Drama, Family, Romance, Supernatural

Phenomenon (1996)

0 Comments 14 July 2012

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Theatrical Release: July 3rd 1996

Blu Ray Release: July 3rd 2012

Directed by Jon Turteltraub


Review by James Klein

A little change of pace from some of the reviews we write up for Unrated Magazine, this 1996 summer hit came out right at the time when John Travolta was in his heyday. He had just gotten off Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty and would soon be moving on to Broken Arrow and Face/Off . In between, he came out with Phenomenon, the overly sappy and sentimental film which was also a slight change of pace for Travolta  from some of his more action oriented R rated films. Phenomenon, while borrowing heavily from the 1968 film Charly, which was an adaptation to The Flowers of Algeron is what I call a “parent film”. Parent films are safe, PG rated movies that you know your Mom and Dad would like. Inoffensive, sitcom style humor, with overly sentimental moments that beg audiences to laugh and cry at certain scenes. I can see some 50+ year old walking out of the theater declaring, “That was a good film! A good film!” and then saying the same thing about another film a year or so later, completely forgetting about this.

Travolta stars as George Malley, a simple car mechanic living in a small town where everyone knows everybody. You know, those kind of town in a Frank Capra film that doesn’t really exist in real life. Anyways, George is turning 37 years old and the whole town is celebrating his birthday (try not to laugh) including his best friend Nate (Forest Whitaker) and the town’s kindly doctor (Robert Duvall). When George journey’s outside at some point and talks to himself while half in the bag, he sees in the sky a bright light and is suddenly knocked to the ground. Was this a UFO? Was it all in George’s head? When George wakes up and goes back to the party, he immediately feels different and is suddenly highly intelligent.

As George reads numerous books, helps Nate with his crops, finds a missing boy, learns Portuguese within 20 minutes, predicts earthquakes, and breaks a Morse code that the government isn’t too happy about, he still has the time to melt the heart of a woman he’s been trying to date for awhile. With these new found powers, he has the ability to know all about life and spout off meaningful mumbo jumbo to others ala Forrest Gump. But as soon as his life seems to have changed for the better, he gets hit with the news that this new found power is in fact a tumor spreading  all through his brain which will soon kill him.

Director Jon Turteltaub’s Spielbergian style direction forces the audience to cry, laugh and clap during numerous segments in the movie. Basically he tries to manipulate the audience into feeling a certain emotion instead of allowing the audience to experience their own emotions on their own. With a loud score by Thomas Newman and plenty of quick one liners whenever the film starts to get too heavy, Phenomenon is exactly what you expect the movie to be. Even the finale seems as if it was lifted from Love Story.

Phenomenon isn’t a bad film. Travolta and the rest of the cast are good (Duvall as always is enjoyable to watch, no matter the size of the role) and I did find myself caught up in the telekinesis subplot and some of the more serious moments dealing with his new powers. But when it drifts into sentimental love story territory and silly banter with children, I wanted so badly to skip over these moments. The shaving scene alone is hilariously cheesy and groan inducing.

Touchstone’s bare bones blu ray, while disappointing in the fact that there are no special features, looks great. The 2:40 ratio looks great and there are certain long shots of the town during autumn that are gorgeous. The 5.1 sound is fine but most of the film is just dialog without any real loud sound effects to test out the channels. The only thing included on this disc is the theatrical trailer. I do love Touchstones idea of playing trailers for films before the movie starts but gives the viewer the option to skip over these easily and play the movie if one chooses. Wish most companies would do this.

If Grandma is coming over and your Mom and Dad are prude and they need to watch something light and safe, Phenomenon is here on blu ray waiting to meet those old parents of ours. My parents are notorious for saying, “We watched a real good movie the other night….I can’t remember the name.” and when I ask them what the film is about they sometimes come back with, “Oh its about this man (or woman) and…oh I can’t remember.” Basically they watched Phenomenon.

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