The Phantom of the Opera
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // $28.99 // April 18, 2006
Review by Joshua Zyber | posted May 4, 2006
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie:

On stage a major snore
On film a flop
These songs millions adore
Please make them stop
How can I put to words
The pain I hear?
The Phantom of the Opera is worse
Than I could fear

Schumacher and Webber
What a foul pair
It feels like I'll never
End this despair
Can't get this wretched verse
Out of my head
The Phantom of the Opera is worse
Than I did dread

Gaudy and garishly
Overproduced
Gerard Butler can't sing
Much less seduce
Young Emmy Rossum's eyes
Shine with aplomb
Her career may survive
This awful bomb

Don't be fooled or coerced
To watch this dreck
The Phantom of the Opera is worse
Than you'd expect

[Chorus]
Is that The Phantom of the Opera?
Beware The Phantom of the Opera!

The show's a Broadway hit that ran for years
How can they stand this shit?
Don't they have ears?

The story is drivel
The songs inane
Pray for a sleeping pill
To ease your pain

It's like some movie curse
Make no mistake
The Phantom of the Opera is worse
Than I could take

Stop singing! When will it end?

No more,
The Phantom of the Opera

The HD DVD:
Joel Schumacher's unwatchable film production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's smash hit Broadway turd The Phantom of the Opera debuts on the HD DVD format as one of the premiere launch titles from Warner Home Video (released simultaneously with The Last Samurai). HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (unless the disc specifically contains an optional DVD layer for Standard Definition playback) or in a Blu-Ray player.

Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD. If a movie were to receive a higher score on the DVD scale than the HD scale, that does not necessarily mean that the DVD disc looks better than the HD disc. It just means that the DVD compares better in relation to other DVDs than the HD disc compares to other HD discs.

Video:
The Phantom of the Opera HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame. Since HD is natively 16:9 in shape, the HD DVD format does not require anamorphic enhancement as used on DVD.

The film opens with and has occasional interludes in grainy black and white. The grain looks a little noisy, but I suspect that it was added digitally for effect and is not genuine film grain. From there the movie segues directly into glorious color, which the HD DVD delivers with astonishing image quality. The deep, rich colors pop off the screen in every vibrant shade. The picture is razor sharp with fine object detail visibility far surpassing anything possible on standard DVD, yet without a trace of edge enhancement artifacts. The contrast range is perfectly delineated with rich blacks, very good shadow detail, and a fine sense of depth. Since this is a launch title, I hesitate to rate the disc too highly, but at this point in time I can't find anything serious to complain about.

The Phantom of the Opera HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.

Audio:
The movie's soundtrack is encoded in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 format, which offers higher bit rates than available with traditional Dolby Digital audio found on DVD. The initial launch titles from Warner Bros. have an acknowledged mastering issue where the audio volume is set by default much lower than the comparable DVD edition of the same movie or HD DVDs from other studios. I found that I had to raise my receiver's volume by 10 dB over my usual settings. Unfortunately, unlike my results with The Last Samurai and Million Dollar Baby HD DVDs, in this case raising the volume was not enough to bring the audio quality in line with my expectations. Boosting the volume only served to make the bass activity boomier, yet the fidelity of the track left me sorely disappointed.

Perhaps since this is a musical I had much higher expectations for it, but it really seems like there's something wrong with the disc mastering that's more problematic than the other Warner Bros. HD DVDs. Although the track has a lot of bass, I found the fidelity in the mid-range of the audio spectrum to be greatly lacking. The music sounds thin and anemic, and the vocals have mediocre intelligibility. I don't have the DVD edition available for direct comparison, but I'm told that it has better audio quality.

The disc also contains a copy of the movie's soundtrack in the new Dolby TrueHD lossless audio format. At the time of this writing, current HD DVD players only support TrueHD up to 2 channels regardless of what's encoded on the disc. I tried to play the track in that configuration, but I don't think my hardware is quite compatible with it because the sound quality I got was pretty poor. For the time being, I'm chalking this up to a hardware limitation and not necessarily something wrong with the disc.

A French dub track is also available in DD+ 5.1. Optional subtitles include English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish. All of the optional subtitles are authored to appear half-in/half-out of the 2.35:1 movie image, which is very annoying for many front projection users.

Extras:
The disc automatically opens with a lengthy HD DVD promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance. All of the bonus features on this HD DVD launch title are recycled from the DVD edition and are presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression. Future releases may offer more advanced features. The interactive menus are accompanied by annoying clicking sound effects for every selection that can be turned off if you desire (and I recommend it).

All of the supplements from the DVD appear to have carried over, including the previously hidden sing-along easter egg (now present out in the open). In the interests of time, and because you'd have to put a gun to my head to force me to watch one second more of anything to do with this movie, I'll just list the supplements here. For a more detailed look at each, I must direct you to the more flattering DVD review of the movie by Scott Lecter.

  • Behind the Mask: The Story of Phantom of the Opera (1:05:08)
  • The Making of Phantom of the Opera: Origins and Casting (17:31)
  • The Making of Phantom of the Opera: Design (11:05)
  • The Making of Phantom of the Opera: Supporting Cast & Recording the Album (17:15)
  • Additional Scene: No One Would Listen (2:24)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Fun & Games: Sing Along
No interactive features have been included.

Final Thoughts:
As I'd expect is clear from my little ditty above, I absolutely hated every single second of this godawful movie. I can't put that in strong enough words. If it wasn't one of the first HD DVD movie titles, and if I weren't assigned to review it, I would've ripped it out of the player no more than 15 minutes in. Nonetheless, I'm aware that the Broadway show has plenty of fans. I find that inexplicable, but I know it's true. Some of them might find the movie more tolerable than I did, though I bet even the biggest Webber apologist will squirm in their seat listening to Gerard Butler growl out his songs.

The HD DVD format is still young. Better titles will come. No matter how desperate you may be for High Definition content to play on your home theater screen, I cannot in good faith recommend this crap to anyone who isn't already part of the Phantom cult. Even taken as pure home theater demo material, although the disc looks great it has serious audio problems. Don't buy it, don't rent it, don't look at it on the store shelf. Just walk right by and find something better to waste your time with.

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The Last Samurai (HD DVD)
Million Dollar Baby (HD DVD)
Serenity (HD DVD)
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Toshiba HD DVD Product Introduction Event



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