A. Michael Baldwin
Trivia Roger Avary who wrote the abandoned Phantasm's End script can be spotted as one of the bodies in a coffin during the Civil War flashback scene.
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Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)
2nd Nov 05
Mike now has a silver sphere implanted in his head and is jumping from dimension to dimension in the hope of unlocking the Tall Man’s secrets. Reggie has escaped from the flying balls and is reluctantly persuaded by Jody – still manifesting himself from within the black sphere – that he’s the only one that can help Mike. Now the games begin!
Review Reviewed as part of the Phantasm Box set
Fans around the world were hoping that the fourth instalment in the Phantasm franchise was to be the long-rumoured Phantasm 1999 script from Pulp Fiction scribe Roger Avary, since retitled Phantasm’s End. With Don Coscarelli’s full backing, this latest script was set in the future, with much of America cut off by a plague wreaked by the Tall Man. Reggie was to join a suicide squad (led by a character allegedly to be played by Bruce Campbell), who would journey through the gateway to the Tall Man’s red planet for one final battle – and hopefully save Mike in the process. Sadly the $15 million required to fund such an ambitious sequel never materialised, so Coscarelli was forced to develop his own script on a tiny budget of $650,000.
Sadly the results of these creative and budgetary limitations are all too apparent in Phantasm OblIVion, which is the weakest in the series. That’s not to say that it’s a complete disaster. One of the greatest strengths of the Phantasm legacy is the commitment of the original cast and crew to follow their 1970’s masterpiece through to its final resolution. I certainly can’t think of many films that retain their original director and four main actors into a third sequel, nearly twenty years later. Part of the films’ enduring nature is their ability to deliver a solid ninety minutes of entertainment, without having to explain the whys and wherefores of everything. The only danger of this is by the fourth film the audience are expecting at least some answers, or a new way to drive the story forward, without just rehashing all that has come before as happens in so many other sequels.
After making me jump in the opening minute, the story resumes where Phantasm III: Lord Of The Dead ended, with Mike taking off on his own to try and find out more about the Tall Man before he becomes “one of them”, what with one of the balls now nestled in his skull. Back at the mausoleum Tim has been taken (or so we assume – no-one acknowledges his existence, not even Reggie), whilst Reggie is mysteriously set free by the Tall Man, who disperses his threatening hordes of hovering balls in a flurry of bad CGI. He’s soon back on the road in his trusty black Plymouth Hemi Cuda, and quickly picks up the pretty Jennifer after she rolls her car – hey, it’s a Phantasm film, there has to be a car crash in there somewhere, that’s the law. As the story progresses Mike learns that he can drop large rocks onto small dwarves just by using his mind, he starts to have doubts about Jody – who reveals that he didn’t die in a car accident after all – and then discovers a 'dimensional fork' to an old house where he meets the kindly Jebediah Morningside, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain tall person – can he stop Jebediah before he sets in motion a fateful chain of events?
The problem with having our two main protagonists apart from one another gives this sequel a disjointed feel – you yearn for the camaraderie of Phantasm II when it was just Mike and Reggie together against their common enemy. Whilst Michael Baldwin was a convincing thirteen year old kid back in the original Phantasm (even if he could drive a car, drink beer and shoot a gun back then), in adult life he’s no Alec Baldwin, heck he's not even an Adam Baldwin, and he really struggles when he’s forced to lead the film on his own – I also found it rather distracting that he’s the spitting image of Irish comedian Ed Byrne! The return of Jody’s character in the previous film was a nice touch, but it was always going to be difficult to relate to him in spherical form, and it’s even more so here – which is no doubt why Coscarelli decided to change tack and have us question his motives. Although Reggie, the undoubted star of the third film, recaps the previous movies in his voiceover at the beginning, once Mike takes over the narrative drive then poor Reggie is rather resigned to a back seat. Still, it’s great to see him back in his ice cream vendor outfit, armed with his four-barrel shotgun, bellowing out lines like, “Your balls are mine!” Oh yeah, and he gets to sing a torturous interpretation of the Phantasm theme over the end credits too!
With the budgetary constraints curtailing the action, Phantasm OblIVion is a much slower paced affair, with nothing really happening during the first thirty minutes, aside from the appearance of an unexplained zombie cop. Coscarelli does integrate some unused footage from the first film effectively to illustrate the bond between Mike and Reggie, and the exploration of the Tall Man’s background is also worthwhile, but this needs to be balanced by some horror set-pieces, and it is here that this film is severely lacking. The suggestion of thousands of those silver spheres attacking hapless victims fails to materialise – how great would it be to see an army of balls in attack mode? – but this time we don’t even get the customary one sphere pursuit, drill and spray scene, surely a must for any Phantasm film? Sure, Reggie has one passion-killing encounter with a couple of silver globes, but otherwise they’re sorely underused. The wonderful Phantasm score is also rather lost under layers of sound design which is a shame.
Rather than finish with yet another “was it a dream?” cliffhanger ending, Coscarelli wisely builds to a far more satisfying conclusion. Whilst not by any means addressing all of our concerns, there does appear to be final closure for two of our main characters – although in a Phantasm film, who can tell for sure? With rumours of a fifth and final film still abound, and talk of Dimension Films going down the remake route, it looks likely that the balls aren’t going to drop just yet. Whether we’ll ever get to see Roger Avary’s vision – as glimpsed momentarily in one scene which sees Mike and Jody pass through a gateway into a deserted, infected city – remains to be seen, but the fans – myself included – remain ever hopeful.
Versions Originally released on DVD in the UK by Digital Entertainment, in a slightly trimmed form, you’ll be wanting the new Anchor Bay release. The film has been digitally remastered and is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a DTS soundtrack. Extras include audio commentary from Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm, the theatrical trailer and a photo gallery. Of course, if you buy the DVD box set then you’ll also get a whole bonus disc of Phantasm extras. You really should seek it out immediately!