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
|Music by||David Newman|
|Editing by||O. Nicholas Brown
Bryan H. Carroll
|Studio||The Ladd Company
Village Roadshow Pictures
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Running time||100 minutes|
|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.
The film opens with a recap "For Those Who Came In Late," narrated by the Phantom's deceased father (Patrick McGoohan), who appears to his son throughout the film (whether he is a ghost, or simply a figure of the Phantom's memory, is left ambiguous):
Four hundred years ago, a young boy, the last survivor of a pirate attack by the ruthless Sengh Brotherhood, is washed ashore on an island called Bengalla, where he 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, causing 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 the man who killed his father, the mercenary Quill (James Remar), searching for one of the 'Skulls of Touganda', possession of which grants the owner a tremendous destructive power. The Phantom seizes Quill's men and saves the native kidnapped as their guide, but Quill - revealed as a member of the Sengh Brotherhood - retrieves the Skull and returns to the United States of America.
In New York City, Kit's ex-girlfriend, Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson), is sent by her Uncle Dave (Bill Smitrovich) to Bengalla in order to investigate claims that businessman Xander Drax (Treat Williams), Quill's boss, is resorting to piracy. En route, Diana is captured by female "air-pirates" also employed by Drax, led by the femme fatale Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The Phantom, told of Diana's kidnapping by the Jungle Patrol's Captain Phillip Horton (Robert Coleby), rescues Diana and escapes to his headquarters, the Skull Cave, where Diana meets with Captain Horton and is returned to New York.
The Phantom then travels to New York in civilian guise to meet Diana. There, they locate the second Skull in a museum but are captured by Drax and his men, who steal the second Skull and unite it with the first, revealing the location of the third Skull as an uncharted island on the Yellow Sea. Diana is taken there by Drax, Sala, and Quill, while Kit follows them as the Phantom.
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. The Phantom appears and battles both men, with Kabai Sengh killed by his own pool of sharks, as Diana and Sala co-operate 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 consumed in flames, the Phantom narrowly escapes with Diana and Sala.
In parting from Diana thereafter, the Phantom reveals his secret and his double-identity to her with the implication that she will, therefore, become his bride, 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 Phantom's Dad
- 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
- Samantha Eggar as Lily Palmer
- Jon Tenney as Jimmy Wells
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. 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.
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 Brisbane, Australia, where production was completed at Warner Roadshow Movie World Studios. The Phantom filmed on three stages, including Stage 5 which had a removable floor and deep-water tanks. Here 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, 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 sales 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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- The Phantom at the Internet Movie Database
- The Phantom at allmovie
- The Phantom at Box Office Mojo
- The Phantom at Rotten Tomatoes
- Roger Ebert review
- Time Out review
- Billy Zane talks about The Phantom
- The Phantom at the National Film and Sound Archive
- The Phantom Movie at Scandinavian Chapter – the Phantom wiki