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The Phantom: 20th Anniversary Review

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‘When wealthy criminal genius Xander Drax endeavours to obtain the legendary Skulls of Touganda to exploit their mystical powers for personal gain and domination, mythical Bengallan Superhero – The Phantom travels to New York in an attempt to thwart his megalomaniacal plans.’

Cast: Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, Patrick Mcgoohan, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa. Director: Simon Wincer. Writer: Jeffrey Boam.

In 1996  Lee Falk’s ground-breaking, archetypal 1930’s Superhero – The Phantom made his movie debut, the ‘Ghost Who Walks’ had not been seen on the big screen since the 1943 Tom Tyler led serial series by Columbia Pictures, though there have been numerous animated incarnations over the years and a 2009 series that never made it past the second episode.

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The Phantom was created by Lee Falk in 1936 for King Feature Syndicate, Falk cited some of the biggest influences for the character were King Arthur, Robin Hood and Tarzan. The Phantom is the original costume clad Superhero, pre-dating DC’s Superman by two years. To the uninitiated the Phantom is immortal and is believed to have been fighting crime for over four centuries, in reality the current Phantom is the 21st in line, with the son of each Phantom taking over the role when their father is either killed or too old to continue their heroic lifestyle, thus propelling the image of an immortal crime-fighter… a Ghost Who Walks.

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“Hey, I can see my cave from here!”

The ’96 film adaptation of the classic 30’s Superhero starred Billy Zane, a devoted fan of the original character, whom he first discovered whilst filming the movie Dead Calm in Australia. The Phantom is extremely popular in Australia and New Zealand, eclipsing characters like Batman, with a huge variety of comics and related merchandise exclusively available in these countries alone. 

The filming took place over three separate locations, Brisbane in Australia, Greystone park in California and Krabi in Thailand, and it shows, the scenery from Thailand is especially stunning with some fantastic shots of jungles and mountains, the director of cinematography David Burr hit the ball out of the park on this one, the movie is beautifully filmed, with some absolutely breathtaking shots of Thailand during the closing credits.

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Directed by Australian Simon Wincer, who previously directed Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, with the screenplay written by Jeffrey Boam who also coincidentally wrote the screenplay for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and this Indy heritage really shines through in the film itself with the opening scene of  henchman Quill (James Remar) leading a group of treasure hunters into the Bengallan jungle in search of an ancient and mystical skull of Touganda, which is extremely reminiscent of the opening prologue of Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

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“So it was you who gave me 4.9 on IMDB!”

The film itself is set in the 1930’s and intentionally feels very much like a serial movie strip from that era, the thirties atmosphere is palpable and feels perfectly constructed for this particular Superhero, evoking a swashbuckling feel and the movie is ultimately an energetic and enjoyable romp, and faithful to its source material.

Billy Zane is perfectly cast as the titular hero of the piece, very much evoking the original character from the comics, which is helped in no small part by the amazing costume a fantastic and accurate recreation of the Phantom’s comic book form. Treat Williams is on top form as his antagonist, one Xander Drax, who you can tell is enjoying the hell out of the role throughout and almost steals the show with his stand-out and crazy performance.

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With a fantastic supporting cast that includes: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kristy Swanson, James Remar, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa and the late Patrick McGoohan (the Prisoner himself), the film is a must watch to not just fans of the Phantom and comic book genre movies but also anyone who loves high adventure and movies that are just plain fun.

The plot itself revolves around the villainous Xander Drax, who has been searching for the three sacred skulls of Touganda, these mystical treasures have been lost over time and it is prophesied that if all three are brought together, the person wielding them will have infinite power and ultimately the world will fall unto darkness. As previously mentioned very Indiana Jones, except the script is actually a retelling of three classic Phantom tales – The Phantom’s Origin, The Sky Band and The Skulls of Touganda, written by Lee Falk in the thirties and forties.

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“Alas poor Phantom, I knew him…”

An enjoyable and lively Superhero romp, beautifully shot, engaging and faithfully reverential to Lee Falk’s quintessential character. Zane is wonderful as the title character and Williams is craziness personified as the villain. The Phantom will make ‘Phans’ of you all… guaranteed.

Precinct1313 Rating: 4.5 skulls of Touganda out of 5.

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80 Years Of The Phantom: Old Jungle Sayings…

Continuing our celebration of The Phantom’s 80th anniversary we bring you “Old Jungle Sayings” an important part of classic Phantom lore, that encapsulates the respect or fear of the Ghost Who Walks amongst his friends and foes. Introduced by his creator Lee Falk in 1946 and originally called “Old Native Sayings,” though a precursor to this originally appeared in the 1936 tale – “The Singh Brotherhood,” where it stated that “The Phantom only warns once.”

Lee Falk continued to punctuate his Phantom tales with these ‘Jungle Sayings’ for the duration of his life, and had created around 250 of them by the time of his death in March 1999.

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Other classic sayings include:

“The Phantom has a thousand eyes, and a thousand ears.”

“The Phantom moves as silently as the jungle cat.”

“When the Phantom strikes, lightning stands still.”

“The Phantom has the strength of ten tigers.”

“No man can refuse the voice of the Phantom.”

“When the Phantom is angry, the jungle shakes.”

‘For Those Who Came In Late’ why not continue celebrating the 80th anniversary of the phenomenal and phantastic Phantom with Precinct1313, our next instalment is a review of the awesome 1996 movie adaptation. 

‘For Those Who Came In Late’ – 80 Years Of The Phantom

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“I swear to devote my life to the destruction of all forms of piracy, greed, cruelty and injustice, and my sons and their sons shall follow me.”

Batman and Wonder Woman have been cornerstones of Precinct1313 since this website sprang into existence almost two years ago. They are as vital to this blog as oxygen is to a drowning man… though there is another masked man who didn’t originate from the same wellspring as Bruce and Diana, and yet is as popular in the Precinct’s comic crypts as the big two. In fact, it was the ‘Guardian of the Eastern Dark’ that was the first costumed crime-fighter we ever wrote a post about here in the hallowed halls of Precinct1313.

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Lee Falk and Billy Zane on the set of the 1996 ‘Phantom’ movie

Today marks the astonishing 80th anniversary of Lee Falk’s ground-breaking character, The Phantom. The Phantom was the first of what later became a barrage of Superheroes, preceding DC’s Man of Steel by a full two years, and was also crucial in the development of The Batman (Batman co-creator Bill Finger cited The Phantom as a major influence on the Caped Crusader’s creation.)

It was the ‘Ghost Who Walks’ who originally donned a colourful costume and mask, and fought an eternal and ceaseless quest against crime, injustice and evil-doers with just his quick wits, martial skills and a courageous Wolf companion named Devil. The Phantom really is ‘He Who Came First’ in the popular world of the Superhero, the template for all costume clad heroes that arose in his image thereafter. 

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The Phantom was created by Lee Falk in 1936, and made his first ever appearance this very day eighty years ago in a newspaper serial strip. Falk was an American writer and artist who had previously created the character Mandrake the Magician in 1934 before going on to develop The Phantom just two years later. Lee Falk was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1911 and spent much of his youth there, he was a gifted writer and pitched his idea for Mandrake to King Features Syndicate, Falk was a huge fan of of stage magicians and actually based the look of Mandrake upon himself. The Phantom sprang from Falk’s love of myths and legends such as King Arthur, plus popular fictional creations like Tarzan and Robin Hood.

Kit Walker is The Phantom, 21st in a lineage of costumed crime-fighters that first began in 1536, when the father of British sailor Christopher Walker was killed by the Singh Brotherhood. Swearing an oath on the skull of his father’s murderer he became the first Phantom, beginning a legacy that would pass on from father to son for generations. The outside world though believed it was the same man, an immortal, a Ghost Who Walks, fighting injustice and piracy from his secret Skull Cave deep in the heart of the Bangalla Jungle. Fighting alongside his pet wolf Devil and white steed Ghost, the ‘Man Who Cannot Die’ instils fear in the corrupt and hope amongst the innocent, in his never ending pursuit against the evil that men do.

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To commemorate this astounding comic book feat, Precinct1313 will become a ‘Phantom Zone’ in honour of his 80 years of crime busting we will be giving over the entire site to nothing but posts about the ‘Ghost Who Walks’ for the next 7 days, from classic Bangallan “Old Jungle Sayings” to a new review of the fantastic 1996 Phantom movie. So stay with us ‘Phantom Phans’… because no-one refuses the Phantom (old jungle saying!) 

The Phantom Copyright: King Features Syndicate.