Phantom

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phantomIt’s always a bad sign I’m at the screening and the cast or crew is there, and after the movie I didn’t care enough to stick around and ask them questions. The last time it happened was Beasts of the Southern Wild. I did think about staying just to ask the girl a few questions, because her performance was the only good thing about the movie (and I didn’t think in a million years she’d be nominated for an Oscar!)

This film wasn’t horrible, but…it was rather bland. What made it remotely watchable was the fact that you had Ed Harris, David Duchovny (X-Files), and that interesting looking character actor William Fichtner.

The fact that most of it was filmed in San Diego means very little to me. It was filmed in a submarine! They could’ve filmed it in a body of water in Des Moines. It’s not like Top Gun, where we see the house, the BBQ joint, or Miramar.

This is another one of those movies that claims to be “based on true events” but is probably 90% fiction. And coming off these Oscars where so many movies did that (including Lincoln, if you can believe that)…I’m just burned out on making up history to go with some story you want to make dramatic.

This is about a Soviet submarine captain (Ed Harris) who drinks and smokes, and is haunted by his past. He has a dad that was a big cheese in the military, and he didn’t rise through the ranks as high. Perhaps there’s more in his past, but I’ll let you find that out if you go to see it.

He is forced into a covert mission that could spark a global nuclear war. The KGB agent forcing him into this (David Duchovny) has an interesting take on what would happen if nuclear war went down. Yet none of this is based on true facts, aside from the submarine that went rogue and sank in 1968.

The movie was written and directed by Todd Robinson (White Squall, Lonely Hearts). Perhaps I would be more interested in the choices these submariners have to make if I hadn’t already seen a similar premise done in Crimson Tide years ago.

My friend gives me a hard time because I didn’t want to see U-571 when it came out. He kept pleading, and I responded “I don’t like submarine movies.”

He still jokes about that statement, as if “submarine movies” come out so often. I thought Das Boot was okay, but overrated. Crimson Tide was alright, but that starred Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman – two of the best actors ever. The script also had some scenes written by Quentin Tarantino, who’s won two Oscars for screenwriting. This movie…lacks all of those talents.

When Harris takes a battered old, rusted B67 sub out for one last run before the Soviets sell it to China, he has to put off retiring a little bit longer. Another guy has to put off his honeymoon. The commanding officer that gives him this assignment shoots himself when the boat leaves port. Hmmm…that can’t be good.

Now, here’s something a person nearby me asked his friend in the screening. “Why aren’t they speaking Russian?”

It’s the same complaint people had with Tom Cruise when he wasn’t speaking German in Valkyrie. I’d prefer they speak English, over goofy accents that don’t really work. The bigger question is, are Americans that turned off by subtitles? I understand if you can get Tom Cruise, you let him speak English, but Harris and Duchovny?

The title of the movie comes from a device they have in their submarine that supposedly keeps them from being detected by radar. When the KGB agents and Harris’ crew have disagreements over what their mission is, tensions flare.

I think of submarines as being such a small space, which could add to the tension. When they’re standing near a periscope and Duchovny first whips out a gun, it does. Yet other times I’m not even sure where on the submarine some people are. I never realized submarines where that big and had that many compartments, either.

Perhaps some of this movie was ruined for me when I just saw a comedian the previous week who was talking about old science fiction movies and how they just randomly pushed buttons before going into warp speed or shooting lasers at enemy spaceships…and how you could just make up jargon for what was happening. When there are some scenes in which torpedoes are being fired, we just see a bunch of buttons being pushed and people yelling. It doesn’t pack the punch that it should.

Perhaps some of the tension was taken away from the fact that we realize nuclear war won’t happen, since we never shot nukes at anybody in the late 60s. Yet Argo had that same problem, and they gave us a great movie.

I’m giving this 1 ½ stars out of 5.

 

Now, some San Diego fun facts about the movie:

 

80% of the movie was filmed on a real Russian B-19 submarine at the San DiegoMaritimeMuseum. It’s a rare sub, and the first movie to be shot almost entirely on a real submarine (due to small digital movie cameras that can now fit in small quarters).

 

One scene was shot on the Star of India at the Maritime Museum.

 

The stages were built at the old Cal-Trans building (as well as some production offices).

 

The wedding scene in the beginning of the film was shot at the Eastern European church in San Diego. They needed a church that would look like a Russian church, so…the Mormon place in La Jolla was a no go.

 

Kenneth Sewell, the technical advisor on the film, used to run secret submarine missions during the cold war (and has authored many books about them). San Diego is the home of his old XO Charles McVane (of the Seawolf) – one of the highest decorated captains in the U.S. Navy. It ran some dangerous missions during the cold war. I’d tell you about them, but…then we’d have to kill ya.

 

 

 

2 comments

  • Adam

    The fact that you say that Das Boot is just ok overrated and that Crimson Tide was just alright has you losing your credibility. You sound like the guy who used to write and review movies for the Union Tribune.

  • joshboardfox5

    Adam — you bring up decent points, but I'd like to hear why you think they're better than I say. I don't remember Das Boot well enough to argue the point, but about Crimson Tide — making Gene Hackmans character racist was a mistake. There was a great dilemma going on. Do we side with the crusty war veteran everyone hates, who has a dog that pisses on everything — or the nice guy, who relates better to people, but is college graduate and didn't rise thru the ranks. Yet, once the mutiny takes place and they get into a racial thing — we have no choice but to hate Hackman. Also…how stupid was that scene Tarantino wrote with them getting in a fist fight over the Silver Surfer? Who would do that on a submarine?

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