.
Picture and Sound
New York City has never looked better than it does here. There are some marvelous, pristine time-lapse images looking out over Central Park. However, there are also some narrative sequences where the image appears a little muddy, more in line with standard DVD than high-def. Nonetheless, the majority of the presentation is fine and the nitpicking is apparent only when one bothers to look for it.
The audio is equally good, if not entirely spectacular. Of course, this isn't a slam-bang aural experience; there are no explosions to serve as a home theatre showcase. Instead, the English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track does indeed stay "true" to the needs of this three-character comedy. Also available are French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks.
Optional subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
How to Use This Disc
Watch Ghost Town then, if you have the time or you can listen while doing some household chores, check out the commentary by Koepp and Gervais.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.