DirectorDwight H. Little
Release Date(s)1989 (February 17, 2015)
Studio(s)Orion Pictures/MGM (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture (the film’s full title as it was released in 1989) changed the usual formula of the classic Gaston Leroux novel, coming off more strongly as a horror film than perhaps even its creators intended it to be. The project gave Dwight H. Little, hot off of the success of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, the chance to do something different during the time that the title went into the public domain. It also gave Robert Englund the chance to play a different character other than Freddy Krueger, a role he had inhabited for five films and a TV series up to that point. According to Englund, he was looking forward to taking a vacation from acting until the offer of playing the phantom character came along, allowing him to stretch his classically-trained legs a bit more than usual, but also to take part in a role that had been inhabited by many great actors before him. Unfortunately, the film’s marketing campaign was hung on the fact that “Freddy” was in it, which was a smart move in some ways and a terrible move in others.
The filmmakers chose to base their film version on none of the previous incarnations of the story, deciding instead to go back to the original novel for source material and then take a new approach. The approach they chose seemed drastic to most people at the time. Many walked into the theater expecting a modern retelling of the classic Phantom tale and were severely disappointed to discover a film that functioned more as a slasher. Set in both modern times and the past, the filmmakers’ unique approach did offer the possibility of a sequel if the film were a success. Unfortunately, it wasn’t and the film was poorly received by critics.
Today, the film is seen as another in a long line of independent Golan/Globus productions that did poorly. But horror fans see it as a terrific slasher movie with great atmosphere and some good performances. Personally, I feel the film is weak, but I do appreciate the work that went into it, particularly the make-up effects and the cinematography. I believe that the filmmakers were doing something ambitious, and were failed by those who marketed the film. It’s true that Phantom of the Opera isn’t a story that’s known as something overtly horrific, but billing the movie as a “new nightmare” perhaps wasn’t the best way to go.
For Scream Factory’s release of the film, the Blu-ray presentation is quite good, but not perfect. Film grain is very apparent, almost too apparent, with detail sometimes being lost to it. It’s not overly abundant, but some of the close-ups don’t feature very strong skin or clothing textures. The color palette, however, is quite rich with lush reds, blues, and browns. Black levels are merely good, with some apparent crush in a lot of the shadow detail. Contrast and brightness levels look good, and there are no signs of digital enhancement to be found. For the audio presentation, there are two options: English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD. Both tracks are pretty much on same playing field with strong dialogue and sound effect levels, but the 5.1 track gives the music a lot more room to breathe in the rear speakers. Composer Misha Segal’s musical score is opened up quite nicely, with the rest of the sound work sticking mainly to the front. So both tracks sound pretty great, but if you’re interested in having a much larger soundscape for the score, go with the 5.1. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
In the supplemental department, you get quite a few nice extras including an audio commentary with director Dwight H. Little and Robert Englund; the terrific Behind the Mask: The Making of The Phantom of the Opera documentary; the film’s original theatrical trailer; a TV spot; a set of radio spots; a still gallery; and some previews for other titles from the Scream Factory label.
All in all, this version of Phantom of the Opera is probably the least-liked amongst filmgoers, but it does have its fans, so it’s nice to see them rewarded with a very nice disc. Even if you haven’t seen the film in a while, the supplemental material (especially the documentary) makes this release worth picking up and revisiting.
- Tim Salmons