Repo! The Genetic Opera
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // $29.99 // January 20, 2009
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 31, 2009
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Graphical Version
"No, I
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don't think that I can be fixed / Tell me why oh why are genetics such a bitch?"

With a stack of Saw flicks that had raked in hundreds upon hundred of millions of dollars under his belt, director Darren Lynn Bousman was finally in a position to get his dream project off the ground: a story set against the backdrop of a gritty dystopian future where surgical addictions and genetically engineered nips and tucks are in vogue, and repo men carve those corporate-financed organs out of the bellies of any poor schlubs who miss a payment.

It's...yeah, pretty out there as far as ideas for a science fiction-slash-horror flick go, but Bousman had tacked enough zeroes onto Lionsgate's ledgers that the studio was still listening. Oh, and by the way, it's an opera. Dead silence. Even though Lionsgate dumped the flick into just a tiny handful of theaters without backing it up with any promotion at all, they did shell out $8 million or so for this wildly ambitious adaptation of the stage play, and I've gotta give them credit for that. You may have had a studio like Fox opening up their wallets for something as batshit crazy as Zardoz thirtysomething years ago, but the bean counters are running the show now, and Hollywood just doesn't make movies like Repo! The Genetic Opera anymore. Repo! isn't watered down to try to play it safe, and there's a pretty good chance you'll hate it. That's what happens when you take chances, though, and...yeah, Repo! takes plenty of 'em. The fact that a movie this left of the dial exists at all is kind of unreal.

Repo! really is an opera, and it plows through the same sorts of themes as the Wagner crowd -- Warring families! Power! Love! Betrayal! Murder! -- only set in a far-flung Sweeney Todd-meets-Blade Runner trainwreck of a future. Maybe you need an organ or just want an extra heart for the hell of it: that corporate monolith Geneco will hammer a new one out for you, custom fitted and all. You'll probably want to score a hit of Zydrate -- even if it's just the street grade stuff siphoned out of rotting corpses -- to help with the pain, but organs...? That's what they do. Don't fret about the sticker shock of genetically engineered innards either 'cause Geneco has all sorts of easy payment plans to help you out. Deadbeats don't just get a nasty letter in the mail when they miss a payment, though; Geneco keeps a small army of repo men on the payroll whose job it is to get the company's guts back, and since they have a schedule to keep... Stab. Slice. Yoink. Gone. Dead.

Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) -- Geneco's
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reigning high sheriff -- has cemented himself as the single most powerful man the world over, but even though he's raked in billions shilling replacement body parts, cancer's still a bitch fifty years from now. He's wheezing his way through his last breaths, and his worthless, surgery-addicted kids (played by Bill Moseley, Paris Hilton, and Nivek Ogre) are each chomping at the bit to have Pop's corporate empire shoved into their hands. Way on the other side of town, Dr. Nathan Wallace (Buffy's Anthony Stewart Head) has been keeping his daughter Shilo (Alexa Vega) hermetically sealed in her room for seventeen years straight, trying desperately to keep a rare blood disease from consuming her as it did the mother she'd never had a chance to meet. Oh, but Nate has a dark past -- and an even darker present! -- that crosses with the Largo empire. Trying to spell out all of the twists and turns the plot takes would quadruple the length of this review, but the short version...? Shilo gets her first taste of the world outside those four walls, and on the night of the Genetic Opera with a performance by her hero Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman), she's nudged along a path that threatens to topple entire dynasties and unravel everything she thought she'd ever known.

Repo! just hooked me in from word one, from plowing through its backstory with blood-spattered comic book panels to its fuck-the-budget hyperambitious visual style to its borderline-psychotic sense of humor. It's deliberately campy and over-the-top but still packs enough of an emotional wallop for its more dramatic moments. This is a cult flick by design, but when it plays to the right crowd, Repo! is an infectious sugar rush of a movie. Shot for just a few million bucks, Repo!'s lean budget sometimes slinks through but doesn't really get in the way of its semi-epic scale -- its setting of a crumbling and almost unrecognizable future. The music, the grisly premise, its campy splatter, a pretty stellar cast...hell, Repo! made me like Paris Hilton, and any flick that can pull that off has gotta have something going for it. Oh, and Bousman having more Saw movies under his belt than anyone else doesn't mean that Repo! is just another gorefest. Repo! doesn't really slather the screen in foam rubber limbs and barrel drums of the red stuff; there's definitely some gore, but it's campy and over-the-top enough to be played for laughs.

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really is an opera: in the entire movie, maybe five lines are just spoken outloud, and every other last snippet of dialogue is sung. Because the entire story is lobbed out in song -- and especially for a plot this psychotically far out there -- that does mean that the lyrics are saddled with a lot of exposition and don't have that sort of "'s a jump to the left!" pop melody to 'em. At least my first time through, only a couple of the songs came close to lodging themselves in my head the same way as "Science Fiction Double Feature" or "The Time Warp" did in Rocky Horror, but maybe that's part of the difference between an opera and a musical. The music does get better and better as Repo! screams along, though, and I still have "Zydrate comes in a little glass vial / In a little glass vial? / In a little glass vial" from "Zydrate Anatomy" and the punk-flavored "Seventeen" (with a Joan Jett cameo!) bouncing around as I'm scribbling all of this down. A movie like this isn't easy for a cast to tackle, but Bousman's assembled a pretty great group straight across the board. Anthony Stewart Head -- who showed off just what an amazing talent he is in the Buffy musical "Once More with Feeling" -- stands out in particular, and ditto for that remarkably operatic set of pipes on Paul Sorvino and the always lovely Sarah Brightman as a once-blind singer reeling from a Faustian pact. The music's pretty eclectic -- chugging industrial, punk, classical opera, that breezy sort of '40s Italian pop -- and while I will admit that only a few of Repo!'s songs really drew me in with that first listen, I can't shake the feeling that I'll dig 'em more and more the next time through.

Look, there's no need to suffer through this long, rambling review...although if you made it this far, I guess you already have. Here's the question, though: do you wanna watch an offbeat, astonishingly ambitious flick that's equal parts industrial rock musical, horror, sci-fi, and campy comedy that really pushes what you can get away with in an R rating? Apparently a whole hell of a lot of people are nodding their heads yes: for a while there, at least, Repo! The Genetic Opera was reportedly outselling Saw V and Max Payne -- movies that actually had a marketing budget! -- on Amazon. Even thought it was barely released in theaters, Repo! still managed to score an intensely devoted following, and that cult is only going to grow bigger and bigger now that it's made its bow on DVD and Blu-ray. I dug Repo!, and I watched it in about the worst possible conditions: by myself and sober. With the right crowd around me, I kinda get the impression that Repo! goes from being a movie to an experience, and fingers crossed that I'll actually get to see something like that one day. If that ever happens, expect that Recommended in the sidebar to leap up a couple of notches.

A couple
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of the reviews of Repo! The Genetic Opera here on DVD Talk griped about the movie being reformatted in standard-def. The word going around in reviews and on the forums is that the comic panels that spell out Repo!'s backstory look misframed, even lopping off some of the text. I don't know if this Blu-ray disc has been nicked from a different master or what -- the DVD sports an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 while this Blu-ray disc is slightly matted to 1.85:1 -- but nothing like that ever came close to cropping up on my TV. If there is some sort of problem with the framing on the DVD, it didn't filter over to this Blu-ray disc.

Repo!'s hyperstylized visuals look pretty incredible on Blu-ray, but standard issue home theater eye candy it's not so much. The entire movie is cast in a soft, diffused glow, and Repo! never shrugs off a chance to blow out the contrast. That dreamlike haze does sap away some of the detail -- Alexa Vega points to this as a plus on her audio commentary since it helps hide a bald cap she's wearing early on -- but there's still a really strong sense of definition throughout. I mean, it's pretty clear from frame one that this is a shiny, newly-minted Blu-ray disc.

Repo! is set against the backdrop of a dark, dingy future that's draped in shadow, but its colors can still leap a couple hundred feet off the TV, especially those piercing blues of Blind Mag's genetically engineered eyes. Aside from a few scattered inserts that look to have been filmed on 16mm, Repo! was shot natively on high definition video. Most HD-sourced flicks try to process the video to pass it off as film, but Repo! opts against that, giving the movie that much more of a distinctive look. There is some video noise that lends it a sort of film-like texture, though. Yeah, this Blu-ray disc can be really soft, and its run-and-gun photography isn't always teeming with immaculate shadow detail or anything like that, but Repo!'s remarkably ambitious and intensely stylized set of visuals carry over to this high-def release about as flawlessly as they really can.

Lionsgate has ponied up for a dual-layer Blu-ray disc to give Repo!'s VC-1 encode a little more headroom.

Repo! The Genetic Opera was shot for just a few million bucks, and from the sound of it, a big chunk of that must've been funneled into its soundtrack. This Blu-ray disc is packing an eight channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track, and it's phenomenal. This isn't the sort of movie you can pipe through the crackly little speakers built into your TV; Repo! screams out to be blasted in a big, booming home theater rig. There's a devastatingly thunderous low-end, and swirling strings, violent electrical sparks, haunting choruses, and even some of the vox leap from one channel to the next. The sprawling instrumentation carves a path across the entire soundscape too, and it's unbelievably immersive, sounding more like I'm flanked in the middle of a studio by a heavily tattooed bassist and a drummer with an oversized kit. The distinctness and clarity in those chugging guitars, sqwawking synthesizers, and -- oh, what the hell -- even a harpsichord or two can be pretty startling, and even with as chaotic as things can get, the vocals never slink into the background. Repo! really is an opera, and since virtually every last line of dialogue is sung, rendering them all as crisply and clearly as they are here is essential. There's also some directionality to the vocals to add in even more color. Repo!'s lossless soundtrack is a really exceptional effort all around and ranks up there with the best I've heard on Blu-ray.

Other than the commentaries, there aren't any alternate soundtracks this time around, but subtitles have been tacked on in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish.

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It's kind of a drag that the original ten minute Repo! short that director Darren Lynn Bousman shot to pitch the flick to Lionsgate isn't anywhere on here, but a pretty hefty set of extras have still been piled on, including several that are exclusive to this Blu-ray release.
  • Audio Commentaries: Darren Lynn Bousman hops in front of the mic for both of Repo!'s audio commentaries. First up is a cast commentary with Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega, and Nivek Ogre, and the running theme here is sidestepping around the complete lack of a budget, with Bousman mentioning that he tried to dupe the Saw IV crew into unnecessarily building stuff for that movie that he could recycle. Other scattered highlights include Bousman whipping out the Buffy musical "Once More with Feeling" to convince the producers to bring Anthony Stewart Head onboard, the cast taking longer than you'd think to catch on that a set had burst into flames, swapping out a completely different ending, Vega guzzling down one glass after another of Alka-Seltzer and mints, and yanking a subplot with a Toucan out of the flick.

    The four of them laugh their way through pretty much the whole thing, and the same goes for Repo!'s second commentary track. The co-creators of the original stage production -- Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich -- are featured this time around along with Bousman and music supervisor Joseph Bishara. Also recorded a week and a half before Repo! kicked off its (very) limited theatrical run, this commentary is pretty laid back and breezy. It doesn't really get hung up on the technical nuts and bolts of production -- I actually would've liked to have heard more about the specifics of shaping the look of the flick -- but the music does get an enormous amount of attention, highlighting some of the performers who piled into the studio to record its soundtrack, pointing out its off-kilter instrumentation, and even running through a few songs that were trimmed out. Stepping up their guerilla marketing after the indifferent studio kind of shrugged off the whole thing, scarfing down garbage-burritos, and breaking union rules by flipping on a fake fireplace...this is another really infectious commentary track, and both of 'em are worth setting aside a few hours to give a listen.
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  • Selected Scenes with Commentary (13 min.; HD): Paris Hilton didn't pile into the recording booth with the rest of the cast to hammer out an audio commentary, but she does sit down with Darren Lynn Bousman to gab over three of Repo!'s bigger musical numbers -- "Zydrate Anatomy", "Blame Not My Cheeks", and "Happiness Is Not a Warm Scalpel" -- along with the "Who Ordered Pizza?" bit in Largo's office. The commentary's really nothing all that great, though; it's mostly Bousman peppering Hilton with questions about what it was like to work on Repo!. A few highlights, I guess, include Hilton chatting about having to deliberately sing badly in front of a few hundred people and slicing up sushi for the cast when their hotel's restaurant was closed for the night.

  • Deleted Scenes (6 min.): This Blu-ray disc staples on two additional musical numbers, although neither of them has been completely finished. "Come Up and Try My New Parts" -- Amber Sweet's invitation to the Graverobber if he'll fork over some of the blue stuff -- was cut out for being too similar to "Zydrate Anatomy". "Needle Through a Bug" is another scene with Shilo and the Graverobber, and it tosses out a pretty twisted reveal at the end, paying off something that's setup but doesn't really draw all that much attention to itself from earlier in the flick. The other two are pretty short, clocking in right at a minute in total. "Buon Giorno" is a quick intro to the Genetic Opera, and the only one of these deleted scenes without much in the way of singing, "Graverobber and Shilo Escape" is...well, just that, with a rooster guy pecking away at a bag of popcorn and Paris Hilton having a thing of hay chucked her way. Hilton and Bousman offer up commentary for all of these scenes too. Even though the movie was shot on high-def video, these deleted scenes are in standard definition only.
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  • From Stage to Screen (11 min.): Anchored around Darren Lynn Bousman, creators Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith, and music supervisor Joseph Bishara, this featurette runs through how a ten minute opera became a wildly successful stage show and now a Blade Runner-meets-Rocky Horror cult flick. "From Stage to Screen" breezes through pretty much everything: its production and skewed costume designs, off-kilter choreography to set it apart from the Broadway crowd, and the movie's eclectic stack of music. Conceptual art and a little bit of footage from the original productions in L.A. are packed on here too.

  • Webisodes (11 min.): Three promos that were floating around online have clawed their way onto this Blu-ray disc, and these webisodes dig into the making of three of Repo!'s standout songs: "Legal Assassin", "Zydrate Anatomy", and "Chase the Morning". Unlike most online promotional bits that are really just there to shamelessly plug a flick, the three of these really are worthwhile DVD-slash-Blu-ray extras. Casting, rehearsal footage, auditions, stepping in front of the mic in the studio, conceptual art, and -- of course -- plenty of insight into their lyrics are all piled on in here. The audio quality's a little rough, but it shouldn't be bad enough to steer anyone away.
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  • Sing-A-Long Tracks (13 min.; HD): Follow the, disembodied heart? There are four singalongs on this Blu-ray disc, and they're all in high-def, natch: "Legal Assassin", "Zydrate Anatomy", "Chase the Morning", and "We Started This Op'ra Shit". The interface is really slick, with the lyrics plastered across floating TV displays as a severed heart leaps across 'em.

  • Geneco Poster Gallery (HD): Posters plugging Geneco are scattered throughout Repo!, and this gallery piles them all together. While the presentation is technically high-def, the posters themselves are individually kind of small on the screen.

  • Trailers (HD): A stack of high-def trailers -- including one for Repo! -- rounds out the extras.

The Final Word
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So, this is about the most random kneejerk reaction to a movie, but as Repo! The Genetic Opera was unspooling in front of me, I kept thinking back to those Watchmen trailers with "from the visionary director of 300" plastered across the top. 300...? Green screens and overuse of slow-mo are what pass for "visionary" these days? No, this is visionary...or at least, y'know, psychotronic. It's easy to get kind of jaded doing this whole movie reviewing thing; since I watch pretty much everything, a lot of it kind of jumbles together. Films that people devoted years and what's left of their credit scores slaving over just feel like they're retreading another stale formula for the eight quadrillionth time. I never once got that impression from Repo!, though. Love it or hate it, this is a dazzlingly original flick, and the idea that a movie like Repo! exists at all is kind of startling.

I really wish I'd had the chance to catch Repo! The Genetic Opera in a theater swarming with a couple hundred of the movie's frothing-at-the-mouth fans. I feel like I've watched Repo! but haven't really experienced it; I like the movie and all, but tearing through it by myself in a darkened living room leaves me feeling as if I'm missing out on a key part of what makes Repo! what it is. The first time through, I still feel like I'm taking it all in -- as if I'm really not even ready to sit down and hammer out a review yet -- but I can tell already that this is a Blu-ray disc I know I'm going to watch again and again. At the very least, Repo! is an essential rental for anyone tired of the same stale, familiar stuff and hoping to seek out something cacklingly off-beat. Repo! is far enough out there that I can't guarantee you'll love it, but you'll definitely walk away with a strong reaction one way or the other, and that to me is what movies are all about. Recommended.

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