Movie Review: The Phantom

Posted: February 11, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Phantom (1996 Paramount Dir. Simon Wincer)

The Ghost who wears eye make up

I think Paramount was trying to start a series that could be like Indiana Jones, without being Indiana Jones. The Phantom shares many of the same themes, as well as having the extra bonus of being a comic book movie, which were still kind of popular at the time. Sort of, a bit. Actually, they may have dropped off by this point, I can’t remember. It came late in the cycle though, I remember that. Really this is a comic strip, not book, but I guess reprints of the daily strip do appear in book form. So why not call it a comic book movie? Is it just my pedantic nature? Probably.

The Ghost Who Has an Unhealthy Skull Obsession

First problem, the director isn’t Steven Spielberg, but I suspect he was asked to emulate him. There is a lot here that gives you the impression that they were heavily inspired by the Indiana Jones movies, but that’s shouldn’t be such a problem since Spielberg and Lucas were inspired by things like The Phantom in the first place. There is a lot of the serial in this movie, but the serial went the way of the do-do for a reason. That wouldn’t be a big problem, Spielberg made this thing work after all. It is a problem though because either the director didn’t have the talent, the money, or the producers that Spielberg had.

The Ghost Who Rides

They even go so far as to try and out do two segments from Indy movies by combining them together. The problem with trying to out do a segment from an Indiana Jones movies is that those scenes were on the very edge of believability as it is, going bigger than that means you cross over into just plain silly and unbelievable. Not being able to see where that line lays hurts this movie immeasurably, and even a masterful performance by Billy Zane just can’t save it. He tries hard and it’s his enthusiasm for this film that keeps bringing me back to watch it, but this isn’t a great movie.

Yes, that is Catherine Zeta-Jones, only about 2 years before massive fame.

There are several elements that just don’t come together. The dialogue is made up of 84% exposition and is pretty horrendous on places, to the point where I just wanted to fast forward through the sections. The story is thrown together in a pretty ham handed manner. Story elements are just thrown against the wall hoping it might stick. Worse yet, actions are telegraphed miles ahead of time and make almost no sense when they show up. That’s a lot of problems I’ve just outlined there, now watch me use the next paragraph to make excuses.

And that is Kristy Swanson and her real hair color, about 4 years after Buffy The Vampire Slayer

That isn’t to say this movie is valueless, but it doesn’t have the value it could have or should have had. With another run through the script, and a little bit more skill from the director, this could have been a really good movie. This is one of those movies that needed just “one more” to make it really good. Just one more draft of the script. Just one more million to push the sets to a place of perfection. Just one more run through with the actors to make sure the performances were as perfect as they could be. Time and money issues undoubtedly made what could have been a really good movie into a just okay movie. It’s not that anyone area was seriously lacking, but that the whole thing got scaled down a notch before production and it just couldn’t hold up.

The Ghost Who Helps Ladies Who Have Dropped Their Purses

The actors are good, it’s a lot of top-notch talent, but they don’t have that much to work with. If you can look past the weaknesses in the story and dialogue though, some of the actors are giving great performances. Billy Zane is charming and boyishly good natured in a way that makes him much more likable to me than all the dark and mopey emo superheroes that have become the cliché over the last few years, Kristy Swanson is given more to do than simply being a flower vase to get into trouble. Treat Williams is a bit of a disappointment though, as he gnaws on the scenery to the point where you can see the teeth marks on every scene he’s in. Probably just what was wanted from him, but a serious bad guy would have been better.

The Ghost Who Takes Taxis

The action is really good, being made up mostly of practical stunt work. There are a few blue screen and process shots, but for the most part it’s good old fashioned doing it or looking like you did it anyway. The sets are fairly good, this still being a few years before anyone would try digital sets to any great degree. The problem is, none of it is really great, and none of it is strong enough to make up for the places where other elements are lacking. However, for the most part the performances are good enough that you can enjoy this if you can get past the weak spots.

The Ghost Who Does Jazz Hands

The last half hour of the movie isn’t terribly good though, the final action sequence on the hidden pirate island makes something very silly indeed seem only a little silly by comparison. The action is okay, as far as it goes, but the section is the weakest in the movie. It would have been better if they had a few subplots to tie up or something, but this has been such a tab A into slot B production with such a single through line story that the end sadly disappoints. And the very end of that section contains lots of effects that just do not work, which makes you just want to bang your head against the table.

The Ghost Who Goes John Woo On The Mo-Fos

It’s really a shame the movie wasn’t better, I would have liked to see a cheerful costumed hero instead of the ranks of brooding emo dorks in masks with powers being all depressed everywhere talking about their dark feelings. I’ve gotten REALLY bored with that crap over the last few years. Also, it would have been fun to see more of Kristy Swanson and Billy Zane playing against each other. It would have been awesome if just a few more people had decided to go to the theater that weekend, if just a little more buzz built up, if someone had decided to like it better. If they’d made Phantom 2, it would have been an improvement. If for no other reason, than because they would have understood the limitations and been able to over come them or work around them.

The Ghost Who’s Girlfriend Can Find a 1990s Style Bra in 1939

Official Score:
35 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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