• Phantom



    Released by: 20th Century Fox
    Released on: June 25, 2013.
    Director: Todd Robinson
    Cast: Ed Harris, David Duchovny, William Fichtner

    Year: 2013
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    The Movie:

    The "submarine movie" is it's own little strange sub-genre. The classic form is usually some branch of the war movie tree like the classic DAS BOOT but it can also take place during peacetime in the form of an espionage thriller like THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Hell, it can even make for a decent ghost story like the Twilight Zone's "The Thirty Fathom Grave".

    The limitations of the setup are obvious - it is a claustrophobic setting so you better have interesting characters. Aside from some cutaways to whatever is going on outside the sub, we aren't going to be distracted by a lot of scenery. PHANTOM is a period piece set in 1968. The Cold War is raging and we are aboard the soviet nuclear sub K129. She's on a weirdly mysterious mission (the powers that be have placed the actual orders in a locked safe at the start of the sub's voyage) helmed by captain Demi (Ed Harris of THE ROCK fame) - a strangely morose man with KGB agent Bruni (David Duchovny)a haunted past. He's a drunk and a bit of a failure as a military man. He's also haunted by the memory of a major command catastrophe that sent men under his orders to a grisly death. What complicates matters is that Demi's father was a naval warfare legend who pioneered some crucial underwater battle tactics during WWII. In unique communist style it is simply impossible to make Demi disappear - he has to be tolerated so as to avoid dishonor to the soviet military propaganda apparatchiks. But this particular mission is raising a whole bunch of red flags for captain Demi - most of his regular crew has been replaced by sailors lacking identification papers and they are under the control of an unwanted passenger - KGB agent Bruni (David Duchovny) who has his own private section of the sub cordoned off. High command wants Bruni there and they aren't in any mood to explain themselves to captain Demi.

    Turns out that Bruni is conducting experiments with a gizmo straight out of a Star Trek flick - a cloaking device that perfectly copies the sonar patterns of other ships - friend OR foe. This is obviously a fantastic tool for penetrating deep into enemy territory. Is Bruni REALLY just conducting some research and development or is he following orders to deliver something with a little more real world thermonuclear bang? And why are course coordinates being shifted towards American controlled military areas? Can captain Demi stop downing booze and having horror movie like flashbacks long enough to figure out what the hey is going on here? Will there be a mutiny? Will it be CRIMSON TIDE all over again on a B budget?

    PHANTOM unfortunately is a bit lame. The script deal in the patently obvious but at the same time the shifts in tone make this a confusing film in certain scenes. Demi's flashbacks belong in bad horror movie. Strangely lit and musically scored they just don't fit with a gritty submarine picture striving for in your face realism. The resolution of both Demi's personal crisis and the mystery at hand of what exactly K129 has been ordered to do are quite underwhelming.

    I've saved this criticism for last but it remains the main thing that sinks this film - the accents of the players here. Or more to the point - the lack of neutrality or authenticity. A couple of these guys sound not just American - but from New Jersey. I'm not crazy about English accents on Russian characters but this isn't much better. If these guys couldn't manage an actual Russian accent that wasn't laughable then flat unaccented English would have sufficed. And the script is filled with distinctly American turns of phrase. It simply doesn't work and comes off like a 3 dollar bill. Phony.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    PHANTOM, despite it's average budget looks quite good. The 1080p AVC encode looks robust with excellent detail and strong black levels. The film was shot digitally but still manages a pleasing and natural look that looked terrific on my plasma screen. I also noticed no digital manipulation of the image with DNR or anything like it.

    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is completely up to snuff as well. Great LFE action and loads of interesting audio effects bubble up throughout the track. Instruments ping, blades whirr, and tubes gurgle nicely. It is both a well balanced and immersive track. Dialog is also always clear and centered.

    The extras consist of a mildly interesting audio commentary from the director and actor Harris that covers basic production basics and 3 featurettes that deal with the making of the film. The one focusing on the soundtrack is ironically the most interesting as composer Jeff Ronas talks about integrating sound fx into the instrumental score. The other featurette that holds interest is the one talking about the true life incident that inspired the film - pity that this wasn't a documentary. Finally you get a music video that is ok and not the terrible embarrassment that these things often are.

    The Final Word:

    Meh. Really for sub movie freaks only. PHANTOM kind of runs on fumes. Hardly unwatchable it isn't exactly gripping either. And those accents are a real drag on the film.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!