I’m going to try my best to stick to the adaptation, since that is my major contribution this cycle. As expected, Phantoms reminded me of Stephen King in the beginning. Often King starts with some major unexplained event and the characters confronted with the event must battle the unknown assailant, while also coming to terms with why they have been chosen to do battle. This is the same with Phantoms (where a set of characters find themselves in the midst of a town that has entirely disappeared). The big difference right away is that Koontz’s characters are primarily squeeky clean. They are goodie-two-shoes small towners with nary a blemish to their names. I prefer King’s method where the narrators are often outsiders with some real (or perceived) character flaw. Still, pretty similar in the beginning and I thought the creepy atmosphere of the book was actually really well done. Then it goes totally awry. Koontz spends long stretches of the back half of the book concerned with a total (pseudo)scientific explanation of the events at hand. As a result it became super slow. As for the adaptation, I can’t lie. I actually kinda dug the film Phantoms. It’s certainly not a scary horror film (I was not scared once during the whole experience), but I am a fan of Horror/Sci-Fi and this was at least halfway decent. It had OK atmosphere, a nice performance by Liev Schreiber as a smarmy deputy, and the occasional great practical effects. To boot, the adaptation was actually fairly impressive given that while I read the book I explicitly told Patrick that I thought it was unadaptable. I was wrong. They did fine. In fact I would say most changes made were actually for the better. My biggest gripe? A change to the ending. In the book the seemingly invincible monster is decisively destroyed. Hooray. In the film? We get a garbage precredits twist where the monster (in the guise of Liev Schreiber) appears in a different Colorado town waiting to kill again (in the sequel). Not digging that at all. Ventured one step too far into cliche. Anyway, I’ll let Patrick delve deeper into the film itself.
I am definitely going to do a Settings 101 for this film. This is a pretty good case of a low grade settings situation. Everywhere you look they talk about how this film was set in Colorado, so I was expecting them to be driving to the town passing a “Welcome to Colorado” sign or have insert titles tell the audience where we are. Nope. As far as I could they didn’t even say the word “Colorado” in the entire film. There was one instance of a zoom on a license plate, a 303 phone number is mentioned, and it was filmed in Georgetown, CO, so there isn’t really any doubt, but not as prominent as I would have though. Staunchly in the D+ category of settings. On top of that the book isn’t even set in Colorado (it’s set in California). Not sure why they bothered to change it. Bizarre.
‘Ello everyone. Phantoms!? More like Phan-DUMBS!! How does the movie compare to the book? What was the deal with the setting of the film? Was Ben Affleck the bomb in Phantoms? All that and more literally immediately right now, let’s go!
- The Good – There were a few solid practical effects all things considered. Also a few okay performances, Liev Schreiber’s performance at least seems like acting and made some semblance of sense. And it was a valiant attempt at adapting what is in reality a very difficult book to handle from both a length and … let’s call what needed to be done “necessary alterations” to a sci-fi horror book.
- The Bad – Oof. Let’s start with how it failed as a horror film. It wasn’t scary. It didn’t have nearly enough characters to pull off the necessary kills to get you into the creature feature territory. And despite some good practical effects most were silly to the point that it made the bad guy laughable. Onto how it failed as an adaptation. It unnecessarily changed the motivations behind Affleck’s character to the most cliché choice possible. It aged up the Rose McGowan character unnecessarily. It completely botched the ending. It cut out one of the more effective side stories involving an escaped sociopath. And finally as a movie. Affleck literally yells throughout the movie, he is not the bomb. Rose McGowan is terrible, sorry. Sure, the horror genre isn’t great for literature, but this one was actually a pretty good read. And the movie is not good as a movie in its equivalent genre (at best).
- The BMT – Surely. This movie though might be too small. It really does come across as a TV movie, kind of like what It ended up being for Stephen King. People treat it like a real movie (kind of) but it is really unpolished and silly and kind of low budget. And that is probably the best excuse you can give Phantoms. Dean Koontz has never successfully adapted a book into a movie, so they don’t really give him a chance, and this one gets weirdly close, but also kind of sucks.
Just to briefly touch on the setting before Jamie grades it: The change from California to Colorado was astonishing to me. We considered it for the mapl.d.map oh so long ago, but rejected it because the book was set in California and there was no immediate evidence watching the beginning of the movie that it was in fact Colorado, and then the biggest piece of evidence it was Colorado? The trailer! It doesn’t need to be Colorado, was California in the source, so why change the setting? Perhaps only Dean Koontz knows … where is an audio commentary when you need it?
And a little mini-book review myself as well. I thought this book was shockingly good personally. I don’t really go for horror books. I like the idea of them and read It and The Shining by King … but neither scared me. Not once. Phantoms though? Actually really creepy and effective in the first act. Koontz certainly seems to follow in the King footsteps with weak third acts, but Phantoms I think proudly stands next to King in pop-horror literature. All the more reason the lack of scares in the movie disappointed me in the end. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is by far Koontz’s best horror book though. And I agree with Jamie, his obsession with providing a scientific explanation bordered on ludicrous and does derail the book. The second and third acts are weaker, but I still liked it damn it!