“The Man Who Cannot Die”, better known as the Phantom was created by Lee Falk in 1936. The comic strip runs until this day, despite the creator dieing more than ten years ago. The Phantom was a costumed crimefighter that lived in the country of Bengalla. Bengalla was fictional but located in Africa. In 1996, they finally decided to create a movie based on the comic strip to find out what the “Ghost Who Walks” would do on the big screen.
The story starts when a young boy washes up on the shore of the African island known as Bengalla. He got there as the last survivor from a vicious pirate attack. In a ceremony with an ancient tribe known as the “Poison People”, he is dubbed the Phantom. The Phantom will devote his life to destroying piracy, cruelty and injustice. When the boy grows, he assumes the identity of a purple masked superhero with a brilliant horse to ride and a faithful wolf at his side.
That was the first Phantom and even though he is dubbed as “The Man Who Cannot Die”, he in fact does. Fast forward to the 1930’s when the 21st Phantom (played by Billy Zane) takes the place of his father who was murdered by members of the Sengh brotherhood. But little does the Phantom know that the Sengh brotherhood has an American chapter and they are just as ruthless.
Quill (played by James Remar) leads a band of henchmen into the African jungle. After a long search and causalities, he finally comes into possession of one of the Skulls of Touganda. Quill narrowly escapes with his life and makes his way back to the United States. However, he is merely doing the dirty work for a man named Xander Drax (played by Treat Williams).
Xander is a very powerful man who is attempting to create the ultimate weapon of doom which can be created after forming together the three Skulls of Touganda. He is now in possession of the first skull and reportedly knows where the second skull is located. Along with Quill, he also recruits the Sky Band, a group of all female air-pirates with their leader Sala (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) at his side.
Quill along with Sala kidnap Diana Palmer (played by Kristy Swanson), daughter of a wealthy newspaperman who likes to travel and see the world. Apparently, she was too close to discovering what Xander is planning to do. As it turns out, Diana Palmer is an old flame of the Phantom’s alter ego, Kit Walker. Can the Phantom rescue Diana and save the world from this treacherous plot?
I’m what you call a certified superhero watching junkie. Whether it is animated or live-action, I’ve probably watched it or have it ear-marked to watch it. Phantom appealed to me because it was based on a comic strip that’s been around for over fifty years. Sure, the idea of a man dressed up in a purple form-fitting costume sounds awfully campy, but that hasn’t stopped me before.
The movie is rather campy, but then again that’s half its charm. Billy Zane does a fine job as the Phantom, playing the part of a buffed up super hero with a ladies man charm quite adequately. Treat Williams also does a great job as the villain of the film. The only thing I was expecting that I didn’t get was some kind of maniacal laugh. Catherine Zeta-Jones despite being beautiful gets in a few licks but is mostly forgettable in her role.
The main thing one has to admire about the film is how well they stayed true to the source material. The nods to the costume as well integrating bits and pieces from the comic strip will make any fan appreciate this film. It’s a shame that this movie never made a sequel (due to poor box office receipts), because the movie ends beautifully and hint at future films.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen @ 1080p resolution. I absolutely adore the blu-ray format, but sometimes the older films don’t do so well when they try to clean them up. The Phantom looks better than it ever has but it is easy to point out flaws in the film. Flashlights are not this movie’s friend as they more often than not emit a blue streak across the film print. It can be distracting but then there are other shots from the jungle that look better than I would ever hope. A mixed bag.
Audio is presented in 7.1 DTS-HD English sound. One has to love the dedication that Lionsgate has to the 7.1 format. Even to films that have little or no business to be mixed to that degree. The film sounds great, with surround effects dispatching correctly to the appropriate speaker. Airplanes, horses running and explosions perform adequately. The only complaint would be dialog as it had a habit of going occasionally soft. Subtitles are included for English and Spanish.
- Automatic Trailers: Lionsgate Blu-Ray
- Theatrical Trailer 1:22: They certainly don’t make trailers like this anymore. Worth viewing for fans.
Interesting note, but Billy Zane was not the only person up for the role of the Phantom. The other person? Famed “B” movie actor and one of my favorites: Bruce Campbell. Another note: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays Kabai Sengh in this movie. You might know him as Shang Tsung from Mortal Kombat among other awesome bad guy roles. Those two facts probably doomed it to be labeled campy by critics. However, those same people would also be missing out on one heck of a movie.
The film has a very good supporting cast and there are many nods to fans of the comic strip. The blu-ray has decent video and very good audio making this a worthwhile upgrade. My only wish is that they added some extras to this disc. There are apparently deleted scenes out there and I’m pretty sure the director: Simon Wincer would like to talk about the film he worked so hard to appeal to comic strip fans and movie goers alike. For the general public, I give this a hearty rental recommendation and for the super hero fans, a good firm bargain purchase.