Phantom Blu-ray Review
In 1968 a nuclear-capable Soviet ballistic-missile submarine disappeared in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at the height of the Cold War. Within 6 months, the US Navy found indications of radioactivity within 400 miles of Hawaii, well outside of the Soviets usual patrolling area. The CIA was tasked with recovering the submarine, which they found 16,000 feet below the surface on the ocean floor. With the limited amount of information released or leaked since the incident there are many theories, but the fact that the information remains classified lends some credence to the filmmakers belief that what they discovered may have been the closest we have come to World War III.
PHANTOM is the story of Soviet captain Demi (Ed Harris), due to be relieved of his command but called back to action unexpectedly in the middle of shore leave. The mission is classified but they are required to take on some new crewmembers and two KGB officers with no explanation due to the urgent nature of their mission. Once onboard and off to sea the motives of the KGB officers become more clear and the danger both to the crew and to the world is slowly revealed.
The crew of the submarine are faced with the very real possibility that the KGB operatives on board their ship may be trying to start a war by pretending they are a Chinese ship – “They’re going to start the only kind of war we can win… one we’re not in.” That statement, made by Ed Harris’ Captain during the siege of his ship by the KGB, provides a unique and simple take on this impossible situation… and is probably the ONLY really good line in the entire film.
I don’t mean to say that PHANTOM is without merit… it’s another fairly simple concept, something that is terrifying in its real world possibility. Sadly it just doesn’t play out nearly well enough. The star talent is there – Duchovny looks his Mulder-best and shows us the seeds of talent never fully realized (I realize some of you really enjoy his recent work, like CALIFORNICATION, but I haven’t really liked him since the X-FILES and RETURN TO ME). Ed Harris does a great job but his performance (like the commentary discussed below) is lacking the energy that should charge a movie like this.
It also doesn’t help that the Director decided they wouldn’t use Russian accents. I know it is a trite rule for Hollywood, but the first 30 minutes of the film are actually kind of confusing. The dialogue is vague and quiet, hard to hear over the other sounds (the only place where the sound mixing is bad). This is made more awkward by the fact that the pieces of the puzzle are really set into motion by this opening dialogue but you might have to rewind to catch them.
Where the movie really shines, though, is in the portrayal of life aboard a submarine. This is, by FAR, the most accurate maritime adventure I’ve seen with regard to the utterly cramped and horrific feeling of being trapped in a sub in the deep. Sadly it doesn’t do nearly enough for the film. The story starts to feel a little too convenient and the foreshadowing is WAY over the top. If you don’t know within about 20 minutes what this movie is going to be about, you’ve lost your mind. I can’t recommend this if you’re looking for entertainment, but if you want to learn a little bit about a very dangerous part of our history, this movie does capture the fear and paranoia that defined the Cold War extremely well.
PHANTOM BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: (1080p, 2.35:1 Widescreen) The HD footage, straight from the digital source, is very nicely presented on PHANTOM but there is some noise in the darker scenes and noticeably in the shadows. Regardless, the technical presentation is immersive and coldly beautiful.
Audio: (5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) Aside from the first few moments, the audio is presented clearly and beautifully. PHANTOM brilliantly sets the stage with technical attributes that exceed the film’s overall quality.
Audio Commentary with Director Todd Robinson and Ed Harris (01:38:28) Harris and Robinson are great friends and while you might expect that chemistry to enhance the commentary, PHANTOM presents a very uneven package. Robinson talks deeply about working on the film, his rationale for various decisions, and sadly gets a very lackluster and, at times, difficult to understand input from Harris. It just kind of feels like he doesn’t want to be there… I wanted to get up and find him a Redbull. Both have interesting moments and the commentary is reasonably thought provoking for the historical context but this isn’t one for the casual viewer.
Facing the Apocalypse: Making PHANTOM (12:58) Robinson, Duchovny, and others discuss their work on PHANTOM. This is a pretty decent, though very standard, feature for most Blu-ray releases, but it is appreciated here for providing more contexts for the film and the Cold War era. This special feature details how they put together the shots using an actual decommissioned Soviet submarine.
The Real PHANTOM (08:03) Robinson and crew explain the loose connection between PHANTOM and the K-129 Soviet Ballistic-Missile Submarine disappearance. Indications that the submarine had gone rogue gave the filmmakers some very interesting thoughts, which translate into a GREAT concept and a pretty poor flick.
Jeff Rona: Scoring PHANTOM (03:00) Not a typical feature but one that provides some interesting context behind the scenes, specifically around the scoring of PHANTOM. The score is beautiful and eerie, giving a completely different, and strong, feeling to the film. Here Rona discusses his process for recording and putting the sounds together.
“An Ocean Away” Music Video (02:54) A music video recorded for PHANTOM, featuring artist Rachel Fennan who has a unique voice and brings an equally eerie quality to the PHANTOM’s featured song.
PHANTOM also features Sneak Peeks of other new releases and a DigitalHD UltraViolet (what’s the difference between UltraViolet and this? Don’t know…) copy of the flick, you know, so you can take it with you and watch it again… though who would want to I just can’t imagine.