Note: There are some issues with the first pressing of this release. The Gaylord Carter score has some synch problems, the stereo scores are in mono, a menu problem and there are some odd, brief freeze frame moments in one of the versions. Producer David Shepard has stated that the disc will be corrected and repressed and that there will be a return program. I'll update this review with the details when they are available.
Lon Chaney is widely known for his amazing talent as a
makeup artist, bringing to life both the Phantom of the Opera and the
of Notre Dame. People remember Erik's
grotesque visage and Quasimodo's hump, Chaney was much more than just a
disguise. He was a very talented actor,
and his ability to convince an audience that he was a character had
more to do
with talent than prosthetic makeup.
That's especially true in one of his biggest role, the title
The Phantom of the Opera. Though the
movie has been released several times to home video, from faded nearly
unwatchable prints by public domain companies to lovingly restored
Image has released the film in HD at last.
With this release you don't get just one version of the film,
the 1929 reissue edit at two different film speeds (24 fps and 20 fps)
original 1925 release (though only in SD.)
It's a nice package that belongs in any serious film collection.
Strange things are happening in the Paris Opera House, and
the actors and crew blame the Phantom, a mysterious ghost who is
haunt the building. The new owners of
the venue start to take the rumors seriously when Carlotta, the female
the opera they are putting on, starts getting threatening notes signed
Phantom." These notes warn the diva not
to perform and the first time this happens she pleads an illness and
understudy go on, an unknown named Christine Daae.
Christine wows the audience and that worries
Carlotta so the next evening she does perform, although both she and
of the theater have been warned that disaster will strike if Christine
star in the production.
That evening, tragedy does strike while Carlotta is
singing. In the mayhem Christine goes to
her dressing room and talks to a disembodied voice, one that offers her
the stage. She agrees to go with her
"master" and the full length mirror in her room opens onto a secret
There she meets The Phantom, a tall man who wears a mask
that hides his face. Christine is
nervous, but follows him five levels underground into the catacombs and
forgotten dungeons of an earlier structure that the Opera House was
upon. Arriving at The Phantom's lair,
Christine gets scared but the imposing figure offers her love and
long as she never tries to remove his mask.
Curiosity gets the best of her soon however and when she sees
behind the disguise she wishes that she'd left well enough alone.
This is often cited as one of the best horror films of all
time as well as one of the top movies from the silent era, and the
true on both counts. The movie plays
just as well today as it did back in the 20's.
The scene where Christine removes the mask is still shocking,
though most modern viewers know what's going to happen.
The movie is impressive in scale too. The
sets were amazing, especially the Paris
Opera House that was ornate and detailed.
That piece is even more impressive during the short Technicolor
in the middle of the film.
A large part of the film's success is due to Lon
Chaney. Yes, the makeup he created for
The Phantom is amazing and still impressive after all these years, but
acting that really brings the mad man to life. Because of the mask and
Chaney couldn't really use facial expressions to show what his
feeling so he uses his hands. Not broad
dramatic gestures (as Douglas Fairbanks often used... just watch his
Robin Hood some time) but subtle and nuanced motions that really make
film. He does act vigorously, especially
at the end, but this only reinforces the fact that Erik, The Phantom's
name, is totally mad. It's a bravura
performance that's justifiably famous.
This single disc contains three versions of the movie, each
with a different audio track(s): the 1929 reissue presented at 24 fps
accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra with an option for an older GAylor
organ score, the 1929 reissue at 20 fps with a orchestral score
Gabriel Thibaudeau, and the original 1925 version that includes a piano
by Fredrick Hodges. The latter is from a
16 mm print (though the back cover lists it as a "6 Millimeter Source
only presented in SD.
The menu for this disc was poorly designed. The
main page requires viewers to select the
score they want, rather than print. So
if you're planning on watching the 24 fps 1929 version, you have to
the case or have memorized that the Alloy Orchestra performs on that
edition. It's unnecessarily complicated.
There are several listening options, as detailed above.
All of the audio tracks are clean and clear,
which is nice, though I do wish they had included the Vitaphone
was created for the 1929 rerelease.
(That's available on the Milestone DVD set.)
As far as the quality of the tracks go... everyone playing on
this disc is an accomplished musician, but I have to admit that I
Gabriel Thibaudeau's orchestral score much more than the others. The Gaylord Carter track is good, and
probably the closest to the way most people saw the movie back in the
but it just isn't as impressive and powerful as a full orchestra. The same goes for the piano score. As for the Alloy Orchestra's track, I have to
admit that I didn't like it. I'm not a
huge fan of synthesizers in silent music scores, and their emphasis on
percussion pulled me out of the movie frequently. I'm
just not the audience they're going after.
Both HD editions of the film look very good, though the 24
fps version looks a tad better and has fewer print defects. They both present the film with great
clarity. The level of detail is very
good, and much of the film looks better than ever before.
When the Phantom first reveals himself to Christine
he's wearing a mask with gauze covering his mouth.
You can see the texture of the fabric and
even make out Chaney's mouth behind it.
The two-color Technicolor ball scene also looks fabulous with
costumes really popping nicely.
There seems to be an odd flaw with the 20fps version
however. It looks like frames were
doubled up occasionally. A few times
during the movie the action will pause just for a quick moment, as if
was put in twice. This isn't
distracting, though it is noticeable, but luckily it only happens a few
The 1925 version of the film is taken from a decidedly
inferior 16mm print. It's soft and has a
fair amount of damage. I'm glad they
included this original version, there are some added and extended
including more of the opera, but it doesn't look nearly as good as the
versions. (This is because Universal
melted all of their silent films back during the depression in order to
the silver from the nitrate film stock.
Silent features from Universal are pretty rare.)
The extras are a bit meager on this release, though I really
can't complain since there are three versions of the movie included. The main extra is an entertaining and
educational commentary track by Dr. Jon Mirsalis, a name silent film
recognize for his accompaniment tracks on several silent film DVDs
the Milestone Phantom of the Opera. Dr.
Mirsalis' commentary is lively and fun, and he talks a lot about the
Chaney in particular. It's well worth
watching the movie again with his comments running.
In addition to the commentary track there is a short
interview with composer Gabriel Thibaudeau, a still gallery, film
script, and a
reproduction of the film's program.
The Phantom of the Opera is an amazing movie even 85 years
later. It's still as powerful and
gripping as ever thanks largely to Lon Chaney's magnificent performance. A wonderful looking disc and a great, classic
movie. It comes Highly