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The Ghost Who ROCKS!!
on 29 June 2005
For years, people have tried to bring Lee Falk's seminal jungle / superhero to the big screen, with no luck. This movie all but died in "development hell" several times, but you just can't keep a good Ghost-Who-Walks down!
Billy Zane was born to play this role, so it's a good thing that he's such a fan of the character (he "discovered" The Phantom in the late '80s while filming "Dead Calm" in Australia, where The Phantom is revered more than Batman is in the States). He brings the black & white / Good vs E-Ville sensibilities of the character to stunning life, & while he never takes it too seriously, he never makes fun of it either, which is a hard balance to achieve.
Treat Williams obviously had a cracking good time playing the main baddie, businessman-cum-mad-world-dominator Xander Drax. His delight in being E-Ville (as I like to call it) seeps through every frame he's in, & again, he has fun with the role without poking fun at it.
A pre-"Mark of Zorro" Catherine Zeta-Jones has catlike fun in her role as Sala, leader of the all-female Sky Band, & Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is absolutely delightful as Kabai Sengh (nee` "Singh" in the comics -- from what I understand, the spelling of the surname was changed so as not to offend anyone from India. ?!?)
Christy Swanson & James Remar were unusually sedate in their roles, but that doesn't stop this thrillride of a movie from moving right along.
The late, great Jeffrey Boam's ("Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade") screenplay cobbles together three classic Lee Falk Phantom tales (The Phantom's origin, "The Sky Band" & "The Skulls of Touganda"). If Boam wasn't a Phantom follower, he certainly did his homework, as the characters seem to leap right off the pages of Lee Falk & Ray Moore's early comic strips in look, tone & feel.
The 1930s' setting might put some people off (it *is* somewhat of a mystery why he chose to place the character in the '30s, as the comic strip is still going strong worldwide, set in modern times), being as far away, release-wise, from the last Indiana Jones movie as it is. It seems that period pieces such as The Phantom, The Rocketeer, & The Shadow have all suffered from this, unfortunately. With superhero movies such as Spider-Man, Daredevil, X-Men, & the Batman series, maybe kids have turned a jaded eye on the rather naive concept of "right always triumphs over wrong", but director Simon Wincer's pure vision of the first masked hero (The Phantom predated Batman by 3 years) transported me back to when I was a lad, & the heroes rode off into the sunset once the villain(s) had been vanquished. The smile was nigh impossible to carve off my face!
There's been talk of a new Phantom feature film, distancing itself from the Wincer / Zane version, & while I'm eager to see The-Ghost-Who-Walks on the silver screen again, it disappoints me that filmmakers feel the need to avoid comparisons to this film. After all, Paramount Pictures were the ones who shunted the advertising budget from The Phantom to their already-overhyped tanker, "Mission: Impossible", so they are ultimately the ones responsible for this movie not getting the publicity it should have gotten.
I'd love to see a 10th Anniversary edition of this DVD, restoring all the deleted scenes into the film. While the pacing did suffer somewhat, the scenes they left out are integral to understanding who The Phantom is & what he stands for.
Not to mention, we'd finally get to see the hero ride off into the sunset!