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MGM Studios DVD presents
Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)

"Small man, your end approaches, but it is not yet. Take great care how you play. The final game now begins!"
- The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: August 09, 2000

Stars: Angus Scrimm, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister
Other Stars: Bill Thornbury, Bob Ivy.
Director: Don Coscarelli

MPAA Rating: R for (graphic violence, nudity, language)
Run Time: 01h:30m:00s
Release Date: August 02, 2000
UPC: 027616851406
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B AA-A C

DVD Review

In 1978, the original Phantasm film was released. It gained notoriety with horror film fans at the time, and slowly rose to cult stardom over the years. It was a well-crafted, surreal story of a group of friends (Mike, a young boy; Reggie, an ice-cream salesman, and Jody, Mike's older brother) who discovered that their local mortuary was actually the center of a strange plot by the evil "Tall Man" to steal dead bodies and take them into another dimension. When they tried to do something about it, they also found the Tall Man's secret line of defense against intruders: floating, killer spheres with retractable daggers! The film is arguably one of the most original and enjoyable horror films ever made. Its creator and director, Don Coscarelli, thankfully stuck with the idea and crafted parts II and III, which continued the story of Reggie (an ice cream man) and his companion Mike, eternally chasing the Tall Man around the U.S. in hopes of destroying his bizarre plot. Though they have discovered clues that point to who and what the Tall Man is, nothing is clear except that his destruction is the only thing that will save humanity. Phantasm is a very bleak film series. The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) has left destruction and decay everywhere he has gone, and those left alive cower in their homes. Everyone knew part IV was coming, but perhaps the most extraordinary thing for me is what part IV would turn out to be.

Like parts II and III, Oblivion begins exactly where III left off, after a short recap of events for newcomers. The best way to describe the plot without spoiling the series for newbies is simply to say that this time, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) attempts to confront the Tall Man alone, and figure out exactly where he came from and what his ultimate goal is. Reggie (Reggie Bannister) tries to follow, but only winds up tripping more of the Tall Man's deadly traps and fighting off evils on his own. Jody (Bill Thornbury) still exists in his ghostly form, but Mike is unable to truly decide if he's friend or foe. Believe me when I say that if you have never seen a Phantasm film before, you'll be very lost and probably won't enjoy the movie much. Do yourself a favor and check out the first 3 films (although you'll need to look to VHS for parts 2 and 3). The core, however, of part IV's story deals with attempting to unravel the origins of the Tall Man, and fans of the series will be surprised. Some answers to the mystery of the film series are given, but they only result in more questions popping up. There is a theme of time travel introduced here as well, which adds new depth to the story so far. Oblivion once again reunites the original cast, who have starred in each successive film (except A. Michael Baldwin who was replaced with actor James LeGros in part II for a variety of legal reasons).

The most remarkable thing about the film is how it tells portions of the story in flashback, but these flashbacks take place in 1978 (the period of the original film) and were actually filmed in 1978. Director Coscarelli essentially used portions of deleted footage and unfinished story angles from the original film to flesh out Oblivion, and it truly adds an amazing amount of depth. On top of that, the film also moves in a totally unexpected direction. Rather than what everyone expected (an action packed, kick-ass, gore-filled, FX-laced finale with the Tall Man), the crafting shifts to a surreal, psychologically engaging story much like the first film. Many fans have bemoaned this, but I felt it was a brilliant touch. Making an action film with this fourth installment would have been, in a way, the easy way out. Despite small flaws here, namely the usual small budget, Don Coscarelli deserves highest honors for sticking with this series.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Despite a few instances of compression artifacts, overall the print looks great. Color balance and black level are excellent, and the movie is given a nice, new digital sheen. This is an impressive transfer for a film that might have been easily thrown into DVD without much care. There is spotty quality to the original negative, though, mainly due to the fact that certain flashbacks come from older films in the series. The footage from 1978 will look the worst, but even then it's still pretty good. The disc is double-sided and presents widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film. Both are equally good quality, but the widescreen one seems to add a bit more composition to the frame. I would suggest viewing this version for its artistic integrity.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: A great Dolby 5.1 mix has been added to this DVD version, and it sounds wonderful. There's a lot of directionality (especially with the infamous killer spheres), and the surrounds are used extensively for ambient noise and emphasizing sound effects. Dialogue is very well balanced into the center and the front channels never drown out the center. This is an enjoyable audio track that really brings out the best in the movie.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: While normally this lack of features would be really disappointing, the fact that MGM has already produced a wonderful special edition of the original Phantasm film makes up for it. The films are linear enough that the first film is really the most important, extras-wise. This disc only features a trailer; however, the menus are really well done, stylish, and also use 5.1 sound.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

While many Phantasm fans have expressed disappointment in Oblivion, I personally found it one of the most rewarding films in the series and a superb conclusion. Even though Don Coscarelli is already planning a new Phantasm film, to the best of my knowledge this film will not feature the same cast and will be set deeper in the future. So, the story arc from 1978 has now come to a close. I can still remember back in about 1982-83 when my brother forced me to watch the original film and I wound up loving it. Since then, I've been among the legions of cult fans, so I can't exactly say I'm happy to report that Oblivion essentially closes the story of Mike, Reggie, and Jody. The Phantasm films are not like Halloween or Friday the 13th, where the original has been tainted by ridiculous, mediocre sequels making it into a big joke. This was a linear story, told with good crafting and class. I'll admit it, I'm sad to see it end, but I think most fans of the series will find part IV a very sweet way to see off these characters into eternity. Should Coscarelli decide to bring the series back into this mold, all I can say is I hope he doesn't rush it. Highly recommended.

 


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