Originally created by Lee Falk as a newspaper strip character in the 1930s, The Phantom has had many lives over the years in many different forms. There have been various comic book incarnations from various publishers, there was a serial, there was an animated series called Phantom 2012 and he was a member of the Defenders Of The Earth when that series ran on TV. There was a big flop of a Hollywood movie with Billy Zane in the lead and 'slam evil' as the tagline, and I'm sure probably a few other takes on the character that I can't think of right now - so it's really no surprise that someone has gone back to the character yet again. This time, however, it's the SyFy network, who aren't exactly known for their amazing homegrown productions and with 'reimagined and reloaded' plastered on the cover art of this Blu-ray release, expectations were low going in.
This time around, we meet a young man named Chris Moore (Ryan Carnes) who lives in the future and gets his kicks as an 'urban daredevil.' An expert in Parkour (a wild mix of martial arts and gymnastics originating in France), Chris zips around roof tops and jumps over things that most of us wouldn't ever even consider trying to attempt. Chris has been raised by a nice couple in New York City and all his life he's been entirely unaware of his lineage - you see, he's a descendent of the Walker family line, which means it's his destiny to become The Phantom and fight crime. This family tradition has been going on for centuries and when he's kidnapped by a friend of his real father named Abel Vandermaark (Jean Marchand), he learns that his real name isn't Chris Moore but Kit Walker and that the time has come for him to don the family duds and fight some crime.
While Chris is getting accustomed to becoming Kit, a group of Singh warriors, lead by Rhatib Singh (Cas Anvar) with some help from a mad scientist (played by none other than Isabella Rossellini) are up to no good and intend to stop a man who may be able to settle things in the Middle East once and for all by using mind control on a hitman to take him out. It's going to take everything that Kit has to with some help from a team of experts and a whole lot of high tech gadgetry to save the day, but if tradition is anything to go by, he's up for the job.
While there are a lot of people who are going to be irritated by the updating of the mythos, director Paulo Barzman's take on the story actually makes sense when you consider that the mantle of The Phantom is passed on from generation to generation. That tradition dictates that the story, by its very nature and tradition, has to evolve and evolve it does. Instead of skulking around the jungle and hanging out in caves, The Phantom shows off some admirable Parkour skills and leaps his way through danger with style and an overbearing sense of cool. The film does a nice job of contrasting the New York City locations that it starts with against the more tropical backdrop it winds up playing out in, while the cinematography gives us plenty of eye candy to ogle throughout. Originally meant to be watched as a televised miniseries, the movie feels long at almost three hours in length but there's enough to the story that, if watched in two or three stretches, it winds up making for good entertainment. Not great entertainment, but good entertainment.
Ryan Carnes carries most of the weight on his shoulders, making for a likeable lead and a believable fighter. He has about him an intelligence that makes him a good fit for that part, and is able to convincingly carry off many of the action scenes quite well. Anvar makes for a great villain and a fine foil to Carnes appreciable common guy approach, while Rossellini makes for an amusing if unlikely mad scientist. Not all of the effects set pieces work perfectly and there are some very obvious miniatures and models used as well as some CGI that looks like just that - computer generated effects work and not the real thing - but this revamped The Phantom still manages to capture the pulpy style of fun that has made the character last as long as he has. There are pacing problems early on that might cause you to write this one off, but get past the first half hour and stick with this one - it won't change your life but it will keep you entertained.
The Phantom looks good in 1.78.1 widescreen in this AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. Colors are nice and bright and bold and well defined without looking overcooked or oversaturated. Black levels are generally strong and deep and while shadow detail isn't always perfect, more often than not it is very good. Skin tones look nice and lifelike and facial detail is strong in close up shots. Texture looks good throughout and fine detail is generally nice and sharp with a few scenes here and there being minor exceptions. Overall, this is a pretty strong picture the colors really do impress pretty consistently from start to finish.
An English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track handles the audio duties on this release and it does a fine job from start to finish even if it is apparent from the very start that this is going to play far more frequently with the front channels than the rears. Surround activity is present during some of the action scenes and there's a bit of ambient background noise here and there but the vast majority of the action comes from the front and center. That said, the clarity and quality is quite good. Dialogue is always easy to follow and understand and there are no problems at all with any hiss or distortion. The levels are well balanced and bass response is strong and tight. There could have been more done to bring the film a bit more life in this department, but aside from that there's nothing to complain about here.
While this isn't a super stacked special edition release, the disc does contain an interview with star Ryan Karnes who talks about preparing for the role, donning the suit and working on the sets. It's interesting enough, at 11:02 it really just kind of scratches the surface. A second interview, clocking in at 6:01, lets the films' director, Paulo Barzman, discuss his work on the project, his admiration for the material and what it was like bringing this project to life. Aside from that, we get a trailer for the feature, some spiffy menus, and chapter stops. The extras on this release are in high definition, which is a nice touch.
The Phantom may not be a modern classic but it is a good bit of fun even if it is overly long in spots. It does a fine job of updating Lee Falk's classic source material without disrespecting the groundwork that was laid prior and it's got some impressive and creative action sequences. SyFy/Vivendi's Blu-ray release looks great and sounds pretty decent and if the extras won't make your mouth water, at least it's not barebones. All in all, for fans of superhero action movies, this is one worth checking out. If you won't go back to it time and time again, it's definitely worth a rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.