Phantom of the Opera Blu-ray offers solid video and reference-quality audio in this fan-pleasing Blu-ray release
Pit violinist Claudin hopelessly loves rising operatic soprano Christine Dubois (as do baritone Anatole and police inspector Raoul) and secretly aids her career. But Claudin loses both his touch and his job, murders a rascally music publisher in a fit of madness, and has his face etched with acid. Soon, mysterious crimes plague the Paris Opera House, blamed on a legendary "phantom" whom none can find in the mazes and catacombs. But both of Christine's lovers have plans to ferret him out.
For more about Phantom of the Opera and the Phantom of the Opera Blu-ray release, see Phantom of the Opera Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on September 28, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Take a moment and imagine what modern horror would be without Universal Pictures. Without founder Carl Laemmle and his vision for the future of cinema, or his son Carl Laemmle Jr., who inherited the keys to the studio kingdom in 1928, when talkies were rapidly displacing silent films and promising groundbreaking new strides in moviemaking and the movie-going experience. Without early horror pioneers like Tod Browning, James Whale, Karl Freund, George Waggner or Jack Arnold. Without iconic creature actors Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Claude Rains, Lon Chaney, Jr., Elsa Lanchester or Ben Chapman. Without Dracula, the indispensable 1931 classic that left a more lasting mark on vampire movies and lore than any other vampire film before or after (save Nosferatu). Or Frankenstein, which pushed boundaries, shocked audiences and has been received with overwhelming enthusiasm ever since. The Mummy, bold in its atmosphere and unforgettable in its tragic romance. The Invisible Man, which features some of the most astonishing special effects and perhaps one of the most unnerving depictions of mounting madness of the era. The Bride of Frankenstein, a complex, wickedly funny, altogether unpredictable sequel that in many regards surpasses its predecessor. The Wolf Man, a once-chilling character drama that examines the frailty of man and the beast within. Phantom of the Opera, though more a twisted love story than a traditional horror picture, a film that nevertheless caused some theaters to stock smelling salts in in the event that a moviegoer fainted upon the removal of the Phantom's mask. Or Creature from the Black Lagoon, which frightened audiences above the water and below with a scaly monster unlike any they had seen before. Needless to say, modern horror, and really the genre in whole, would be completely different than what we know.
The seventh film in the Universal Classic Monsters: Essential Collection doesn't actually feature the classic incarnation of its monster and, when you get right down to it, isn't an essential horror film at all. That honor belongs to Carl Laemmle, Sr.'s 1925 silent film adaptation of the 1909 Gaston Leroux novel, which starred Lon Chaney, Sr. and a truly frightful, skull-like visage the actor created himself. That's the iconic film Phantom. That's the iconic picture. That's the source of the ghastly images most Golden Age horror aficionados have etched in their brain. Producer George Waggner and director Arthur Lubin's 1943 Phantom of the Opera pales in comparison, even if it's a decent movie when taken on its own terms. Claude Rains (previously the Invisible Man) slips behind the mask of the monster, a Paris Opera House master violinist named Erique Claudin who's disfigured after having acid flung into his face. But Claudin and his Phantom alter ego aren't the focus of the story. That would be the source of his obsession, singer Christine Dubois (Susanna Foster), the two suitors competing for her hand in marriage -- baritone Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) and inspector Raoul D'Aubert (Edgar Barrier) -- and her status as a rising star. The result is a monster movie that wants to indulge in too many other things. It's tainted further by unintentionally silly moments (a single bullet brings a series of tunnels beneath the Opera House crashing down) meant to be more effective or terrifying than they are or possibly ever were. (Test audiences in 1943 began laughing during early screenings, even if the film proved to be a bigger success when it went into wide release.) Is it a grand, operatic love story that, despite its flaws, ends on a high note and a laugh? Sure. Is it an essential horror classic? Not by my estimation.
The weakest film in the Essentials Collection -- as well as the only one presented in color -- is nevertheless backed by a rich, vibrant 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer. It isn't without flaws, though. Thin edge halos appear here and there, color fluctuations and minor bleeding seep into the presentation, and too many shots look as if they've been processed and polished with a heavy hand. Otherwise, Phantom of the Opera has plenty to offer those who enjoy its decadent trappings. Hal Mohr and W. Howard Greene's cinematography is brimming with lush colors, vivid operatic primaries, gorgeous skintones and devilishly dark black levels. Contrast isn't erratic either, and detail is decidedly decent, even remarkable at times. Soft shots abound, sure. But when the film's fine textures are given room to breathe, it's a beautiful thing. (It just doesn't happen often enough.) The presentation also doesn't exhibit many scars. Print blemishes are kept to a minimum while artifacting, banding and other eyesores are held at bay. If it weren't for the injury caused by the aforementioned issues, Phantom of the Opera would deserve a higher score. Although I'm sure some will say it still does.
Phantom of the Opera brings down the house with a two-channel DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix superbly restored from the film's original audio elements. The highlight of the track is Edward Ward's score and opera arrangements, drawn from multiple classical music pieces and original themes. A touch of inherent distortion is present when the orchestra erupts in a dramatic frenzy, but the Phantom's score never buckles, and "The Lullaby of Bells," Ward's climactic piano concerto played on stage and in the bowels of the Opera House, has never sounded better. The rest of the soundscape fares just as well, from the casualest of conversations between would-be lovers to the scuffle that leaves Claudin scarred, the grand opera sequences, the search for a masked madman, the crashing of a falling chandelier, and the screams of a fleeing crowd. And while "crystal clear" would be a stretch, dialogue is perfectly clear and intelligible, not to mention clean and well-grounded in the mix. Setting the film itself aside, Phantom of the Opera's AV restoration and presentation excels.
The Opera Ghost: A Phantom Unmasked (SD, 51 minutes): Film historian Scott MacQueen hosts this glimpse behind the curtain of Phantom of the Opera, several film adaptations and incarnations of the Phantom introduced over the years (chief among them the 1925 silent era version), the troubled early screenings of the 1943 version, its eventual success and, along the way, the particulars of its development, casting, production, and legacy
Audio Commentary: MacQueen sits down to record a solo commentary as well, even though, comprehensive as it is, his overview of the film amounts to a by-the-numbers reading of a series of notes. Listening to the track certainly isn't a waste of time, mind you. It just would have been more involving if delivered with less rigidity.
100 Years of Universal: The Lot (HD, 9 minutes): The Universal backlot in all its glory.
Production Photographs (SD, 6 minutes): Movie posters, campaign art, production stills and other images.
Phantom of the Opera isn't a personal favorite, nor is it really a classic Universal monster movie or an essential worthy of being a part of the Essentials Collection. It isn't a bad film, it just doesn't hold a candle to Carl Laemmle and Rupert Julian's 1925 silent film adaptation, which stars Lon Chaney as a decidedly more frightening Phantom. Sadly, the film's Blu-ray debut also doesn't live up to the high standards set by some of its box-set brethren. Its restoration and video transfer are striking now and again but inconsistent on the whole, its supplemental package is too quickly exhausted, and its DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix is the best this one has to offer
Phantom of the Opera: Other Editions
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