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Warner Home Video presents
The Phantom of the Opera (2004) HD-DVD (2004)

"Like yellow parchment is his skin, a great black hole serves as the nose that never grew."
- Joseph Buquet (Kevin R. McNally)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: April 20, 2006

Stars: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson
Other Stars: Minnie Driver, Miranda Richardson, Simon Callow, Ciaran Hinds
Director: Joel Schumacher

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief violent images
Run Time: 02h:21m:00s
Release Date: April 18, 2006
UPC: 012569809406
Genre: musical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+B A-

DVD Review

It's become rather fashionable to trash Andrew Lloyd Webber for some reason. Perhaps it's because success breeds contempt, or perhaps it's his shameless affection for schmaltz. But there's no denying that his many shows have proven both popular and durable. At the head of the list is his adaptation of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, an elaborate stage production translated almost wholesale to the screen in this film adaptation by Joel Schumacher, who is much better known for action films than musicals.

The new owners of the Paris Opera Populaire didn't expect to also inherit the Opera Ghost, who strangely demands both Box 5 be reserved for him, and that he receive a salary. Diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver) is nearly hit by a falling curtain, and she storms out of the production. At the suggestion of dancing mistress Mme. Giry (Miranda Richardson), young singer Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) is suggested to take over the lead role in Carlotta's place. Christine is an immediate success thanks to the training she has been receiving from a mysterious and unseen Angel of Music, who reveals himself to be none other than the masked Opera Ghost (Gerard Butler), determined to bring Christine's talents to fruition and to possess her himself. These dual ambitions threaten to be thwarted by Christine's affections for childhood sweetheart Vicomte Raoul (Patrick Wilson), but the Phantom is both determined and murderous.

In hindsight, it seems a natural to make an opera of the story, but no one had managed to pull it off before Lloyd Webber did so, in the epic-running productions still playing around the world. The themes of the story—love, obsession, music and art—fall neatly into the operatic milieu and the sometimes surreal world of the opera. The staging is quite elaborate, opening up the production nicely. However, while it attempts to translate some of the dazzlingly memorable moments of the stage version to the screen, the effect isn't quite the same since one doesn't have the same "How on earth did they do that?" response to a film that you do to seeing it live; the comparison is seeing a magician on film as opposed to in the flesh. Nonetheless, Schumacher makes some valiant efforts, with swooping shots through the backstage of the Opera and during the Masque Ball sequence. The picture eschews reality, making the Phantom's lair an impossible fantasyland of candles and Victorian bric-a-brac. Taking it literally is certainly a mistake. It's all in the spirit of the operatic, not neorealism.

The one actor who really captures that spirit is Driver, who paints prima donna Carlotta in broad, comical strokes, an over-the-top caricature of every diva and would-be diva. Rossum is appealingly waifish as Christine, and her voice is quite lovely and suited to the part. Patrick Wilson has a fine if unremarkable voice, and gives Raoul a decent presentation even if he does look a bit too much like Fabio. Butler gives the Phantom a suitable driven intensity, but his upper register often sounds as if he's straining; surely a convincing Angel of Music would have a more fluid delivery? It's a bit distracting at times, especially during the signature tune, Phantom of the Opera, where "Phan-" seems to be a serious struggle every time. And of course, he's rather handsome to be the disfigured creature of the story, but that's a problem with the Lloyd Webber presentation in general; the attempt to make the Phantom a sympathetic romantic lead is at war with the supposed ugliness and deformity of the Phantom.

What is truly at the heart of the story is a love of music and a devotion to art, that can be turned to madness and homicide through frustration and isolation. At the same time, there are any number of other conflicts at work in the story, such as art vs. commerce (the new Opera owners are boorish junk dealers, to the Phantom's disdain) and the thin line between love and desire for control. The strange relationship between fathers and daughters also is at work here, with the Phantom exploiting Christine's memories of her father for his own Svengali-like purposes to mold her to his will. These are powerful thematic materials, and Lloyd Webber does a reasonably good job of bringing them forward without being too obvious about the process. The music is pure romantic syrup from beginning to end, with Lloyd Webber being influenced by the music hall tradition as well as Broadway, but it's still endlessly appealing. A few moments firmly root the piece as a product of the 1980s, such as the use of synths and drum machines in a few spots. Lloyd Webber is plainly unafraid of the big sweeping gesture. On occasion the lyrics by Charles Hart let him down with awkward moments (most notably the clumsy words to Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again). But Lloyd Webber's talent for melody is at its best here, and Schumacher puts nice life into the visuals to accompany them, from the sensitive duet of All I Ask of You atop the Opera House to the Phantom's sensuous and seductive rendition of Music of the Night deep beneath it.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.4:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Since this is one of the first three HD-DVDs to market (along with The Last Samurai and Serenity), this is probably the section that most readers will turn to first. The good news is that the new format does not disappoint in the least. Colors are far more vivid and black levels and shadow detail much, much cleaner than on the standard definition DVD when viewed on a 1080i HDTV through component outputs. Although it is possible for studios to restrict the component output through use of the ICT flag, Warner has refrained from doing so in hopes of luring more early adopters of HDTV who don't have HDMI inputs on their sets. It works for me, and I hope that restraint will continue.

The brightly lit scenes and closeups showed very significant improvement in picture quality and detail over the SD version; the jaggies and other artifacts were totally gone. I did spot a little ringing in a few spots but on the whole it looked very filmlike and pleasing. Intriguingly, smoke and fog (of which there are quite a lot in this picture) tend to be much more visible in HD, possibly indicating some substantial DNR on the SD version. When Christine sings her first song onstage, little droplets of nervous sweat are clearly visible on her face, and only barely so in SD. The opening flash-forward with its artificial graininess is problematic for any compression system; it still sparkles some, but it's nowhere near the snowstorm on the earlier version.

If these were the only improvements, I wouldn't be terribly impressed. But where HD-DVD really shines over the SD disc is in the dimly lit sequences in the wings and the Phantom's catacombs. There's a whole new level of clarity in these segments that makes the old version just look completely murky. Difficult portions of programming such as this are what will make this new format really worthwhile.

A word regarding the image transfer grade below: Early on in the DVD era, we tended to give high grades because of the huge improvement over VHS and ordinary television, only to realize later that there was plenty of room for improvement as the format grew. Thus the grade here is not meant to be compared to the standard DVD grade (the visual experience is far better than the best A grade for a standard DVD), but to allow for the possibility of improved transfer art and technology in the future.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The HD-DVD contains several new sound formats, such as Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital-Plus, although no receivers presently on the market can decode these formats directly. However, they can be passed via 5.1 analog outs, and if you use a coax or optical for a digital track, the result is a more standard 5.1 downmix. The latter sounds quite good, with no noise or extraneous issues, and a fine clarity. The surround mix is quite aggressive, with the Phantom's angry voice echoing from the surrounds in threatening manner. The range is enormous and the presence quite good. Warner appears, however, to have made a mastering error, since the downmix through optical and coax is at very low volume levels when compared to the HDMI version; this appears to be a mistake on Warner's first discs rather than an issue with the format, since Serenity doesn't have this problem. As I said above, this is a learning process (hence the grade below).

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Singalong
Extras Review: The extras on the HD-DVD version are identical to those on the two-disc standard version (and are not presented in HD, but in 480i). The following review of the extras is from the review of the standard DVD version, written by Jeff Wilson.

Some fairly substantial material is here; of primary interest to musical fans is the documentary Behind the Mask: The Story of The Phantom of the Opera (65m:08s), which covers the conception and development of the stage production of Phantom. Most of the main participants are interviewed, including Lloyd Webber, lyricists Richard Stilgoe and Charles Hart, director Hal Prince, producer Cameron Macintosh, choreographer Gillian Lynne, and several others. The only missing interviewees are unfortunately major ones: original cast members Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. Crawford is appearing in Lloyd Webber's current show The Woman in White, so I'm not sure why he didn't particiapte, and Brightman has toured in anthology productions of Lloyd Webber's music for quite some time, so it's unclear why she isn't here. That aside, it's a well-made documentary that covers all the bases, and throws in some nice footage as well, such as the footage of the then-current cast in London, videos made of a handful of numbers, and clips from the workshop versions of the musical performed at Lloyd Webber's yearly arts festival. The tone occasionally descends into paid-advertisement hyperbole, but fans with eat it up. Diehards will have seen this material before (and the complete videos are available on the Korean R3 release, for those who want them), but it provides a nice look at the development of the show.

The other documentary on the disc, The Making of The Phantom of the Opera (45m:50s), looks at the development of the film in three stages: Preproduction, The Director, and Production. Interviews with the major personnel cover the various stages of the film's production, as Schumacher, Lloyd Webber, the three leads and several supporting cast members, and various crew comment on the stages of the film's production. Schumacher comes off as kind of smarmy, and everyone else has nothing but praise for the work that has gone on. It's as interesting as it can be given the self-congratulatory tone, and more from the technical side of things than performance-wise, but it's worth watching.

One deleted scene is presented, which includes the newly composed song No One Would Listen (02m:24s), performed by the Phantom. This scene was dropped from the film for pacing reasons and sung, with new lyrics, by Minnie Driver over the end credits (Learn to Be Lonely). It's just as well, as the song doesn't add anything vital to the film and was in the end just an attempt to include a new song for Academy Award considerations, since the rest of the score was not eligible.

All the extras are in anamorphic widescreen and look excellent, though the 1980s Phantom stage footage looks as good as it can given its origins.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

The highly underrated film adaptation of the beloved musical/opera, packed with valuable extras, becomes one of the first pictures to reach the new format of HD-DVD. The results are stunning and make the standard version dispensable.

 


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