Written by: Ron Cotton on August 19th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, November 20th, 1998
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Julian Sands, Asia Argento, Andrea Di Steffano, Istvan Bubik
DVD released: November 9th, 1999
Approximate running time: 100 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound English
DVD Release: A-Pix
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $9.95
Synopsis: In 1877, a tale begins an opera house in Paris. As the opera is playing, Pandora’s Box is unleashed from the stonework which rips one man literally apart and caused the death of two other men. Two years later, Christine (Asia Argento) sings after hours into the seemingly empty opera house, in reality, a blond admirer watches from the shadows. He later approaches her in the hallway in a queer fashion and then truthfully explains that: “your voice fills my heart with divine light.” Ignace (Istvan Bubik), the head exterminator, while setting a rat trap feels a strange chill over him. Without reason, Ignace catches himself in the devilish mechanism as rats gather about his hand to feast upon it. With horror, all he can to is watch until the freezing breeze leaves his body. Another suitor gives an abundant arraignment of red roses with a note attached and Christine is very pleased by this new development.
Amidst all her emotional confusion, she’s greeted again by the shadowy figure whose advances cause her to swoon into unconsciousness. Alfred, A stagehand notices the embrace between the two and follows the shadowy figure into the caverns. Alfred familiar with the opera house curse knows it can be no other than the Phantom (Julian Sands). That very night, he gloats, telling his lover of his confidence and strength. He also mentions that the Phantom hides because he hoards a treasure down below. Greed overwhelms the two, and shortens their lives dramatically at the hands of the Phantom. Christine visits Baron Raoul De Chagny (Andrea Di Stefano), taking note that she felt that although he has a hard time explaining herself to others, the note explained how she felt quite clearly. From this point, she felt they were like brother and sister. Outside of her presence, his inner turmoil boils as Raoul wanted much more than that.
Carlotta (Nidia Rinaldi) is the lead opera singer, and for some bizarre occurrence, her throat is sore within minutes. Carlotta’s alternate, Christine must take the stage and her singing is unlike any never heard before. The audience takes notice. Christine looses consciousness after taking a glimpse of the Phantom. Others dismiss it as too much responsibility. Soon, the Phantom is not longer satisfied with momentary visits and instead calls her with his enchanting organ. Does her heart lie with the Phantom or Raoul? With the Phantom bring others to their death with his bestial nature? What will happen once everyone is exposed to the truth?
When Phantom of the Opera is spoken of, people first think of Lon Chaney’s silent version based on Gaston Leroux’s novel. Over the years, many adaptations have been created, even one using Andrew Lloyd Webber’s screenplay. Dario Argento’s production of Phantom of the Opera is sadly overlooked by his fans. Many will complain that it wasn’t gruesome enough, cinematography was static, or perhaps too Hollywood for hardcore lovers of Dario. This movie has innovations of Dario which requires reexamination.
The lead, Asia is, of course, Dario’s Daughter and Julian Sands is best known for the Hollywood horror, Warlock. Dario Argento’s work in gialli has made him a master house in horror and Italian cinema. One obvious difference between Lon Chaney’s version and Dario’s is the Phantom is very attractive and his emotions are predator driven like an animal. Just like signature Dario Argento style, his sets are flawless, accounting for every detail. The major scene that moved me was when Ignace while setting a trap for the rats, gets trapped in his own devices. In fact, one can feel the conflict between the Phantom and Ignace without the two facing each other off. There’s even a point where the Phantom is daydreaming about a trap much like a mouse trap, but of gigantic proportions that trap human body upon its bed of nails. Christine is not only in a love triangle but her eternal soul is drained by the Phantom’s constant attention and protection. Christine is torn by being loved and being smothered and is in a bitter sweet position. Phantom’s lair is much like a listless purgatory for all who stay, and Christine would rather be set free. In the end, Christine is perhaps selfish, like she wants her cake and eat it too, but like most people, can’t have it all.
A-Pix presented this 100 minute feature in both 16:9 Anamorphic Wide screen and Full Frame on two-sided single-layer flipper disc. Dario experimented with lighting and colors at points to create a wonderful array of colors, as well as a palette perfect for Victorian Era settings. His shadows and how light both direct the audience’s eyes as well as setting a mood have a very strong effect. The colors seem to be correct and there is light Grain, but not enough to distract most viewers. Sound in both Dolby Stereo and Dolby 5.1 English. The sound goes from quiet to loud much like what you’ve come to expect with “shocking” films. Subtitles have been included in Spanish. I believe that this DVD wouldn’t have had any minor grain problems if it was only a wide screen release on a double layer disk. However, I didn’t see any digital breakup. For an A-Pix release, I’m very surprised how many features this DVD contains.
The special features include filmography, trailers, Julian Sands interview, fangoria article, and behind-the-scenes footage. Short biographies of director Dario Argento, Julian Sands, and Asia Argento as well as the trailers have both the theatrical and video version which each last over one minute, the former has less artifacting. The Julian Sands interview is interesting; here he explains his need to work with Dario, his thoughts working with Asia, other facets of Phantom of the Opera. The interview appears to be VHS quality and lasts 3 minutes. The Fangoria article goes into great detail of Dario Argento’s creations. Fangoria is text only. Behind-the-scenes footage with Dario Argento at the helm including some blue screen work just like the Julian Sands interview, it’s in VHS quality. This feature lasts approximately.11 minutes.
I feel that Dario’s Argento’s Phantom of the Opera fairs well, even though the tide of fans will shout aloud that this is unlike other innovative movies he’s made prior. In that summation, you’d be right. But in the grand scheme of movies in general, it’s an average title that has scenes that are worth viewing and quite enjoyable. Yes, many of the shots are static, as the Phantom embodies the beast, you’ll notice the cuts and tempo very interesting yet different than other Argento offerings. Hollywood? I don’t feel that way and Argento’s directorial quirks still bleed through. The only thing that I found wrong, if you could call it that, was its predictability.
It’s with very little surprise. I’ve seen the Lon Chaney version before! The viewpoint and mood that Argento was creating was very unique to itself. After all these complications, it’s hard to recommend this title to Dario Argento fans because of predispositions of who Dario is and how Dario should have approached it. There will be those who feel a note of discord much like Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West an to everyone else, Dario Argento’s Phantom of the Opera worth at least one look.