Phantasm: OblIVion (US - DVD R1)
Gabe still fits in his ice cream vendor uniform, and he's ready for flying balls...
When we last saw Mike, Reggie, and Jody, the evil Tall Man had the upper hand—in spades. Mike was growing a sentry ball in his head, Reggie literally had his back against the wall, and Jody was some kind of ball ghost. Things don’t look much better this time, as Mike becomes trapped in some kind of alternate dimension, Jody appears to be an agent of evil, and Reggie…well, Reggie’s right where we left him.
The Phantasm series can be hard to swallow, but even harder to disrespect. All four films are undeniably original, entertaining, and different than anything else on the horror shelf. It’s a series that has earned its fans tooth and nail, and it’s a series that went on despite studio disinterest. The Phantasm films outwardly refuse to make sense, or follow any logical projection, and sometimes even the most loyal among us can’t quite contend with the ambitious oddness. I call these people quitters.
The fourth razor ball flick was made on a sizably lower budget then parts two or three (less than a million dollars), and from this standpoint even detractors must be impressed, especially those of us that watch enough zero budget horror to understand its depths. I’m not sure if there are any other professional filmmakers who have moved on to sizable budgeted films that could comfortably move back to a shoestring production. Don Coscarelli gracefully makes Phantasm OblIVion look like at least two million bucks. This exceedingly independent nature is what makes the less than perfect production memorable, and worthy of at least minimal praise.
Part of making the film on the cheap was utilizing deleted footage from the first film, meaning Coscarelli’s script is built around outtakes. Because of this, the already non-linear nature of the series is pushed to (beyond?) its limit. The final patchwork effect is an occasionally hindrance, creating a feature that’s devoted to decades old set pieces, which is a really weird way to go about making a movie. OblIVion is ultimately a better film the Phantasm III because it isn’t as goofy, and it’s obviously been made on the director’s terms, not a studio’s suggestions. Though Mike’s psychedelic introspective trip ends up a little too low-key, and frankly, kind of boring, it’s interesting to see Coscarelli going places he (or any other filmmaker) hasn’t been before, especially concerning the Tall Man’s history, and Reggie is always around to make things a little more fun.
Even as a moderate fan, I like watching all four films in a row every few years. There aren’t many film series made over such a long period of time that still manage to fit together so well (despite actor changes). I think that one of my biggest regrets in the case of OblIVion is that the final scenes of Phantasm III leave audiences with such a delectable cliff-hanger, and the cliff-hanger is sort of brushed off, in a less clever fashion then the previous two cliff-hangers had been.
Just like the recently released copies of Phantasm and Phantasm III, the most obvious comparison I can make is with that of Anchor Bay UK’s collection release (though there was a R1 release through MGM several years ago, but that one wasn’t too good). Again, the new release is framed slightly tighter at 1.85:1 instead of 1.78:1, which means a very small amount of picture loss at the top and bottom. However, again, just like those other releases, this new 1.85:1 version has more information on the right and left edges. In the end this doesn’t make much difference on the screen, but it’s interesting to note.
This new transfer is warmer and brighter than the old one, and compression artefacts are noticeably less common. Both transfers are flooded with grain, especially in darker scenes, but the new one is cleaner, and details are sharper. One of the problems of mixing outtakes from the ‘70s with footage from the late ‘90s is that the stocks don’t mix. The difference in grain and definition is arguably aesthetically interesting, but much more noticeable in this high-end transfer. Strangely, the plague of edge enhancement seems to hurt the newer footage more than the older footage.
Again, just like I did before, I’m comparing this soundtrack to the UK disc’s soundtrack. The differences between this Dolby Digital 5.1 track and the UK disc’s DTS track are slimmer then the differences on the Phantasm and Phantasm III discs, but there’s still a noticeable lack of volume. The difference in the punch of the LFE is minimal, but the spatial representation is surely noticeable. It’s not surprising that the DTS track is bigger and better, but this time R1 fans don’t need to feel bad about missing out. Phantasm OblIVion is an interesting case among the collection of films because it’s both the cheapest and the most recent, meaning that though quite aggressive at points, this film sounds the most ‘artificial’ in the series.
The extras begin with a full but often messy commentary track featuring writer/director Don Coscarelli, and actors Reggie Bannister and Angus Schrimm. The track is warm and friendly, but sometimes the shifts in focus are a little bit disconcerting. Coscarelli’s tone is as dour as ever, but he’s good for information, and Bannister more than covers up for his friend’s lack of hilarity. Coscarelli amusingly dodges Bannister’s questions about the meaning of some of the film’s stranger bits. The track’s all-star is of course Schrimm though, who’s simply the most charming aging horror icon alive, possibly ever. Schrimm’s still sharp, and still corrects his younger compatriots on occasion.
Disappointingly the only other extras are ten minutes of rough behind the scenes footage and a promo trailer.
It’s not the best in the series, but Phantasm OblIVoin does many things right, including a deeper look at the series’ mythology, and a bleakly open ended last few minutes. I do look forward to another entrée. And even though I’m not supposta say nothin’, I’ve heard rumblings of a Phantasm collection on the horizon, with possibly more extras. Perhaps if fans buy enough copies of this release Anchor Bay and finally afford the rights to Phantasm II.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 26th August 2008
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Director/Star Commentary, Behind the Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury, Angus Scrimm
Length: 90 minutes
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