Jon Turteltaub’s Phenomenon combines homespun comedy-drama with a tearjerker fantasy element that doesn’t exploit the material in significantly interesting ways but deals with its simplistic sci-fi-tinged tale nobly and with grace. The movie’s premise offers enough of a reason to stick around until the end though many may be disappointed that the director and the scenarist didn’t go for something a little grittier, a little riskier, or at least something with a bit more depth.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 123 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 20.00
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Review Date: July 7, 2012
On the evening of his 37th birthday, beloved town mechanic George Malley (John Travolta) is struck by some kind of extraterrestrial light force that turns the mentally average Joe into something of a mental Superman. All of a sudden, George can learn languages in twenty minutes, has become an expert at chess when before even checkers were a challenge, and can decipher cryptic short wave codes with a single hearing. His new mental abilities also include an elementary form of telekinesis, a trick that amazes and mystifies both George and his town friends. But even while providing his friends and neighbors with valuable services, George longs for a relationship with the pretty town craftsperson Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick). She’d been abandoned by her husband and is wary of getting close to any man again, even someone with George’s new and amazing abilities. But every gift comes with a price, and as the days pass, George learns his: governmental agencies are suspicious of his powers, his friends now begin to regard him with fear, and his constantly working brain prevents him from sleeping.
Gerald DiPego’s script turning an everyman into something superhuman is hardly a new idea, but he plots rather ordinary and unchallenging events for George to become entangled with. The idea would seem to have had endless possibilities with the myriad of people who become fascinated with his new mental acuity, but nothing DiPego gives George to do remotely surprises or seems anything but predictable. His script is also stagily written with characters repeating each other’s names in practically every extended speech and never allows his protagonist to confront his conflicts with honest talking and listening rather than speechifying. To his credit, director Jon Turteltaub doesn’t go overboard with the special effects keeping the fantastic story as grounded as possible even if the extended running time is probably a quarter hour too long for the story the film is telling. As the lightness turns to tear-inducing melodrama, the film loses any edge it might have had and contents itself with playing out in a romantic fantasy land where the leading character becomes a Mr. Fix-It for everyone’s ills.
The film’s four leading players all give warm, ingratiating performances. John Travolta’s down-to-earth characterization may be a bit too good to be true, but it’s a sincere attempt at playing a really nice guy that’s unerringly successful. Kyra Sedgwick takes a long time to warm to with her stubborn resistance to such a genuinely nice guy who’s practically offering his heart to her in a ribboned basket, but she comes around. Forest Whitaker as his best friend Nate and the town doctor played by Robert Duvall follow Travolta’s lead in playing characters with very few if any blemishes. Richard Kiley, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Brent Spiner all shine in smaller roles.
The film’s Panavision theatrical aspect ratio is presented at 2.40:1 and is offered at 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Image quality is fairly inconsistent throughout. Contrast varies notably resulting in some scenes that look a bit cloudy, others that seem a trifle digital, and some that are too hot. Flesh tones often take on a burned appearance even though color saturation otherwise seems better under control. Black levels are acceptable but not outstanding. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix does well for a dramatic film of the period, but there’s nothing particularly notable about the sound quality overall. The bass in the rather constant music (pop tunes supervised by Robbie Robertson, underscore by Thomas Newman) is nicely handled, and the music gets a very good spread through the soundstage. Dialogue is well recorded and resides in the center channel. More ambience could have been established in the fronts and rears for this rural community.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 2 ¾ minutes and is presented in 480i.
The disc includes promo trailers for The Odd Life of Timothy Green and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
3/5 (not an average)
A sci-fi-based tearjerker that might have formed the basis of a good hour long episode for The Twilight Zone instead of a two-plus hour movie, Phenomenon does tell its simple story with grace and a fair degree of power. The video quality isn’t exceptional, but fans of the film will likely enjoy seeing it and hearing it with the added audio and video resolution.