Film Reviews:

The Phantom

(Simon Wincer, US, 1996)

This was one film I loved the look of in the cinema trailers but never got around to seeing on the big screen. I recently managed to pick it up at a boot fair in Brighton for three quid which I hoped (after watching the tape) I could consider a bargain. Having watched it I'd say I definitely got a bargain as The Phantom was exactly what I expected it to be - great fun. In the tradition of the Tarzan films, with the updated serial trappings of the Indiana Jones trilogy and Rocketeer in particular to the fore, The Phantom can quite comfortably sit alongside its peers as a fine example of a comic-to-screen translation. For those not familiar with 'The Ghost Who Walks' we get a perfunctory and rapid resume of how the Phantom came to be. We then kick straight into the action with 'grave robbers in the jungle' type stuff combined with plenty of humour.

As with the examples above, this harks back strongly to the serial tradition of the 1930s with lots of stupid crooks, skeletons that come to life, precarious rope bridges across ravines etc. You'll not see anything original in The Phantom but at least it is all presented in a polished production in the tradition of a colourful, light-hearted, rollercoaster ride. Filmed mostly in Australia (it was a US/Australian co-production) the location filming is sumptuous, whilst the sets from the Art Deco New York offices to the baddies hideout are equally dazzling. David Newman's score is gloriously rousing and the ensemble cast work well together. Treat Williams deserves special mention as the villainous Xander Drax as does Catherine Zeta-Jones when wearing tight black leather outfits. However, it's not all goodness. The script is uninspired (exactly the same story as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - three objects when brought together unleash untold power so everyone fights over them) and the direction dull - even the amazing stunt work is presented badly. Nevertheless, with so much else going for it, this has all the right (if familiar) elements and is worth a look for those with a soft sport for serial adventures and comic book adaptations. The Phantom is, literally, the spirit of adventure.

Rob Dyer

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