Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Swedish Perspective on the Australian DVD of a Canadian-Made American Phantom for TV...

Guest Blogger and Jungle Patrolman Pidde Andersson has provided us with this fabulous review of SyFy's The Phantom TV Movie:

About twenty years ago, I was talking to my friend, the late Fantomen editor Mats Jönsson, who for some reason asked me if I was the one who had suggested doing a Frank Miller style revamp of The Phantom. No, it wasn’t me -- but it could have been, and I had been thinking about suggesting writing one. However, Mats said they weren’t the slightest bit interested in that, you can’t do something like that with a character like The Phantom.

But then just a couple of years later, Team Fantomen -- headed by writer Claes Reimerthi -- did an ill-fated revamp anyway. They did their best to modernize the comic, both storywise and the way it’s told. The readers didn’t appreciate the effort, though, and Fantomen was back to normal within no time.

This year it’s 35 years since I started reading Fantomen. I still like the character but I can’t say I’m a very faithful reader. Last year I didn’t buy one single issue of the book. Still, I leaf through every new issue when stopping by the comics rack in supermarkets and at tobacconists. That book meant a lot to me growing up, that character meant a lot to me. He’s part of my life.

Like most Phantom fans -- at least the Scandinavian ones who know who the guy is -- I got rather upset when I the other year saw the concept art for the then upcoming Phantom mini-series from Syfy, and when I read the storyline. It seemed to be a re-imagination in which they’ve altered just about everything. Why bother? Why not just create a new character if they’re going to change everything that is The Phantom?

I like the Phantom movie from 1996 starring Billy Zane. It’s a bit sloppy and the Phantom of that movie isn’t really my Phantom -- but it’s still the Phantom, sporting his tights and mask, jazzing around the jungle along with Hero and Devil, and punching bad guys with his skull ring. Heck, I even like the Phantom of the fun 1940s serial! But this new one from Syfy seemed to be absolutely awful!

Then the series aired, if not here in Sweden, and was released on DVD in Australia -- and it got surprisingly good reviews. Several hardcore Phantom fans claimed it was good. No, that just can’t be -- or can it?

Now I’ve seen this 2009 Canadian production, directed by Paolo Barzman, veteran of lots of Canadian TV shows like “Highlander”, “Largo Winch”, “Relic Hunter” and “The Dead Zone”. And you know what? This two-part, three hour series is actually pretty damn good!

Ryan Carnes is 24-year-old Chris Moore, a daredevil and hothead, living in New York with his foster parents, when he’s one day approached by the mysterious Abel Vandermaark (Jean Marchant, who kind of looks like Ghandi’s evil brother). It turns out that Chris Moore really is Kit Walker, son of Diana Palmer and, uh, Kit Walker, and that he’s supposed to become the 22nd Phantom.

Chris thinks that’s bullshit, he’s more interested in cute paramedic Renny (Cameron Goodman), but when the Singh Brotherhood strikes and kills Chris’s foster parents, the poor guy has no choice but following Abel to a mysterious island that in this version of the story is called Bengalla (and not Bengali or Bangalla). There he’s lead to the Skull Cave, which is quite a nifty place, and he’s introduced to Guran, who’s as far from a fat little African man you can get -- this Guran is a tall, gorgeous brunette played by Sandrine Holt.

It turns out that the Phantom has a whole team working for him. This Phantom is some kind of superhero version of James Bond. Chris Moore accepts to become Kit Walker after having read the journals of his forefathers, but he’s still just an immature kid who needs training before he can don the costume, so Kit practices target shooting and is forced to run around half-naked in the woods. And when he’s ready, he refuses to put on the Phantom costume, which he finds silly. Fortunately, one of the team has developed a prototype of a new, bulletproof costume, which comes in handy when it’s time to fight Rhatib Singh (Cas Anvar) and the Singh Brotherhood.

You see, the Singh fellas, along with mad scientist Dr. Bella Lithia (Isabella Rossellini looking unusually creepy) have a sinister plan. Inspired by the pilot episode of the short-lived 1970s Spider-Man series starring Nicholas Hammond, or that episode of “The Persuaders”, or that Charles Bronson movie “Telefon”, they have programmed a bunch of people to commit murders when they’re triggered by a phone call. So, the Phantom goes to work along with his high tech team...

Syfy’s “The Phantom” is basically a combination of our beloved Ghost Who Walks and “Alias”; the great Jennifer Garner spy show. And there’s much to appreciate here -- but let me first mention what I didn’t like about this mini.

The Phantom works alone. He’s his own boss. If he needs help, he maybe contacts the Jungle Patrol or some friend, but he really shouldn’t be part of a team.

Ryan Carnes isn’t a very fun actor and the guy’s way too boyish for the part. He isn’t very well built and he appears to be rather short. And he’s never Mr. Walker. He still shows his eyes after having become the Phantom, and he wears what looks like a silly purple Smurf hat. Not good.

The old, classic Phantom costume might look ridiculous if worn in real life, but the new uniform isn’t much of an improvement. It actually looks like … I dunno … Judge Dredd’s pajamas? And Carnes is too tiny to look cool and threatening wearing it.

...And this Phantom wears the skull ring on the wrong finger; on the ring finger of the right hand (okay, so did Ray Moore’s Phantom in the first few strips), and none of the bad guys get punched on the chin and skull marked. They don’t even mention this important part of the Phantom lore.

But otherwise, some of the ideas in this series should have been adopted for at least Team Fantomen’s version a long tome ago to modernize the character.

The skull cave is furnished like a real home. It has electricity, antique furniture, a computer with Internet, and everything the modern man needs.

I really liked that the Singh Brotherhood is a well-known corporation nobody knows really is a crime syndicate; they’re right out of a Bond movie.

I liked that this Kit Walker actually had to go through a “Phantom training school” before he puts the costume on, most other superheroes just don a costume and immediately know how to fight crime.

The origin of the Phantom is told in a short animation, which I found pretty neat, and even though the makers of this show has updated the character and altered quite a lot, there are quite a few references to the familiar Phantom we all know and love.

Slight spoiler: I’ve no idea if there ever will be a series or at least another TV-movie, but this mini builds up to a continuation, since it ends with one of the good guys becoming the new leader of the Singh Brotherhood. End of spoiler.

“The Phantom” is surprisingly gory, I thought it would be more family oriented. Both episodes tend to become a tad draggy, but as a whole I found this mini-series very entertaining. It’s not really The Phantom, but it’s a good action show with a decent story and, as mentioned, several great ideas.

Pidde Andersson


  1. Always great to hear from Pidde, of course, but I hope the Ghost returns to posting soon.

  2. Mykal: Always great to hear from you, buddy! The Ghost has a lot on his Ghostly plate these days, but I will post some stuff again soon- I hope!

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