I remember seeing the theatrical and television advertisements for Phenomenon and wondering if it was science fiction, drama, or both. I guess it is a mix of the two, though going too far down this path of discussion might ruin the story. Phenomenon is a quiet film that is a bit too earnest, and John Travolta gets all emotional as an everyman who gains strange abilities after seeing a blinding light in the sky. The film is well acted, but the themes of fear and acceptance are a bit obtuse. Phenomenon hits Lifetime territory by its conclusion, but that is only a jab if you want it to be.
On the eve on his 37th birthday, mechanic George Malley (Travolta) is knocked to the ground after seeing a strange light in the night sky. George soon realizes that something is different about himself, and he begins displaying signs of hyper intelligence, predicting future events and moving objects with his mind. It is important to note that George is a nice guy; friendly to everyone in his small town, a hard worker, and sincere in courting single mother of two Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick). The trouble is, George is too nice. Phenomenon works overtime to avoid giving George any character flaws, and Lace is resistant to his charms because she assumes he is covering up some dark secret.
At first, George uses his mind to help others: He finds a lost boy and warns friends of an impending earthquake. George's gift initially strikes wonder into the hearts of his fellow man, but he soon becomes the target of fear and distrust. The government gets involved after George publicly discusses his predictions of the earthquake, and serious men in suits want to take him in for some testing. Lace eventually gets on board with George, who is also helped by his buddy Nate Pope (Forest Whitaker) and the town's physician, Doc Brunder (Robert Duvall). It's never clear exactly what George wants to do with his gifts, though he spends a lot of time plowing through the stacks at the local library. A scientist from Berkeley wants to study George's brain, but George is more concerned with sharing his own experiments on organic fertilizer.
Phenomenon approaches eye-rolling territory at times - the sensual haircut scene is ridiculous - but it's hard to fault the film when the cast is wholeheartedly behind the material. Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) directs with a steady hand, and is unafraid to let emotional scenes run long. The film is really about being different, and society's inherent distrust of things it doesn't understand. The mysterious light is not something George requested, and Phenomenon is particularly resonant when everything is explained. The film is a bit syrupy at times, but Phenomenon plays it straight, which pays off in the end.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks a bit dated during the opening credits, but steadily improves from there. The print is clear of any defects, and the image retains a nice layer of grain. Detail is good in the textured image, which can be quite deep. Colors are bold and well saturated, and black levels are steady. I noticed no unsightly noise reduction or edge enhancement in the print.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track supports the subdued film with excellent clarity and range. Dialogue is always clear, which is great since most of the film is dialogue. Music and effects do rustle through the surround speakers, and there is a fair bit of directional noise. A Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital track is also available, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
The only extra is the film's theatrical trailer (2:42/SD).
Phenomenon wears its heart on its sleeve and asks its audience to do the same. John Travolta plays an everyman who gains strange kinetic and mental abilities after seeing a blinding light in the sky. Phenomenon is about being an outcast and dealing with a skeptical public, and the cast, which includes Kyra Sedgwick, Forest Whitaker and Robert Duvall, gets behind the material. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.