Friday, May 28, 2010

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA: Blu-Ray (WB 2004) Warner Home Video

Based on the immortal novel by Gaston Leroux, director Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera (2004) is more obviously a direct descendent of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera of the same title – a sprawling, musical-packed extravaganza that only occasionally catches the sublime fire and charm of the stage show, despite having been imbued with an impeccable cast and stellar production values. Webber and the director have collaborated on this 'show of shows' but the results are not comprehensively engrossing.

The major setback that Schumacher has in directing this film is, ironically, also its greatest asset; the Lloyd Webber roots that made Phantom such a colossal hit in the first place. Pop-opera is edifying on the stage. It’s larger than life. It breathes forth a palpable energy that can only be released through the art of live performance. Yet, on the big screen such grandeur has almost the opposite effect. The gaudy excess and luscious trappings are somehow dwarfed and almost submarine the intimacy of this tragic love story.

Still, there is plenty to appreciate and recommend in this film; not the least of which is Emmy Rossum, cast as the epically winsome and tragic embodiment of Lloyd Webber's heroine, Christine Daae. Rossum has an intangible freshness that bodes well with her ingénue alter ego and her voice is pure gold. She elevates Webber's 'Think of Me Fondly' into musical art of the first magnitude and her ode in a frosty graveyard to Webber's ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here’ is undoubtedly the film’s dramatic and musical highlight.

Far more problematic for the film is its casting choice of Gerard Butler as the Phantom – capable and chilling as the mad spook, yet rather soulless and entirely lacking in any sort of empathy or compassion so essential for the audience to be able to relate to the phantom as anything more than a sadistic ghoul. This Phantom doesn't menacingly skulk around the bowels of the Paris opera house so much as he slinks with effeminate disdain for the elegant creatures of his artistic melange that he can never possess. In the end, the assets of the film narrowly outweigh these liabilities.

The film opens with an aged Raoul (Patrick Wilson) purchasing an ornate music box that once belonged to the late Paris Opera House chanteuse, Christine Daae (Rossum). An orphan, living under the watchful eyes of her caregiver, Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson) and a mysterious benefactor, the Phantom (Gerard Butler), Christine is promoted to the lead of the opera’s latest show after its resident diva, Carlotta (Minnie Driver) is first sabotaged, then outwardly threatened with death by the Phantom. Christine debuts at the opera is a smashing sensation.

However, the Phantom has more intimate plans for his young protégé. Seducing her through song, he lures Christine into the bowels of the Paris Opera, exposing his lair and bearing his soul to her. Sadly, Christine loves Raoul and the Phantom – spurned by that revelation, with a loathsome contempt for his own hideous disfigurement – is driven to total madness and self destruction.

In the film's climactic moment, the Phantom seizes Christine on stage, dropping them both through a trap door to his watery lair while distracting the authorities by releasing the theatre's grand chandelier from its ceiling moor. The great orb of glass and candlelit swings into the stage, setting the opera house ablaze and sending extras scurrying to save their own lives. Raoul makes chase and confronts the Phantom in a dual.

At the last moment, Christine and Raoul are spared certain death by the arrival of a torch carrying mob, but the Phantom has vanished once more into the night - presumably never to surface again. The narrative jumps forward to the present with the aged Raoul clutching Christine's music box - a broken man with only bittersweet memories as his accompaniment into a very uncertain and dark future.

Warner Home Video’s Blu-Ray offering bests its 2 disc Special Edition. Yet, the image doesn't quite contain that 'wow' factor associated with the best Blu-Ray discs on the market. Yes, the palette is both rich and fully saturated. Yes, reds are velvety and deep. But flesh tones, though appearing quite natural, seem at the same time to suffer from a loss of fine detail except in close up. The image is sharp, but not outstandingly so. Contrast levels also appear slightly weaker than expected, especially when comparing the Blu-Ray directly to the 2 disc DVD.

Warner has opted to carry over its 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack instead of providing a true HD lossless track. Extras are all direct imports from the 2 disc DVD and include a thorough back story divided into several documentaries that cover all of the filmic versions and the impetus of the stage show essentials – plus an additional scene left on the cutting room floor and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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