Phenomenon Cover Now where does power come from? Does it come from an external force, one that just imbues the recipient with an energy that is out of this world? Or does it come from this really nice and poignant film, one Directed by Jon Turteltaub; and Starring: John Travolta, Forest Whitaker, and Robert Duvall. It was made in 1996, and lasts for 123 minutes.


One night, whilst hometown mechanic, George Malley (John Travolta), takes a spot of fresh air from a party held in his name – BANG! – a light in the sky strangely imbues him with new and unusual powers.

Now the first power that gradually manifests itself within George, is the power of knowledge – which he demonstrates to his pal, Nate (Forest Whitaker), after George tells him that he can’t sleep, is able to read four books a day, before showing him how to intercept a signal on his transmitter. After that, the second power that comes under George’s control, is the power of telekinesis – which he illustrates to his other pal, Doc Brunder (Robert Duvall), when George goes to him for some advise on his ‘condition’. And finally, George’s third power that shows its face, is the power of sensory perception – which manifests itself whilst he is in the process of trying to kindle a friendship with a single Mum called Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick), where he is able to exhibit to her that he can predict an up and coming earthquake.

However, as time passes, and George’s power grows, he inadvertently lets the whole town see what he is able to do, when he is called in to assist the Doc in a spot of bother that he is having with a sick Portuguese farmer and his Grandchild.

Worst still, is that because of this event (amongst others), the FBI temporarily detains George and Nate, and scrutinises them both until they ultimately releases them due to a ‘low risk factor’.

Oh! And to make matters even worse, once George and Nate are both free, the towns people turn on George – especially after an argument he has in a bar.

Nevertheless, Lace is at hand to ease George’s predicament, and she, along with Nate and the Doc, help him to temper his resolve, so that he can rekindle his standing in the community.

So does this all work out as George would like it to? No – I am afraid not – BANG! – As the light in the sky suddenly resurfaces once more, provoking what transpires next to commence when the true nature of Georges power is revealed to him in at the Hospital bed. Because patients are caged – plans are waylaid – friendship is obeyed – and at the end of the day a beginning and an end is relayed. 

Now I have to admit, the pretext to this film – ‘Phenomenon’ – does read like a comic book adventure. Well – lets face it – ‘a man is bestowed with wondrous powers, after a chance encounter he has with a weird light in the sky’. Correct? However, this film does not tell its tale in a comic book fashion, rather, it tries to tell an un-real tale in a very real way.

OK, I know that what I just said may sound strange within the scheme of things, but this is not the case one little bit with this film – in fact – this is far from the truth. 

John in Phenomenon

‘So how is this film able to do that?’ you may ask yourself. And I, in turn, will try my best to hypothesise on this answer, by explaining to you what the makers of this film tried to avoid. (1) Act straight: Please note, this is not a homophobic remark, because what I am trying to say is that all the actors within this film carefully avoided heightened and bold gravitas, which could have tipped this tale into comic book fair. Moreover, the settings, the scene construction, and the overall presentation have all been conveyed in a very realistic way – even the special effects – which grounded this film within a conventional reality. (2) No capes: Now most of the ‘power scenes’ on display in this film, were those that lent more towards wonderment than super. This, I am happy to say, put over that something ‘magical’ was happening instead of something brash and dynamic. (3) Character before convention: Thankfully, the underlining message to this film is one about alienation and not spectacle. This way, the overall tale has a precedence and a journey to its tone, and is able to recount a sentiment as opposed to a ‘origin story’. And (4) Grounded but not mundane: Well, I think that header says it all really. The tale is one that is steeped in reality, yet just so far removed that it feels’ special on its own merit. Still, not so ‘special’ that the science fiction elements superseded the grander scope.

The Cast of Phenomenon

Overall, ‘Phenomenon’ is a really great film to watch. It does a balancing act to juxtapose the real from the unreal - all the actors are great in it - the tale is a suspenseful one - and the complete package is something that I would not mind revisiting again soon.

In addition to this, theirs a charm about this film that is tactile as well, as it makes you want to jump into the screen and join in with the journey.

I am happy to say that this film lives up to its name – ‘Phenomenon’ in name and in nature – a class act through and through.


PHENOMENON PHENOMENON Reviewed by David Andrews on December 07, 2011 Rating: 5
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