I remember an episode of “The Simpsons” that questioned the originality of today’s television shows. When Marge Simpson was asked if she had any original concepts herself, she simply replied “How about Ghost Mutt?” Given the simplicity (and stupidity) of the name, I’m surprised anyone actually believed calling a horror film Ghost Ship was a smart idea, unless that was going to be the only real problem. No, the film has much wrong with it. It’s a soggy, cliché-bound epic-horror yarn that ends up being even dumber than its title; the name is a clue of the idiocy that lies ahead.
The opening credits roll with pseudo-glitzy pink italics and “Love Boat”-type theme music playing. This hinted at something a little different—some tongue-in-cheek scares, or a sense of humor, but ended up being a false alarm. Believe me, Ghost Ship is everything you’ve seen before, and worse.
After a head-scratching opening, we are thrust into the lives of our heroes. The crew of the “Arctic Warrior,” one of the best salvage boats in the business, is shown in its grubby, all-American glory, as we see them trying to retrieve some kind of tugboat in yee-ha, “I’m not letting go!” spirits. From the start, I had the odd feeling that I had just walked in on another film already well underway, or that the reel had sped forward half an hour. It’s an introduction that does no introducing. Already, it is impossible to sympathize with these characters.
So I’ll give you the proper introduction needed. Running the tugboat is Captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne, typically underused ). The expertise on salvage is headed by Maureen Epps (Julianna Marguiles), a predictably rugged Sigourney Weaver-wannabee who considers the shipmates her family and needs nothing beyond that. The rest of the crew consists of your standard rag-tag bunch: Greer (Isaiah Washington), the lustful first mate with his fiancé waiting for him, Dodge (Ron Eldard), the baby-faced technician, Santos (Alex Dimitriades), the trash-talking Hispanic mechanic, and Munder (Karl Urban), the big lug.
While kicking back beers in a local bar, the crew is asked by a Canadian Air Force pilot (Desmond Harrington) to investigate a mysterious vessel that has been adrift in a remote region of the Bering sea. They accept, and the ship turns out to be the “Antonia Graza,” which has been lost for 40 years and is thought to be carrying valuables worth millions of dollars. Once aboard, the crew discovers that it isn’t as deserted as it seems. Slowly (and I mean slowly), they start to see apparitions making their way through the halls of the ship. The most familiar image is that of a little girl named Katie (Emily Browning, who looks like she showed up late to an audition for Resident Evil or FearDotCom).
The setup takes almost half the film, a seeming eternity, with some brief, fright-less encounters. Every scare sequence is so desperately unoriginal that not only does it borrow elements from classics such as The Shining and Poltergeist, but it scavenges the worst elements from Speed 2: Cruise Control and Virus. The result is similar to a volcano building maximum pressure only to emit a squirt of magma.
Even if you manage to make sense of the story, you’ll find it wasn’t worth the trouble. The dialogue never even qualifies as conversation, more as updates on the situation. Brief interludes of forced emotion are sprinkled in, like the drizzle that plagues the setting. The screenplay is written by Mark Hanlon and John Pogue. Pogue, who also contributed to the disastrous Rollerball remake, has now attached his name to two of the worst movies of the year. Let us all hope there is not a third.
So the truth is, there was one character I sympathized with—the ship. Because I, too, felt lost.