The Phantom (1996 film)
original movie poster
|Directed by||Simon Wincer|
|Produced by||Alan Ladd, Jr.
|Written by||Jeffrey Boam|
|Based on||The Phantom
by Lee Falk
|Narrated by||Patrick McGoohan|
|Music by||David Newman|
|Edited by||O. Nicholas Brown
Bryan H. Carroll
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$17,323,326 (USA)|
The Phantom is a 1996 American superhero film directed by Simon Wincer. Based on Lee Falk's comic strip The Phantom, the film stars Billy Zane as a seemingly immortal crimefighter and his battle against all forms of evil. The Phantom also stars Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar and Patrick McGoohan. The film was loosely inspired by three of The Phantom stories, "The Singh Brotherhood", "The Sky Band", and "The Belt"; but adds supernatural elements and several new characters.
Sergio Leone expressed interest in developing The Phantom and intended to follow it with Mandrake the Magician. However, the project was never realized. In the early 1990s, executive producer Joe Dante signed on as director. However, when the film was pushed back, Wincer was approached as director. Principal photography began in October 1995 and concluded on February 13, 1996. The film was shot in California, Thailand and Australia.
The Phantom was released on June 7, 1996, and received mixed reviews from film critics. Despite financial disappointment in its theatrical release, the film has since enjoyed success on VHS and DVD.
Four hundred years ago, a young boy witnesses his father's death at the hands of Kabai Sengh during an attack on their ship by the ruthless Sengh Brotherhood. He is washed ashore on an island called Bengalla and found on the beach by tribesman who take him to their village. There he is given the Skull Ring and swears to devote his life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice. In adulthood, he adopts the identity of "The Phantom", a masked avenger. The role of The Phantom is passed on from father to son through centuries, leading people to believe in a single, immortal figure and accordingly to nickname him "The Ghost Who Walks" and "The Man Who Never Dies."
In 1938, Kit Walker (Billy Zane), the 21st Phantom, finds a mercenary named Quill (James Remar) searching for one of the 'Skulls of Touganda', possession of which grants the owner a tremendous destructive power. The Phantom saves the native boy they had kidnapped as their guide and captures Quill's men, turning them over to the Jungle Patrol. However, Quill—revealed as a member of the Sengh Brotherhood, and the man who killed Kit's father (Patrick McGoohan) -- flees with the Skull and returns to the United States.
In New York City, Kit's ex-girlfriend from college, Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson), is sent by her Uncle Dave (Bill Smitrovich), the owner of "The Tribune" newspaper, to Bengalla in order to investigate claims that power-hungry New York businessman, Xander Drax (Treat Williams), Quill's boss, is resorting to piracy. En route, the Pan Am Clipper Diana travels on is forced down over the ocean by female "air-pirates" employed by Drax and led by the femme fatale, Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Diana is kidnapped and taken to the pirates base in Bengalla. Having been told of Diana's kidnapping by the Jungle Patrol's captain Phillip Horton (Robert Coleby), The Phantom rescues Diana and escapes from Quill and his men to his headquarters, the Skull Cave (with the help of his white horse Hero, his pet wolf Devil, and his jungle friends the Rope People). There, Diana meets with Horton where she is informed by The Phantom and Horton that she is mixed up with the Sengh Brotherhood. The Phantom tells Horton to use the Jungle Patrol to take care of Diana and return her to New York while he goes after the Brotherhood. Diana starts to argue about being sent home, but The Phantom disappears deep into the Skull Cave, with Horton telling Diana that "No one argues with The Phantom and wins."
Back in New York, Kit meets with Dave Palmer and reunites with Diana. With the help of information given to them by Diana's would-be suitor Jimmy Wells, they locate the second Skull in the Museum of Natural History. They're captured by Drax and his men, who steal the second Skull and unite it with the first, revealing the location of the third Skull on an uncharted island known as the Devil's Vortex on the Yellow Sea. Kit manages to escape from Quill and his henchmen and, as The Phantom, evades the police (Drax was allies in crime with New York's corrupt police commissioner, as well as the mayor). Meanwhile, Sala flies Drax, Quill, and Diana (Drax's "Phantom insurance" after it's revealed she is his girlfriend) to the Devil's Vortex, not knowing that The Phantom has managed to hitch a ride on one of the plane's landing pontoons.
On the island, Drax meets with the pirate Kabai Sengh (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a descendant of the Brotherhood's original leader, who possesses the third Skull. Sengh warns Drax of the existence of a "Fourth Skull," which controls the power of the others. The Phantom appears and battles both men, with Kabai Sengh killed by his own pool of sharks, as Diana and Sala cooperate to defeat the other villains. Drax unites the three Skulls and turns them against the Phantom (inadvertently killing Quill in the process), only to be destroyed when the Phantom uses the Fourth Skull—his own ring—to overcome the others. As the island is destroyed, The Phantom narrowly escapes with Diana and Sala.
In parting from Diana thereafter, The Phantom reveals his secret and his double-identity to her, telling her that he's only allowed to reveal all of his secrets to one person, the woman he intends to marry, but she leaves again for New York. In the film's closing narration, Kit's father laments his son's failure to pursue Diana, but reassures the audience that she will return to The Phantom's jungle, and to Kit, one day.
- Billy Zane as The Phantom / Kit Walker
- Treat Williams as Xander Drax
- Kristy Swanson as Diana Palmer
- Catherine Zeta-Jones as Sala
- Radmar Agana Jao as Guran
- James Remar as Quill
- Patrick McGoohan as The Phantom's Father (The 20th Phantom)
- Robert Coleby as Captain Philip Horton
- Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as The Great Kabai Sengh
- Bill Smitrovich as Dave Palmer
- Casey Siemaszko as Morgan
- David Proval as Charlie Zephro
- Joseph Ragno as Ray Zephro
- Al Ruscio as Police Commissioner Farley
- Samantha Eggar as Lily Palmer
- Jon Tenney as Jimmy Wells
- John Capodice as Al the Cabby
Rumours of a Phantom movie adaptation had first started to circulate when director Sergio Leone expressed his interest in the property in an interview. Leone had started to write a script and scout locations for his proposed film version of the Phantom, which he planned to be followed by an adaptation of Lee Falk's other comic-strip hero, Mandrake the Magician. The second project was never finalized.
Joe Dante was originally attached to direct a Phantom film for Paramount Pictures in the early 1990s, and he developed a draft of the script together with Jeffrey Boam. Dante and Boam's script was originally tongue-in-cheek in tone and the climax included a winged demon. However, when Paramount pushed the film back a year, Dante left for other commitments, and eventually ended up being credited as one of the executive producers. Joel Schumacher was considered to direct the film, but the job was given to Simon Wincer, who had been a fan of the character since childhood. When he traveled to Los Angeles to meet with Paramount executives, he discovered that they intended to release the film in July 1996. The Phantom was originally intended to be filmed in Hawaii, and the production schedule would go over budget by $10 million. However, Wincer decided to film it in New York City, Thailand and his native Australia, reducing the budget by $12 million as a result.
Wincer then cast Billy Zane, who had won praise for his work as a psychopath in Dead Calm, as the Phantom. Zane, a fan of the comic strip after being introduced to it on the set of Dead Calm, won the part after competition from Bruce Campbell and New Zealand actor Kevin Smith. After his casting, he spent over a year and a half to get the right muscular look of the Phantom. He also studied the character's body language in comic strip artwork, carefully imitating it in his performance. A Batman-like costume displaying false muscles was made for him to wear; but by the time filming started, Zane did not need it.
The special Phantom costume effects were provided by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.
Filming began on October 3, 1995, in Los Angeles at Greystone Park. For the exterior of the Palmers' English-style manor the mansion of Playboy magazine's Hugh Hefner, a longtime fan of the Phantom, was used.
The Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park doubled for New York City's Central Park Zoo, the setting for a chase sequence. Shooting continued on Hollywood studio backlot streets that recreated the 1938 version of New York. Over fifty vintage cars were used on the streets, and four hundred extras costumed in authentic period clothing were employed.
In October, the production traveled to Thailand for seven weeks of filming there, with the country doubling as the Phantom's fictional home country Bengalla. Action scenes such as the Phantom saving a boy from a collapsing rope bridge were filmed here. Production designer Paul Peters changed a deserted warehouse in the town Krabi into a large sound stage, where the Phantom's Skull Cave abode was erected, including his Chronicle Chamber, vault, and radio and treasure rooms.
In December, the crew traveled to Australia, where production occupied eight sound stages at the Village Roadshow Studios in Brisbane, Queensland. At Stage 5, the Singh Pirates Cave was constructed, constituting the largest interior setting ever built in the country. The New York offices of Xander Drax were constructed on Stage 6. Filming in Queensland also took the production to the Brisbane City Hall, where the interior lobby was redecorated to resemble a New York museum, where Kit Walker finds one of the three Skulls of Touganda. Manor Apartment Hotel in Brisbane was used as a stand in for a New York skyscraper.
On the final day of shooting, the production relocated to Los Angeles, California to complete a scene that would ultimately end up deleted from the final cut of the movie, where the Phantom wrestles a lion. The movie wrapped on February 13, 1996.
The film features several elements from Lee Falk's first two Phantom stories, The Singh Brotherhood and The Sky Band. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays Kabai Sengh, leader of the Sengh Brotherhood (the name of the brotherhood was changed to 'Sengh' in the movie, to avoid offending people named Singh), and Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Sala, leader of the Sky Band, a group of female air-pirates, both characters having appeared in the aforementioned stories. Jon Tenney has a small part as Jimmy Wells, a wealthy playboy who appeared in a similar role in The Singh Brotherhood.
The more realistic plots of Falk's original stories were dropped in favour of an adventure tale that featured the supernatural Skulls of Touganda. Falk's story The Belt, where the Phantom fights the killer of his father, was also a major influence on the story; but the name of the murderer is changed from Rama to Quill, and the 20th Phantom, played by Patrick McGoohan, is portrayed as a much older man in the film than in the comic strip.
Many scenes developing the romance between the Phantom/Kit Walker and Diana Palmer were cut in order to make the film more fast-paced. An action scene featuring the Phantom wrestling a lion and one with him fighting a snake were also cut. A scene with the Phantom and his horse Hero rearing in the sunset was cut out of the film, but shown at the end of the 1996 A&E documentary The Phantom: Comic Strip Crusader.
To coincide with the premiere of the film, the Phantom was used as a part of the Got Milk? campaign, based on the character's drinking milk in the comic. Two different Phantom action figures were made by Street Player, and promotional Phantom-rings were also offered. Different sets of Phantom collecting cards were also available in countries such as the US, Australia, Finland and Sweden. Movie theater popcorn tubs and paper soda cups featuring the film's poster were also used to help promote the film.
The film suffered the same fate as two other period-piece comic book/pulp adaptations of the 1990s, The Shadow (1994) and The Rocketeer (1991), and did not fare very well at the box office in the U.S., debuting at number six the weekend of June 7, 1996. However, it has since sold well on VHS and DVD.
Reviews were mixed with Roger Ebert calling it one of the best looking movies he had ever seen, giving the film three and a half stars out of four. Kim Newman wrote for Empire Magazine that the movie "has a pleasant feel - few superheroes have been as sunny and optimistic - as Zane breezes through chases and fights, stops for the odd quip - and pals around with a heroic horse, a dashing dog and the helpful ghost of his father", and gave the movie three out of five stars. The film currently holds a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 42 reviews.
Billy Zane originally signed up to do two sequels, but this did not happen because of the disappointing sale of tickets for The Phantom in theaters.
On September 6, 2008, the syndicated gossip columnist Liz Smith wrote that Paramount Pictures were putting a sequel to The Phantom into development, with Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones returning as actors, because of the good VHS tape and DVD sales of the first movie. Her statements were proven to be wrong on December 16, 2008, when it was announced that a reboot of the Phantom series is in the works, called The Phantom: Legacy. The new movie is produced by Bruce Sherlock, who was also the executive-producer of The Phantom. The screenwriter is Tim Boyle.
A novelization of The Phantom was written by Rob MacGregor, the author of a series of novels that feature "Indiana Jones". This novel included a more detailed look at the backstory of many characters, and the origin of "The Phantom". Several scenes that were omitted from the final cut of the movie are also included.
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- Time Out review
- Billy Zane talks about The Phantom
- The Phantom at the National Film and Sound Archive
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