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Featured Blu-ray Review: The Phantom

February 8th, 2010

The Phantom - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

In the early 1990s, it seemed every few years there was a period super hero movie set in the 1930s. First it was The Rocketeer in 1991, then The Shadow in 1994, and then The Phantom in 1996. There was another element these three movies shared in common: they were expected to be major hits that launched franchises, but they all bombed at the box office. The Phantom did the worst of the three, pulling in just $17.22 million from its $45 million production budget. Was it just a bad time to release a film like this? Or have the years also not been kind?

We are told in a prologue that back in the 1500s a young boy was traveling by sea with his father when pirates attacked their ship. The father was killed and the young boy jumped overboard and washed up on the shore of Bengalla where he was given his life's quest to battle the forces of injustice as The Phatom. We then skip to the 1930s and the jungles of Bengalla where we learn The Phantom still roams and as earned the nickname 'The Ghost Who Walks' due to his apparent immortality. We quickly learn that he is not immortal, but a man named Kit Walker whose father was the previous Phantom, as was his grandfather and his great-grandfather, etc. all the way back to that original child in the 1500s.

The Phantom begins this movie by battling some grave robbers that had come to take one of the Skulls of Touganda. Xander Drax, a New York businessman with connections to crime syndicates, had hired these men to steal the Skulls because he believed they possess supernatural powers. In New York, a newspaper man by the name of Dave Palmer had been trying to uncover Drax's criminal activities, but Drax had bought off enough policemen and politician to prevent that. But when Dave Palmer's niece, Diane, travels to Bengalla to investigate, Drax uses this as an opportunity to silence his foe by getting one of his underlings, a pilot named Sala, to kidnap her. The Phantom is able to rescue her and then travels to New York to stop his new enemy.

There's such a thing as being too true to the source material. In The Phantom, the filmmakers appear to have tried to exactly represent the source material, and this affects the movie in a number of ways, mostly negatively. One such aspect of the movie is the outfit. I'm reminded of the line from X-Men when Wolverine says, "You actually go outside in these things?" and Cyclops responds, "Well, what would you prefer? Yellow spandex?" What looks good in a comic book is not the same as what looks good on screen, and a purple jumpsuit does not look good on screen. Additionally, while the movie is almost non-stop action, it feels old-fashioned, and not in a good way. The film tries so hard to recapture the look and feel of the adventure serials from the 1950s (the kind that inspired Indiana Jones) that it slips into self-parody at times.

That said, there are some great action scenes in the movie. The scenes that were filmed in Thailand are beautiful to look at. And yes, it does have some camp appeal for those who are interested. But it would have been a much better movie had they modernized the story and the characters.

There are no real extras on the Blu-ray (the theatrical trailer and bookmarks hardly count). However, the film looks a whole lot better than I thought it would. I've lost track on how many Blu-rays I've reviewed this week (five or six, I think) but this one looks the best. Additionally, at just $14, it's a reasonably good deal for this type of release.

The Verdict

The Phantom is far from a great movie and the Blu-ray is devoid of special features. On the other hand, it does look good in High Definition and the price is right, so if you are a fan of the movie it could be worth picking up.

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