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The Phantom

original movie poster
Directed by Simon Wincer
Produced by Alan Ladd, Jr.
Robert Evans
Written by Jeffrey Boam
Starring Billy Zane
Kristy Swanson
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Treat Williams
James Remar
Music by David Newman
Studio The Ladd Company
Village Roadshow Pictures
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) June 7, 1996
Running time 100 min.
Country United States
Australia
Language English
Budget $45 million
Gross revenue $17,323,326 (USA)[1]

The Phantom is an action/adventure movie from 1996 that stars Billy Zane and Kristy Swanson, and was directed by Simon Wincer. The film was based on Lee Falk's comic strip The Phantom, about a seemingly immortal crimefighter and his battle against all forms of evil. The film is loosely inspired by the first two of The Phantom stories, "The Singh Brotherhood" and "The Sky Band",[2] but it also adds supernatural elements, such as the weapon of doom "The Skulls of Touganda", and also several new characters. The movie also included the well-known supporting actors Treat Williams and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Despite being a financial disappointment in its theatrical release, the film has since enjoyed success on VHS and DVD and retained a cult following.[3] The MPAA rated this movie PG for "action/adventure violence and some mild language".

Contents

Plot

The legend of the Phantom starts when a young boy, the last survivor of a pirate attack, is washed ashore on a mysterious island called Bengalla. He swears to devote his life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms. When he grows to be a man, 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 he is the same, seemingly immortal man, giving him nicknames such as "The Ghost Who Walks" and "The Man Who Never Dies".

The film tells us the story of Kit Walker, the 21st Phantom (Zane), and his attempts to prevent the rich madman Xander Drax (Treat Williams) from obtaining a weapon of doom, the so-called "Skulls of Touganda", possession of which will give him the secret to ultimate power and world domination.

In the process of tracking down the Skulls of Touganda, The Phantom also meets his former girlfriend Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson), who proves to be an invaluable help for him. The search for the skulls becomes even more complicated for the Phantom when he discovers that one of Drax's henchmen, Quill (James Remar), is the killer of his father.

Appearing prominently is Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a feminist air-pirate who is apparently an ally of Drax but later goes over to the side of the Phantom. Sala attempts to seduce the Phantom during their first meeting, but he remains faithful to Diana.

Drax eventually obtains three of what is revealed to be in total four "Skulls of Touganda", whose united power he demonstrates by destroying objects around him. The Phantom next reveals the skull of his ring to be the fourth Skull, and he unleashes it against Drax, destroying both him and the other three Skulls. Diana later returns to America in Sala's airplane, though it is suggested that she will venture back to Bengalla and marry The Phantom.

Production

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.[4] However, the project 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.[5] 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 recently 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[6], won the part after competition from Bruce Campbell and actor Kevin Smith. After his casting, he feverishly pumped iron for 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.[7] A Batman-like costume with moulded muscles was made for him to wear, but by the time filming started, Zane was so beefed up that he did not need it.

Filming

Filming began on October 3, 1995 in Los Angeles at Greystone Park. For the exterior of the Palmer's 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 Sengh 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.

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.[8]

Inspirations

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 from Singh 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 criminal 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. However, 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 he was in the comic strip.

Release

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Deleted scenes

Many scenes developing the romance between the Phantom/Kit Walker and Diana Palmer were cut in order to make the film more fast paced. Many of the scenes took place in the Deep Woods of Bengalla. 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.

Advertising

To coincide with the premiere of the film, the Phantom was used as a part of the Got Milk? campaign, based on the character often being seen drinking milk in the comic.[9] Two different Phantom action figures were made by Street Player[10], 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.

Reaction

The film suffered the same fate as two other period-piece comic book/pulp adaptations at the time, The Shadow and The Rocketeer, and did not fare very well at the box office in the US. However, it has since sold well on VHS and DVD.[11]

Reviews were mixed, but favorable, 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.[12] 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.[13]

Reboot

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.[14]

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, due to the good VHS tape and DVD sales of the first movie.[15] 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.[16] The new movie is produced by Bruce Sherlock, who was also the executive-producer of The Phantom. The screenwriter is Tim Boyle.

Novelization

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.

Blu-ray Release

The Phantom was released on Blu-ray on February 9th, 2010. With this release, it appears that the rights for the film have transferred, as Paramount Pictures released The Phantom theatrically, while Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray.

Tribute

The Palmers' butler is named Falkmoore. This name is derived from Lee Falk, the creator of The Phantom, and Ray Moore, The Phantom's first artist.

References

External links


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