The Phantom Of The Opera

The Phantom Of The Opera (2004)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver
Extras: Documentary, Featurettes, Additional Scene, Trailer, Weblink

Like countless others, I’ve been a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "The Phantom Of The Opera" musical version for some time but I did have some difficulties wrapping my mind around the thought of perceiving this musical as a movie production – until I actually saw it. Warner Home Video has prepared a wonderful 2-disc Special Edition of Joel Schumacher’s film adaptation of the musical, which allows you to experience the production in all its glory, and is accompanied by some great extras.

Based on Gaston Leroux’s touching book, "The Phantom Of The Opera" tells the story of Christine, a young opera singer who is being taught by an elusive, mysterious man, haunting the Paris Opera House. He is referred to as the Phantom of the Opera as no one knows his identity and no one has really seen him. In letters he directs Christine’s career and forces the owners of the opera house to give her a chance at stardom. After a spectacular performance one day, he reveals himself to Christine, hoping that apart from her gratefulness and admiration he could also win her love. Unfortunately the phantom is disfigured and when Christine sees his true face she is in horror for a brief moment. Long enough however to absolutely infuriate the irascible phantom, who now feels betrayed and jealous of Christine’s young lover and thus he unleashes a fury of hate and horror out of his rejection and loneliness onto the opera house, going as far as kidnapping Christine.

The first and most important thing I noticed about this movie production of the musical is that it has lost nothing of its splendor, beauty and charm. This is still the Phantom the way we know it from the stage production – only a lot more intimate. Whereas in the stage production your point of view is locked down to your seat, in this film adaptation director Joel Schumacher now uses the camera to maximize the emotional and visual impact of scenes. As a result the viewer truly feels part of each scene and not so much a distant observer. It serves the story very well giving additional depth and drama.

The cast performances are very good throughout. Christine is portrayed by Emmy Rossum in a great performance that conjures up memories of Sara Brightman in the part. The Phantom is played by Gerard Butler who’s voice was the only shortcoming in the film, I thought. In lower registers his voice is rich and powerful but in the higher registers, which he requires very frequently in the part, his voice does not have the strength and texture that would be required. In fact I found it a bit jarring at times. Minnie Driver plays the Italian diva Carlotta with gusto like a dervish and Miranda Richardson excels once again as Madame Giry.

The production design of the film is lush to say the least. Colorful and splendid it nicely replaces the stage sets with real live settings and backdrops that have depth and detail, adding to the flair of the film. The cinematography is also rich, making great use of the sets and creating a lot of atmosphere. More than once the filmmakers also seem to have borrowed from Ronny Yu’s masterpiece "The Phantom Lover," a free, but wonderful Hong Kong adaptation of the Phantom story, as the camera evokes emotions and drama with its beautiful pictures. Costumes are also wonderfully glorious further adding a layer of beauty to the production, which all culminates, of course, in the masterful performance of the music.

Warner Home Video presents "The Phantom Of The Opera" in a <$PS,widescreen> presentation that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The picture is immaculate without any blemishes or a hint of grain. Color reproduction is also flawless rendering the image wonderfully rich with even the finest nuances in hues and shades. Skin tones are absolutely natural looking. The transfer’s black levels are solid, creating deep blacks that never break up or lose definition, the creating wonderful shadows that give the image great visual depth. No compression artifacts are edge-enhancement mar the presentation. In a word, this is a picture perfect presentation of the film.

The music comes as a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track that is voluminous and with a lot of body. While a <$DTS,DTS> track is sadly missing form the release, the Dolby Digital track nonetheless makes a great impression. The orchestration of the film is rich and finely textured as instruments are highlighted here and there, or as they are combined to create certain musical textures. The track manages magnificently to reproduce all these subtleties without problems and without ever collapsing the sound field. Again, this is a wonderful track that does full justice to the format’s capabilities.

On the second disc of the Special Edition you will find a treasure trove of extras – not so much in terms of quantity but in respect to the quality. "Behind The Mask: The Story Of The Phantom Of The Opera" is a one-hour documentary on the origins of the stage production. Featuring plenty of interviews with Andrew Lloyd Webber, and other members of the original production you get to see how the idea came about, how it was slowly forming as a production and how things went from an inspiration to the most successful musical of all times.

"The Making Of The Phantom Of The Opera" is a three-part featurette covering the aspects of bringing this hugely successful show to the silver screen. In detail we get to see here how the production was prepared, how director Joel Schumacher worked to find the right tone and groove for the film and how it was ultimately all put together. The featurettes feature plenty of behind the scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew members, creating a very detailed and informative look behind the scenes.

Also included on the DVD is "No One Would Listen" an additional musical scene that is not included in the final cut of the movie. The movies’ trailer and web info are also included on the release.

For fans of "The Phantom Of The Opera," this release is a must-have. It is a rich movie version of the musical with all the music intact and some added depth as a result of the lush movie production and free-moving camera, which can go places where theater viewers can not. With its great bonus features and the pristine presentation of the film, "The Phantom Of The Opera" is a true DVD highlight of recent months.