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A-Pix Entertainment presents
Phantom of the Opera (1998)

"Thus, by chance, a mysterious bond is forged between the abandoned child andthe inhabitants of darkness."
- -From the novel Phantom of the Opera

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: August 09, 2000

Stars: Julian Sands, Asia Argento
Other Stars: Andrea Di Stefano, Nadia Rinaldi
Director: Dario Argento

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:40m:00s
Release Date: November 09, 1999
UPC: 783722701331
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- C+AA+ B

DVD Review

I think I've seen just about every film version of Phantom of the Opera evermade, including the cartoon versions. Gaston Leroux's classic novel is probablyone of the best horror stories ever written. The simplicity of an insane music-loverhiding beneath a Paris opera house so he can be close to his favorite singer has immense draw. When I had first heard that director Dario Argento wasplanning a new film version, I was understandably skeptical. After all, his recentfilms have made vast, experimental turns from his classic, moody murder thrillers ofthe past. Once the film starting making the "art-house" circuit, the reviews wereawful. In fact, it is hard to find even remotely nice things being saidabout this film—it's been painted more as the coming of doomsday. Now I can say I'vejoined the legions of people who have watched this infamously "bad" motionpicture. You know what? It's really not THAT bad. It will definitely disappointpeople looking for another Suspiria or Deep Red, but since DarioArgento seems bent on redefining himself as a filmmaker, Phantom of theOpera is about as wild as he can get without alienating everyone. At times thefilm feels ridiculous, but it's a very liberating ridiculousness.

The film tells the story of struggling opera singer Christine (Asia Argento). In thecatacombs beneath the opera house in which she performs lives the mysterious"Phantom." The Phantom (Julian Sands) was abandoned at birth and raised in thecatacombs by rats (yes, rats). He now lives in isolation, pining after the singerChristine, who has yet to get a major role in any opera. At the same time, though,the Phantom is also a mad killer and has a bad habit of mutilating anyone who enterhis domain. Regardless, he wants a relationship with Christine and, to further thatrelationship, he'll do anything to make her a star. Meanwhile, Christine is beingwooed by the Count De Chagny, and jealousy rears it's ugly head.

Argento's script makes several major detours from the source novel. For starters,the Phantom is not physically disfigured (despite the images on the film's poster). The only thing physically menacing about this Phantom, is his extremely long, greyhair. Also, the relationship between Christine and the Phantom is very sexual andvery forward in this version, whereas the novel only hints at the subtle touches oflust. The film goes even further, though, by portraying nearly every character assome sort of socially flawed individual. At the risk of abusing a film cliché, thewhole thing is very Fellini-esque. Despite being an opulent period film, Argento hasadded an aspect of clownish sleaze: for example, we see Raoul DeChagny smoking opium in a bathhouse, surrounded by naked, voluptuous women. It is this aspect alone that adds a sense of freshness to the telling of this story. Since everything is exaggerated (the sex, the characters, the gore), the film feelslike some sort of trashy, "pulp fiction" version of the classic tale. Style weighs in heavily, and the film features fantastic sets, costumes, and cinematography. Considering this is Dario Argento's first film set in another time period, he has donea wonderful job taking us there effortlessly. Helping the mix is the superb musicalscore by legendary composer Ennio Morricone.

At some point, however, the film does start collapsing in on itself. For starters, it istoo long in the wrong places. The relationship between Christine and thePhantom is literally introduced about 5 minutes in—they meet, and BAM, she's in love with him and he has a bizarre form of mind controlover her. That felt a bit rushed, obviously, so we expect the rest of the film to moveat the same pace. It doesn't. Instead, it trickles along, touching upon only a scarcefew of the the book's high points in the following 95 minutes. This is made even worse by how much time is spent trying to developChristine's character. I'm sorry to say this, but Asia Argento (Dario's daughter)does not impress me as an actress. She carries the same expression on her face throughalmost the entire movie. delivers dialogue in a wooden manner, and when she'srequired to fake like she's singing opera, she looks awful. Christine is supposed to be tornbetween her "love" for the Phantom and for the Count, but considering that shespends a total of about 8 minutes with the Count, I didn't exactly see where themarriage-level relationship was taking place. Meanwhile, she winds up inbed with the Phantom more than once. Guess she's not too torn, eh?

While the other actors do their best to surround Asia with believable characters,most of the supporting cast is horribly dubbed. I'm talking bad kung-fu-moviedubbing here. In some of the scenes, the "lip flap" was so bad, I thought my DVDplayer was having trouble synchronizing audio and video tracks. There are also afew technical flaws, such as the confusing presence of electrical lighting in certainscenes, despite being set in Victorian age Paris. And let's not forget the weird ratcatcher character, who gets his very own subplotwherein he invents a Zamboni-like vehicle to kill rats in the basement—butwhen it crashes, he spends the remaining hour or so of the movie crawling back upout of the catacombs.

Despite it's flaws, the movie is pretty entertaining and I'll gladly watch it again, it justfeels extremely flawed. Argento never seemed to figure out if he wanted to make anexacting period film or a completely eccentric horror movie. So the film is neither,and instead, it's an uncomfortable marriage of the two concepts. While I rate thesubstance as 'C+', this film perilously teeters on the brink of a total 'F', and the factthere's nothing in between will ensure most people take the 'F' route.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The film is double sided with a widescreen and full-screen version of the film. Thewidescreen side (presented in anamorphic 1:85:1) is excellent, quality-wise. Although at times the film itself seems a little too dark, the transfer shows no flaws. There are no compression artifacts or digital problems. The colors and black levelare extremely sharp and well balanced. The source print has a few errant hairs andsuch, but nothing terrible. The only problem I encountered was the heavy amountsof moire patterning in certain scenes, but this is a display problem (my TV) ratherthan a mastering problem. The full-frame version loses a lot of composition so Ihonestly can't recommend it, despite the same high-quality.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 audio is fantastic and extremely immersive. All channels are usedfor a variety of effects and directionality. Surrounds are used a great deal forechos, ambient sounds, and the like. It's a good example of how a well-engineered5.1 mix can really put you in the movie, and I applaud the work done here. Theoriginal stereo soundtrack is also provided, but it really isn't that good. Even adowncoverted version of the 5.1 would most likely sound much better.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
0 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The disc has a few interesting features worth taking a look at, besides the trailers. The first is an interview with actor Julian Sands, in which he discusses hisexcitement about working with Dario Argento.
This is accompanied by a short "behind-the-scenes" segment which is basically alot of backstage footage. We see Argento directing some of the key scenes in thefilm and, for the first time in his career, work with elaborate bluescreen and CGIeffects.
Things are wrapped up with a reprint on a Fangoria Magazine article about Dario'sbrother, Claudio, who has produced many of Dario's films. It's a great articlebecause it focuses on the fact that Claudio has been so ignored over the years,despite the huge presence he has over the production.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

If I sound like I'm ripping the movie to pieces, I'm not trying to. It's just that viewersshould know what they're in for. It's not fantastic, but it's entertaining to be sure. The whole romantic dilly-dally of the classic stage musical and all the Gothicseriousness of previous films is completely abandoned in favor of this outlandishinterpretation that features the Phantom threatening a woman's breasts and eatinga human tongue. Is Dario Argento going insane? You be the judge. The funnypart is I still think this film is the best screen interpretation of the story. Phantom bears many similarities with Argento's last film, The StendahlSyndrome, at least in style and especially in the rather raunchy treatment of hisown daughter, Asia (who was the repeated victim of a serial rapist inStendahl). Try out Phantom of the Opera on a rental.


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