Phantom of the Opera (1998)
By: Julian on January 8, 2011  | 
DVD
Umbrella (Australia) | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 95 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Julian Sands, Asia Argento, Andrea Di Stefano, Nadia Rinaldi, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni
Screenplay: Gérard Brach, Dario Argento
Country: Italy
External Links
IMDB Quickflix YouTube
Here's something you don't read every day: a positive review for Dario Argento's Phantom of the Opera.

Now, don't get me wrong – I'm not saying that Phantom of the Opera is top-tier Argento. It's not second-tier Argento, and it's probably not even third-tier Argento. In fact, Phantom is a very middle-range effort. But to his credit, Dario has put a unique, albeit self-indulgent, spin on the tale. In any case, this is nowhere near as bad as Argento's worst film, The Stendhal Syndrome, or his most overrated film, Phenomena, and horror fans who have avoided Phantom of the Opera on the basis of its infamy may wish to seek a copy out.

Baiting Argento purists is a bit nasty, so I'll get on with the review. Anyone who has read Gaston Leroux's novel or seen any of the films or the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical will know in general terms the plot of Argento's Phantom. Julian Sands plays the titular character, not disfigured here but pretty nasty nonetheless – we're introduced to the Phantom after he rips a hapless labourer in half. The Phantom resides in the rat-infested bowels of the Paris Opera House and the object of his unrequited affections is Christine (Asia Argento), the young and busty (some of the shots are a bit off-colour when you consider it's Asia's old man behind the camera) darling of the stage.

Dario Argento's take on the Phantom story involves the introduction of telepathic rodents (anyone who liked Phenomena and its razor-wielding monkey has unequivocally surrendered the right to insult Phantom's rats) and a whole lotta gore: Phantom is a particularly violent film in Argento's typical blood drenched style. Speaking of style, this is a strong point in even the weakest of Argento's films, and on this basis Phantom may be hailed a complete success: viewed against Argento's latter-day stuff (it would be churlish to compare this film with Deep Red or Inferno), this is a film of superior aesthetic quality and design. Enhancing Phantom's technical proficiency is Ennio Morricone, who does typically excellent work as composer, and the music, coupled with the costume and production design, successfully evokes the feel of a 19th century night at the opera. The special effects are also decent, and this is probably a testament to the dollars that Argento was working with at this point in his career: no firehoses a la Tenebrae, but there are still some neat little set pieces.

The problems that I have with Phantom are the very same problems that the whole world seems to have with Phantom: it's bloated, phenomenally self-indulgent (just look at the casting) and can often be absolutely ridiculous (telepathic rats). The acting is also second-rate: Asia and Sands are as uncharismatic an on-screen pair as one is likely to find. But whilst the nineties and noughties were, to use a great measure of understatement, a dark time for Argento, Phantom is a stand out. It retains the spirit of Argento's earlier output (unlike Mother of Tears and The Card Player) and in spite of its faults it manages to hold the viewer's interest throughout (unlike the utterly dire Stendhal Syndrome). The universal rubbishing of this film perplexes me a little bit, because Argento has put his name to much, much worse.
Video
The picture is presented in 1.85:1 with 16:9 enhancement. It looks fine, but the age and budget of the film shows in the presentation. The director of photography is Ronnie Taylor, who vividly captures Argento's intended aesthetic; the brightly coloured stage and dressing rooms and the dark, dank tunnels beneath the Opera House.
Audio
A relatively crisp English Dolby 5.1 track is presented here.
Extra Features
The 57-minute Argento career retrospective An Eye for Horror is the centrepiece of this disc. This doco appears on most Umbrella-released discs in the Dario Argento collection. Also included is 10-minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, a 3-minute interview with Julian Sands and three trailers (US and French theatrical and home video).
The Verdict

Phantom of the Opera is no masterpiece, but it's hardly the dog of the film that most people like to make out. Argento completists will need to watch it, but those with a fondness for period piece horror shouldn't overlook this either.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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