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The haunted Captain of a Soviet submarine holds the fate of the world in his hands. Forced to leave his family behind, he is charged with leading a covert mission cloaked in mystery.
For more about Phantom and the Phantom Blu-ray release, see Phantom Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 25, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ed Harris, David Duchovny, William Fichtner, Lance Henriksen, Johnathon Schaech, Jason Beghe
Director: Todd Robinson
» See full cast & crew
Phantom Blu-ray Review
An underwhelming script torpedoes a fascinating historical premise.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 25, 2013
In 1968, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet ballistic missile submarine K-129 mysteriously dropped out of radio communication and was found by the U.S. Navy six months later, northwest of Oahu, sunk 16,000 feet below the surface. The C.I.A. mounted a recovery effort, photographing and salvaging part of the vessel, but to this day, the findings remain classified. What caused the sub to sink? Where was it headed? What was its mission? The Russian explanation is that K-129 was accidentally flooded when it dove in "snorkel" mode, but historian Kenneth Sewell posits a theory that's far more exciting. (If less plausible.) His book, Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine's Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S.—the title says it all—is the basis for writer/director Todd Robinson's Phantom, 98 minutes of historical hypothesizing wrapped in the trappings of the submarine movie sub-genre. The claustrophobia. The desperate dive to "crush depth." The onboard power struggles. Phantom is no Das Boot or The Hunt for Red October, though. It's not even K-19: The Widowmaker material. The low-budget film has a compelling premise, and it looks the part—it was shot almost entirely on an actual decommissioned Soviet submarine—but unfortunately, its script is waterlogged and bloated.
But let's start with what you'll notice first. This is one of those movies, like Valkyrie, where the actors—regardless of the nationality or background of their characters—speak with their own normal voices. Thus, you get a sub full of salty, Cold War-era Russian seamen who weirdly talk like Cold War-era Americans, their immediate political rivals. It's initially disorienting, sure, but it's just something you have to get past. Ed Harris, with his New Jersey accent, plays Captain Demi, the drunk, disappointing middle-aged son of the man who "wrote the book on submarine warfare." Demi's career has been marred by a tragic incident during his very first command, and though this made it clear he'd never fill his father's boots, the Soviet Navy—not wanting to sully the family name by firing him—has given him a series of middling posts over the years. In a bit of poetic justice, his final assignment before retirement is aboard K-129, the same sub he was captaining when a poor decision led to the death of 36 sailors. His glitchy, quick- cut flashback nightmares of this fiery accident—a burnt hand pounding a window! a snarling dog! religious iconography!—are more horror movie- worthy than the stuff of your usual submarine thriller, going overboard in the attempt to portray a man haunted by his past. If that weren't enough, Demi also secretly suffers from epilepsy, a fact that could be used against him if revealed. And you know it will be.
You also get the feeling that some of the stylistic excesses and personality quirks are, in part, meant to overcompensate for Phantom's lack of real intensity. The simple plot doesn't take much summing up. Setting off on a mission with unknown objectives—his orders are to be kept in a safe for the time being—Demi quickly susses out that this will be an unusual voyage. He learns from his loyal second-in-command, Alex Kozlov (William Fichtner) that several of his normal crew members have been replaced by sailors with no known personnel records. Then there's the strange issue of KGB agent Bruni (David Duchovny)—an OSNAZ Special Forces commando and "true believer"—who has reserved a spot onboard and cordoned off a section of the vessel that even Demi himself can't enter. Bruni is overseeing tests on a "Phantom" device that allows Soviet subs to mimic the sonar reflection patterns of any kind of commercial or military ship—a near-perfect cloaking device—but obviously, his intentions aren't limited to R&D. He's got a real-world application in mind, and it could potentially start World War III.
This may read like a formula for underwater tension, but Phantom is too fastidious, too routine, obligatorily working its way through the submarine movie check-list. Yes, there's an armed mutiny. (Two, in fact.) Yes, they dive to potentially metal-crushing depths. Yes, there are torpedo shootouts and poison gas leaks and lots of jargon about fluid dynamics and sonar capabilities. But there's no sense of dramatic urgency here, no intensity, even when the movie is at its most frantic. Part of the problem is that the actors are saddled with a script that's oddly stagy, with lines that often just don't flow well. Try to imagine David Duchovny passionately arguing this in the heat of battle: "We will step aside as our enemies destroy each other. We will emerge on the right side of history." You can't say that without sounding robotic. Robinson's writing style is a bit too thematically obvious, and not quite attuned to the way people actually speak. It's a shame, because Phantom has a great ensemble of actors, who do what they can but ultimately can't smooth out the stilted material. Ed Harris has the grizzled, hollow-eyed emptiness you'd expect of an alcoholic submarine captain whose demons won't leave him be. Duchovny is buyable as a strict ideologue. And William Fichtner—soon to appear as Shredder in Michael Bay's Ninja Turtles, believe it or not—makes the most out of a rather thankless role as the ship's executive officer. As talented as they are, one can't help but feel that Phantom's story would be better and more authentically told by a Russian director with a Russian cast.
Phantom Blu-ray, Video Quality
Phantom surfaces on Blu-ray with a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation. The movie was shot digitally with Red Epic cameras, so while you won't see any film grain, you will see a fairly equivalent layer of inherent digital noise, particularly in the darker scenes. The image seems true to source, though—no obvious DNR or edge enhancement filtering here—and, for the most part, it looks fantastic. Fine textural detail is almost always visible in the actors' faces and uniforms, and the generally realistic color grading is balanced and consistent, with good contrast and density. The lone potential quibble is that some of the exterior CGI submarine shots are extremely dark. If you've got a screen prone to glare, you'll probably want to wait to watch Phantom at night, with the lights off. Otherwise, no problems here.
Phantom Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Let's give Phantom this too—its sound design is excellent, especially for a fairly low-budget film. The submarine setting gives the film's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track plenty to do, filling the soundfield near-constantly with the ominous noises inherently present in a metal tube drifting under the cold, dark ocean. The deep, resonant clangs of something hitting the hull. The pneumatic hisses and steam-sprays and gurgles. The low engine rumble. The haunting sonar pings. The bubbly whir of torpedoes passing from one speaker to another. It's all very creepy, very realistic, and it sounds great—dynamically solid and clear throughout the range. The American-accented dialogue is clean and balanced too, with no muffling or peaking issues. Adding to the experience is Jeff Rona's tense orchestral score, which actually incorporates samples of noises made by banging on various surfaces inside the real submarine used in the production. An excellent surround mix, all around. The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles, which appear in easy-to-read white lettering.
Phantom Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Phantom Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's not one of the great submarine films (Das Boot, Hunt for Red October), or even one of the merely good ones (U-571), but Phantom is at least watchable if you're starved for more underwater war movie action. While director Todd Robinson fails to make the most of it, the historical conspiracy theorizing behind the film's story is genuinely interesting, and if true, it would make the Cuban Missile Crisis look like a friendly diplomatic get-together in comparison. Ultimately, I'd classify Phantom as a "bored on a Sunday afternoon" movie—it's nothing special, but it's a semi-entertaining way to pass time—and while 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release is watertight, a Netflix or iTunes rental is probably the way to go with this one.
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Phantom Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Phantom Blu-ray - April 25, 2013
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has officially announced that it will release on Blu-ray director Todd Robinson's thriller Phantom (2013), starring Ed Harris, David Duchovny, and William Fichtner. The release will be available for purchase on June 25 ...
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