Bernardo Villela is like a mallrat except at the movies. He is a writer, director, editor and film enthusiast who seeks to continue to explore and learn about cinema, chronicle the journey and share his findings.
The Phantom Empire may be the most unique movie serial ever created. I was told of its existence by my favorite film professor in college and I was fortunate enough to have found it on VHS shortly thereafter. After having viewed it I was glad to have given it to him. Now I have since reacquired it on DVD. It stars Gene Autry in his usual singing cowboy persona but there’s also science fiction mixed in and quite a few other things along the way.
Through Poverty Row April I will likely watch a composite version of this film but I am glad to be able to present to you the serial version of the the film thanks to The Internet Archive. To view please visit the links below.
In my previous post I asserted that, for the most part, I want this blog to be a positive place and I stand by that so please take this more as consumer advocacy than film nerd complaining, though in truth it is a little of both.
Now a little bit of background: I absolutely positively love the serial format, aka chapter plays, aka cliffhangers. Believe me when I say they are a sort of cinematic narcotic. It’s the simplest kind of story-telling done in the best possible way and more often or not they compel you to keep going and leave you wanting more. What’s not to love? I will admit that I have not seen as many as I’d like to because it is kind of a leap of faith to start one. Twelve to fifteen episodes at 20 minutes a pop is a larger commitment than you realize.
However, those I’ve seen I’ve greatly enjoyed for one reason for another. Furthermore their cinematic significance is not confined to being a footnote of a bygone era but also have left a lasting legacy. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg both admit to owing a debt to the serial format in constructing both Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
Now the point of all this backstory is so that you might better comprehend my anger when I recount the following tale as I learned of an industry practice the hard way. Whether they were created for a theatrical re-release, television or video so-called “theatrical” cuts of serials exist. Meaning, that tidy, condensed, at times confusing versions of stories intended to be much longer exist.
This is what I fell victim to. I had a complete version of Blake of Scotland Yard on VHS. I used a DVD/VHS deck to transfer it to a DVD. That deck broke and nothing else plays the DVDs. This is a situation I am still trying to to remedy. So cut to the present: I am hankering for serials anew, more specifically my favorites. I see Blake of Scotland Yard on Amazon and order it. Now I got two more serials there which are whole but this one is a so-called “composite.” Something I am just learning about and passing along.
So I may or may not watch this confounding version which is 73 minutes long as opposed to 303, (over four times shorter!) but I will not enjoy it.
So, buyer beware: before renting or buying a serial I implore you to check the running time they typically should run well in excess of three hours, so anything in typical feature length range is cut.