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Phantom of the Opera, The
Dario Argento's 1998 take on Gaston Leroux's The Phantom Of The Opera opens with a prologue in which an infant boy is lowered into a river somewhere in the bowels of France only to be saved from what would otherwise be certain death by scores of rats.
From here, we move ahead to 1877 where Christine Daaé (Asia Argento) toils away as a lowly chorus girl at The Paris Opera House's most recent endeavor. Here, a mysterious phantom (Julian Sands) hears Christine's singing voice and becomes obsessed with her singing and her physical beauty. As his obsession grows, his uses his mental powers to set Christina up to replace the story of the show, Carlotta Altieri (Nadia Rinaldi). While all of this is occurring, various members of the troupe and different theater employees and hanger-on wind up dying through a series of unexpected accidents, the unlucky costumer Honorine (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) being just one example.
The Phantom's plans to make Christine his own become dashed when the handsome and charming Count Raoul de Chagney (Andrea di Stefano) makes clear plans of his own to woo the lovely chanteuse. Obviously this doesn't sit well with The Phantom, who turns to murder to get what he wants. And then there's the matter of Ignace, the rat-catcher (István Bubik)…
What could and should have been a bit hit for Argento, who was trying to break some new ground with this production and move away from the giallo pictures that had made him such a huge success in his native Italy, turned out to be a beautifully lensed misfire. While most of the art direction is beyond reproach, most of the acting is pretty questionable and, unfortunately, in the case of Sands, genuinely bad in spots. While he might look the part when decked out in his cape and what not, he brings little to no enthusiasm to the part and, at times, seems to be sleepwalking through it. Asia fares better but isn't given as much dramatic lifting to do and spends much of the movie standing around looking beautiful and/or terrified. Nadia Rinaldi and Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni are both considerably better in their respective roles, but their supporting work doesn't overcome the shoddy lead work.
The film also throws in some odd attempts at humor that feel out of place with the stronger gore and more serious tone of the bulk of the movie. It makes you wonder what Argento was going for when he wrote the film, as tonally the movie winds up being all over the place. There are moments that work and the locations used for much of the film are fantastic. We get a few impressive murder set pieces done without CGI and instead with pretty solid practical effects and the costuming work on display in the picture is pretty much always impressive. The film also benefits from a pretty nice score courtesy of the one and only Ennio Morricone that, while far from his best work, elevates certain scenes a fair bit.
For the most part, the end result is a misfire but at least it's an interesting misfire.
Scorpion Releasing presents The Phantom Of The Opera on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 that, generally, looks really good. Taking up 34.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc, detail is much improved over the DVD release that came out years ago and color reproduction feels more natural here without looking tweaked or oversaturated. The film is as grainy as you'd want it to be but not to the point of detriment and aside from a few tiny white specks here and there, you won't find much in the way of actual print damage to complain about at all. Black levels are nice and solid while skin tones look nice and natural. There isn't any evidence of any noise reduction having been applied here, nor are there any issues with edge enhancement or compression artifacts.
English and Italian language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks are offered with optional English subtitles provided that translate the Italian language option. Both tracks sound quite good with nice directional effects and surround activity present throughout, but the Italian track is the far superior version and feels much more appropriate to the film at hand. That said, both tracks are clean, clear and nicely balanced.
Extras kick off with an audio commentary with film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson that covers pretty much everything that you'd want it to, including the source material, how the film compares to other adaptations of the original novel, the casting of the picture and how they feel about the performances, the production values and lots more. It's an interesting mix of opinion and criticism.
As far as the featurettes go, Behind The Red Curtain is an eighteen minute interview with writer/director Dario Argento that covers how he came to know the story as a kid, what inspired him to take up the story and bring his own spin to it, the shooting locations that were used, working with his daughter in the lead and why he decided to change elements from the source novel. In The Phantom Cave spends eighteen minutes with set designer Massimo Antonello Geleng who talks about first getting to work with Argento on Michael Soavi's The Church, finding the right theater location to stage the film, and working with Sergio Stivaletti on some of the effects set pieces. Last up is the eighteen minute Welcome To The Opera which interviews producer Guiseppe Colombo about how he came to work in the film industry, meeting and coming to work with Argento, his thoughts on the director's career and legal issues that arose after the movie was made.
Dario Argento's take on The Phantom Of The Opera is far from perfect, but it is a visually impressive production that stumbles when it tries to weave humor and horror and which features some less than amazing performances. Regardless, if it's a bit of a mess, at least it is an interesting mess and the Blu-ray release from Scorpion features a strong presentation and some solid extra features. Recommended for established fans, those who haven't seen the movie before might want to rent it first.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.