• Gabe Powers

Phantom of the Opera (1989) Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)

An aspiring opera singer finds herself transported back to Victorian-era London – and into the arms of a reclusive, disfigured maestro determined to make her a star. The silver-throated Christine (Jill Schoelen) enjoys success through the arrangements of her new lover (Robert Englund)... until she realizes that he has been committing unspeakably grisly murders in her honor and won't stop until he's completed his masterpiece... in blood! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)



Of the maybe one dozen feature-length versions of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera (French: Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, originally published between 1909 & 1910), Dwight H. Little’s version is notable for its horror-centered approach to adaptation. That is, at least, in the long run, because, back in 1989, it was sold on the back of actor Robert Englund, who appeared in the title role at the top of his Freddy Kruger celebrity. At the time, Englund had just starred in Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), which was the series’ biggest hit until Ronny Yu’s Freddy vs. Jason in 2003, and was appearing on weekly television as the host of Freddy’s Nightmares (1988-90). The script, by workhorse screenwriters Gerry O'Hara and Duke Sandefur, was built around the Freddy persona and the advertising materials were eager to remind audiences of Englund’s popular persona (“Robert England was Freddy, now he’s the Phantom of the Opera”) that some audiences were famously confused as to if Phantom of the Opera was some kind of Nightmare on Elm Street sequel or spin-off.


Likely as a result of its Freddy-centric inception, The Phantom of the Opera reeks of concession. You don’t have to be familiar with the behind-the-scenes story to know that accommodations were made. The people in charge knew that Englund’s popularity and persona was the selling point and that modernizing the story was important to those sales, while someone else (probably Englund) wanted to make a proper romantic period piece that stuck closer to Leroux’s source material. The compromise was an occasionally quite handsome period piece that awkwardly paused for gory murder scenes and was flanked by goofy bookends set in 1988. The results are as spotty as that description implies. Sometimes, The Phantom of the Opera feels like a proper late-’80s slasher meeting the melodrama of a ‘60s-era Hammer or Roger Corman costume drama, but the detached nature of the disparate elements and deep dips in narrative momentum draw out the 93-minute film out to impossibly boring lengths. Little is evidently hampered by his small budget and adherence to late ‘80s horror trends, but he really goes for broke when shooting those haughty costumes and baroque sets. As long as he’s focusing on smoke, mirrors (literally, in many cases), and gory special effects, he does very well. The bloody kill scenes are dynamic, bolstered by energetic camera moves and Dutch angles, especially the sequence in which Englund takes on a trio of would-be muggers (very Sam Raimi’s Darkman, 1989). If only it all of the pieces fit together.



Video

Phantom of the Opera was first released on DVD in 2004 from MGM. It was a barebones ‘flipper’ – anamorphic 1.85:1 on one side, 1.33:1 open matte on the other. Scream Factory was beaten to the punch on Blu-ray by a RB German release from Infopictures. Because MGM tends to strike their own HD transfers for use on TV and digital screening, I assume that both Infopictures and Scream’s transfers are comparable (though I don’t know enough about Infopictures to guess how compressed it is). This transfer matches the other MGM catalogue transfers that Scream hasn’t taken the time to ‘fix,’ i.e. it has a number of minor print artifacts (white flecks and scratches) and has been a shade over-sharpened, leading to slight edge haloes. However, [I]Phantom of the Opera[/I] has better element separation, richer colors, and tighter blacks than the set average. Grain levels are persistently heavy, but never overwhelming or uneven. The uptake in detail from the anamorphic DVD isn’t breathtaking, but it’s enough to deepen the texture of the occasionally gorgeous wide-angle compositions.


Note: This is the same R-rated version of Phantom of the Opera that has been circulating since it was first distributed into theaters. Though many websites around the internet (including imdb.com) have a list of cuts made, an uncut version has never been released.



Audio

This Blu-ray comes fitted with a brand new 5.1 remix (not available elsewhere) and the original 2.0 stereo track. Both tracks are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio sound. The remix is actually quite tasteful. Dialogue and basic sound effects are shifted to the middle channel, while the music and a couple of ambient sounds are spread further into the stereo and surround speakers. Misha Segal’s score sounds better here than on the 2.0 track thanks to the spread and some minor LFE enhancements – though the music is sometimes limited by the lack of a complete orchestra. The symphonic tracks are a blend of actual strings (probably a quartet), catalogue elements (classical arrangements that Segal didn’t compose), and synthetic keyboard melodies. Of these, the real instruments always sound better. Some of the opera scenes have issues with balance between score and singing, but the same problems tend to arise in the stereo version as well. Neither track is particularly loud.



Extras

  • Commentary With Director Dwight H. Little And Actor Robert Englund

  • Behind The Mask: The Making Of The Phantom Of The Opera (37:40, HD) – A solid retrospective featurette that includes a number of cast & crew interviews. Everyone remembers the film fondly, but is also honest about its many shortcomings. Curiously, it seems that my theory that the filmmakers were disagreeing about tone isn’t entirely true and that the patchy qualities were born of mutual creative frustration. It includes some stills from the uncut versions of the gore scenes and discussion of the unproduced Phantom of Manhattan script that was used for the modern-day bookends.

  • Theatrical trailer, TV & radio spots

  • Still gallery



The images on this page are taken from the BD and DVD, then sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.

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