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Phantasm: OblIVion (Anchor Bay vs. UK vs. MGM)
08-24-2008, 11:25 PM
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Review Date: August 24, 2008
Released by: MGM, Anchor Bay (UK), Anchor Bay
Release date: 8/1/2000, 10/31/2005, 8/26/2008
MSRP: $14.98, £5.99, $14.98
Region 1 NTSC (MGM, Anchor Bay), Region 2 PAL (Anchor Bay UK)
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
It was tough not to get your hopes up when enfant terrible Roger Avary announced his desire to craft the epic closer to the Phantasm series. Set in the post-apocalyptic ruin of The Tall Manís wake, starring Bruce Campbell and polished with a $20 million budget. Phantasmís End was any phanís wet dream. The middling direct-to-video fate of Lord of the Dead, though, made it just thatÖa dream. The alpha and the omega of the series, Don Coscarelli, was thus forced to scrap his new leading man (theyíd team up later, successfully, for Bubba Ho Tep) and scale down his sequel to anemic lengths. But finally, in 1998, the fourth Phantasm finally arrived Ė Phantasm: OblIVion. While certainly not the epic Avary had initially conceived, its $650,000 budget proved still that Coscarelli was the master of making the most of a small budget. That the film was completed on that budget alone is praise enough, but how does it actually hold up?
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MGM released the film locally on DVD all the way back in 2000, and while respectfully anamorphic for being an early release on the format, times have changed. Anchor Bay UK released a beefed up version in their Phantasm Sphere set in R2 fall 2005, with a commentary, DTS and a few more balls and whistles. Itís now 2008, and Anchor Bay finally has the rights for the film in Region 1. Is the disc worth the upgrade, and again, is the film worth it to begin with? Letís get the ball rolling here.
Describing the plot for Phantasm: OblIVion can be either incredibly simple, or impossibly complex. Basically, it follows right after the finale of the third, with Michael (A. Michael Baldwin) in his hearst trying to track down The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) in hopes of finally revealing his mystery and putting the questions of his brotherís death to rest once and for all. Those dwarf minions of The Tall Man and his other dimension are hot on Mikeís trail, and heís going to need all the help he can get. Reggie (Reggie Banister), the ice-cream-vendor-cum-superhero, was split from the kid heís sworn to protect at the end of Lord of the Dead, so now itís a race by all to find Michael, The Tall Man and ultimately, meaning.
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Thatís the film in a nutshell, but given the non-linear and esoteric construction of the film, thatís only the tip of the iceberg. Mikeís dead brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury), is back once more, but heís not quite who he seems. Neither is The Tall Man, who, courtesy of flashbacks (that then become flashforwards) is also an olde scientist named Dr. Jebediah Morningside. Reggie (rocking the worldís most ferocious skullet) picks up a sexy drifter (Heidi Marnhout) with the shiniest cleavage youíll ever see. Interspersed are alternate takes and clips from the previous films, threaded with the rest of the plot patches to make one convoluted and cryptic deconstruction of time, space and perspective. Nothing is what it seems, and for every grave turned, two more sprout up in its place.
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Phantasm: OblIVion is a tough one. After the lighter, action packed sequels, OblIVion is a partial return to the dark, probing, surrealist form of the original. Coscarelli isnít afraid to get serious here, and at his best he offers up a surprisingly sad and nostalgic look at the past, and how memories and dreams are as liquid as surrealist notions of time and space. Mike jumps in and out of worlds and eras in search for the truth about his brother, and his journey can be seen as his mind made physical. His travels as non-linear as recalled thoughts from the brain.
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Because the whole film plays out like a lucid succession of memories, the film retains a sort of timeless, ethereal quality. Itís sort of comforting knowing that after four films, no matter who apparently dies or what happens, bringing someone back is never out of the question. In fact, itís a requirement. Itís like a soap opera, but with container of surrealism to diffuse all questions of logic. Jody died in the first, and heís died once more here, but thereís no doubt that, should Coscarelli want it, he could easily be back for the fifth. The Phantasm series is entirely different from all the other series that thrived in the eighties because it depends on the lives of its characters rather than their deaths. It would be a much hollower affair if The Tall Man was just picking off new victims each film one by one.
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No, the Phantasm series has a wonderfully convoluted plot that intertwines the lives (and deaths) of the four main characters in such a glorious way that the more you learn about them, the less you really know. Finally revealing The Tall Manís history in another dimension(?) as a scientist doesnít do what youíd fear by making a guy with a name as shrouded in mystery as Halloweenís The Shape a suddenly identifiable and sympathetic character. Instead of removing mystery, Coscarelli only adds more, taking off one mask to reveal two faces. The fact that heís a scientist doesnít really develop his character as much as it hammers home the filmís (and the seriesí) message of the inconclusivity of knowledge, the limits of reality not yet explored, and the faces and incarnations of difference that lie within each of us. Reggieís an ice cream vendor and a vigilante, Jodyís a human and an alien, Mikeís a boy and a man and The Tall Man is both phantom and scientist. In Coscarelliís surrealism, a triangle has six sides.
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I canít think of a better series of films that encapsulate the surrealist principles without all the haughty avant garde pretext. Thereís never been a greater Dali-esque weapon than the recurring pitch tuner throughout the Phantasm series. Immediately absurd that a small blunt tool could do so much harm, yet totally revealing in the way it makes visual the happens that occur around us that we can never see but still exist. Those sound waves harm, proving again that in life as it is in Phantasm, visual reality is never totally conclusive. Coscarelliís notion of the absurd as being a chain reaction of a rolling, exploding car at the face of a small turtle on the road? Not so effective. But when it all boyyyyyyyyyls down to it, nobody has really made surrealism as accessible as Don Coscarelli.
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Fun, this time, it ainít, though. While the Phantasms will always be interesting, and will always hold up to different readings and multiple viewings, Phantasm: OblIVion is sadly morose. Itís a dreary affair, and while at times beautifully sad (like in some of those expertly recycled alternate bits from the first film) it is during its majority overly sombre. Reggie, inconceivably sexually active in the previous films, even gets rejected! Thereís way more serious hardship at stake though, with Mike put through one soul sucking revelation after another, culminating to an attempted hanging. Even The Tall Man cuts that short though, noting that there is still much greater pain to endure. The worldís in ruin, Jodyís soul has been hijacked, Mikeís become a slave to The Tall Man and Reggieís lost his mojo. For the next film they may as well go to the Holocaust!
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Watching the film a second time, I was more fascinated by all the layers of reality that Coscarelli weaves into the plot with his provoking blending of footage old and new. It was quite the resourceful film, with all of the B-sides suddenly dusted off and turned around into a surprisingly cohesive whole. I looked past all the dreary sorrow to find a series so full of life. A series with a, err, circle of friends so close and passionate about their own reality theyíve created here that theyíll continue to make movies even if it means going the Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 route of recycled footage here. Coscarelli turns what was once coal to diamond, albeit a really fucking depressing diamond, in making OblIVion out of spare parts. And isnít that all just part of his big message, that from one perspective reality is insignificant, yet from another it becomes a whole different entity? Don, Iím not worthy.
Alright, polish off your glasses, because each of the three transfers on DVD that Phantasm: OblIVion has had are quite different. The most noticeable difference between the three right off the bat is the color timing. The Anchor Bay UK disc is very cool, with noticeable blue highlights that run throughout (and something apparent on their masters for all the films). The MGM disc is a pinch warmer, evident in the flesh tones, but still retaining that blue hue on the lower levels. Anchor Bayís new disc though, casts the blue aside for a more lifelike look, and by my eyes itís easily the most flattering of the bunch. Skin tones look warm but not overly golden, and more importantly the remaining colors pop out all their own. The other transfers just look muted by comparison. If you prefer the blue, day for night look, then youíve got your options, but if you want the most vivid and lifelike coloring, Anchor Bayís new disc wins out.
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Thankfully, Anchor Bayís new disc is the champ in all other visual departments as well. The sharpness is definitely there, with finer points like the wrinkles around those sphere breasts visible in full glory on the new master. The UK disc was actually softest, with the MGM disc closely behind, but thereís no question here, Anchor Bayís new transfer is a giant leap in clarity.
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If you scour the edges too, youíll notice that the new Anchor Bay disc also has the most picture information, with the most headroom up top, and wider sides. Again, the UK disc comes in last when it comes to framing, the most blown-up of the bunch. Itís also framed the furthest down the frame too, making headroom tight throughout. MGMís disc has similar headroom and information on the sides, but thereís a bit more evident on the bottom. Anchor Bayís new disc has it all though, and when coloring, sharpness and framing are all taken into account, itís the unanimous victor. All transfers are clean and with little amounts of visible dust, but this new disc is definitely the one to get.
Hereís where the UK disc owners can tout superiority. Anchor Bayís new disc (and MGMís old one) has only a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, whereas the UK disc has both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks. Thereís a definite improvement in depth and resonance to the DTS track, with all those flying spheres sounding truly three dimensional in the DTS track. They sound great in the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks too though, so unless youíve pimped out your system, either DVD is going to sound strong regardless of the track you choose. The sound design in OblIVion is definitely the most detailed and layered of all the films, and recorded originally in 5.1, it really sounds awesome.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phan4/phan4_shot13s.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phan4/phan4_shot13l.jpg)When the Phantasmagoria documentary came out as a bonus disc in the UK sphere set, that basically was the final word on the Phantasm films. Expertly made with current interviews with the cast and crew juxtaposed with on-set footage, it really nailed what a retrospective documentary ought to be. Without that documentary on the new Anchor Bay Region 1 disc, things canít help but seem sparse by comparison. To get the Phantasmagoria documentary you needed to buy the complete series on DVD, so if weíre comparing the film discs only, the new Anchor Bay disc has the most supplements, with the UK disc second and the MGM disc a distant third.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phan4/phan4_shot20s.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phan4/phan4_shot20l.jpg)On the new Anchor Bay disc, thereís the commentary previously on the UK disc, a ďpromoĒ which is basically an elongated trailer, and a nine-minute behind-the-scenes reel. Now, the reel is advertised as new footage, but is really the same videography work that was spliced into the Phantasmagoria doc. Granted, itís more complete here, and you see longer shots of entire takes, including the pyrotechnics with the exploding car and the effects of all those spheres attacking Reggie. Itís a nice window into that small set, complete with the low budget staple - a power outage! While this new behind-the-scenes collection is good to have, itís frustrating in that there are still snippets that were included in the Phantasmagoria doc that didnít make it into this. So, yes, thereís still more footage out there that hasnít been released in its entirety.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phan4/phan4_shotb13s.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phan4/phan4_shotb13l.jpg)As for the commentary with The Don, The Scrimm and The Bannister, itís every bit as entertaining and enlightening as youíd expect. Theyíre really like a second family, these guys, and itís great to have them all sit down together than talk Phantasm. Part of what makes these films so interesting is that all the actors are so committed to their characters and their Phantasm world. They arenít just working for hire, they know it inside and out, and itís great to see them giving anecdotes but at the same time prodding Coscarelli for answers the same way a fan would. Great stuff.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phan4/phan4_shotc13s.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phan4/phan4_shotc13l.jpg)The UK disc has a few text only biographies that arenít on the other discs, and the MGM disc has the trailer, which is curiously absent from all the others. Also of note is that all three DVDs have their own unique motion menus, each one quite interesting and well above the norm for DVD menus. The UK disc is the most overproduced, but it sure packs a punch. Iíve always liked the style of MGMís old Phantasm disc, and their OblIVion disc is refreshingly similar. The new disc is clean and simple, but Iíd probably put it last when it comes to menus, even then itís still better than most.
Long story short: If you get the sphere set, youíll get the best supplement with the feature-length look into the entire series, Phantasmagoria. If you want to just settle for one disc though, Anchor Bayís new disc, supplement wise, is the way to go.
Unquestionably a downer from start to finish, OblIVion is a tough film to warm to. While initially I found it cold, totally scattershot and depressing, watching it again I admired it a lot more. Itís an ambitious collage of snippets from all the films, and there are actually a few bits that are quite moving. If anything, it steps out of the eighties cheeseball mentality that sort of underpins Parts II and III, and brings the series back to its original roots. Whether anyone wanted to follow those roots all the way down to an Amish Tall Man though, is a matter of taste.
Iím recommending this though, undoubtedly, and if I had to pick one disc, it would be Anchor Bayís new Region 1 disc. Visually it dwarfs the competition, with the sharper picture, richer colors and more picture information than the other two discs. Itís missing the DTS track from the UK disc, but still sounds great in Dolby Digital 5.1. Supplement wise, the complete Region 2 sphere set is the way to go, but if you can only be bothered for one disc, then this new Anchor Bay disc also has the most (although still quite slim) material. Trust me, Phans, this new disc is the way to go.
Now, Anchor Bay, whereís our Phantasm II?
Movie - B
Image Quality - B+
Sound - A-
Supplements - C-
Anchor Bay UK:
Image Quality - B
Sound - A
Supplements - B-
Image Quality - A
Sound - A-
Supplements - B
Running time - 1 hour 30 minutes
English DTS 5.1 (Anchor Bay UK)
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Anchor Bay UK:
Commentary with Don Coscarelli, Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm
Commentary with Don Coscarelli, Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm
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08-25-2008, 02:49 AM
OMG a B you gave it a B oh crap on me. Just give me a golden shower why don't you! That movie is terrible just bad, bad. So I'll just say to myself you gave it a B for BAD. Okay I feel soooooooo much better now. :eek1:
08-25-2008, 07:33 AM
Yeah, a B is a bit generous. Overall the new dvd looks like a worthy one to put beside Lord of the Dead. Might just pick it up.
08-25-2008, 06:21 PM
have bought the UK set (but just the digipack) for about 22$, which will serve me fine (even though the transfer on the new disc is clearly superior)
08-25-2008, 07:11 PM
I'm always lenient when it comes to good intentions.
08-26-2008, 02:14 AM
I watched this one once when it came out, and was so depressed at its general awfulness that I haven't seen it since. The only parts I liked were the cutting room floor bits from the first film.
Before it came out I remember talking to Reggie at that year's Comic-Con. Even though he was hyping IV I could tell from the way he spoke that it wouldn't be wise to get my hopes up.
08-30-2008, 11:54 PM
Count me as one of the few champions for Oblivion. B is a fair grade based on a second viewing, I think. It's one of those films that only gets better the more you see it. I'd probably ultimately rate it a B+/A-. Easily the second best of the series right after Phantasm.
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