Much like the films of co-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor ("Crank," "Gamer"), the press conference for "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" at Comic-Con International in San Diego was like some weird fever dream. The questions and answers all covered what you'd expect, but the power trio of Neveldine, Taylor and star Nicolas Cage, plus co-stars Idris Elba and Johnny Whitworth, had some great stories to share along with new insights into how the movie is shaping up.
Cage got the first question, which he immediately leapt upon as an opportunity to explore the meaning of the word "weird" and how it was particularly relevant to the prep work he did for the movie.
"Weirdness is a really good word, as you know," the mercurial actor began. "The old-fashioned spelling of 'w-y-r-d' -- there's an interesting story, when I was trying to think with Brian and Mark about how the Ghost Rider would move. I was trying to think of something really weird, which would be [him] levitating in circles; we called it the compass, to sort of mess with how he can attack his enemies.
"Then I looked up in the dictionary that the word 'weird' literally means 'to turn around,' and so I thought that was an interesting thing," Cage continued. "It was like trying to design a body language from another dimension. We worked together looking at different animals like cobras and insects to try to find ways of moving that would hopefully scare you and entertain you."
Cage then compared the tone of the upcoming Neveldine/Taylor sequel to that of the original. The 2007 release from "Daredevil" helmer Mark Steven Johnson received many criticisms for not doing proper justice to the Marvel Comics character. Cage defended that original, but in such a way that the sequel was made to sound more appealing.
"When I did 'Ghost Rider,' the first one, I wanted it to be like a Grimm's fairy tale -- scary, but still something that children can enjoy," Cage said. "Like that first trip to the principal's office, where you've made a mistake and you're in trouble, but don't give up, you can still rise above and do something good with the experience. This one, I think, with Mark and Brian, we're really going into the wonderful bliss of the nightmare imagination. I think it'll be very entertaining. I haven't seen anything yet, but I'm very excited to."
The connections between "Spirit of Vengeance" and its predecessor were also addressed by Taylor -- or rather, the lack of connections. "We didn't really consider the first movie at all -- you can't, really," Taylor said. "We just want to make a great movie on its own terms. The first movie we think is really valid; it's like a Walt Disney kind of take on the character, which is totally cool.
"This version, we kind of wanted to give people what we think comic book fans really want to see from 'Ghost Rider,'" Taylor continued. "It's darker, it's more intense, he is from a nightmare. He will scare the hell out of you. He's not a superhero who wears tights and does the right thing. He's more a villain than he is a hero. He's a dark entity. He sucks out your soul, that's his superpower. [We just wanted to] really embrace that."
From there, Taylor turned to Johnny Blaze’s birthplace, Marvel’s long-running series of comics. "A lot of times, even in comic books, it hasn't really been as intense as we might want for Ghost Rider," he confided. "We really like the stuff that Garth Ennis did, and that darker version of 'GR,' even in the way he looks, was a big inspiration for us. When you see what he looks like, right away you'll know you're in a whole different world. He's dark, literally, with a black skull. He doesn't look like his clothes or bike were designed by fashion designers, he looks like he crawled out of an opening from Hell and straight into your face. Immediately you're going to know you're in a different world."
The highlight of the panel came when a question was asked about what sort of bonus content fans can expect from the movie's eventual DVD release. The directing duo have historically delivered disc releases that are chock-full of extra goodies, but the question set Taylor off on a tangential anecdote about how Cage got into the Ghost Rider character on set.
"If you've ever seen any of our DVDs or Blu-rays in the past, then you know we do a lot," Taylor began. "I think we'll have at least six hours of bonus features on this thing. We shot every single day behind the scenes. It's going to be an awesome opportunity to see some of the work that went in behind the scenes.
"One of the most fun things for us was what Nic brought to the Ghost Rider character," he continued. "He didn't just want to show up and just be Nic, he wanted to feel different and he wanted everybody around him to feel different. So he kind of devised a makeup that is sort of like this nightmarish, terrifying -- like Santeria, a blue-ish [face paint] thing.
"The first time he showed up as Ghost Rider on set, it was kind of like this silent, sort of creeped-out feeling where nobody wanted to say anything. It was just like, 'Whoa...whoa. Nic's in a weird place. That's awesome.' He wouldn't talk, he was very quiet and he had these black glass eyes. At one point, Mark asked 'Do those things hurt?' and he said, 'It's personal.' He would not talk about it.
"It put everybody in such an interesting state of mind that it made those scenes even creepier and more awesome than they would have been otherwise. So when he would do his Penance Stare on a victim, when Nicolas has you like that, looking at you with this makeup, you'll see in the performance that the actor was authentically scared. That's the sort of stuff you'll be able to see in the behind-the-scenes stuff."
The panel ended with a final question to Cage about the similarities between "Drive Angry 3D" and "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance." The actor answered, completely straight-faced, as follows:
"Totally different. In 'Drive Angry,' I was playing a living dead man. This is a living man who turns into a demon, so it's a totally different kind of energy. A living dead man has to be a little bit more dead, whereas a living man who turns into a [demon] can still be very alive when he's living."
That, dear friends, is why this man is a national treasure. And why fans should be lining up well before February 17, 2012 to see another Ghost Rider movie with Nic Cage in the starring role.