The Phantom of the Opera (1925) (Force)

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Released 17-Dec-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Featurette-Essay
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1925
Running Time 91:49 (Case: 93)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Rupert Julian
Studio
Distributor
Carl Laemmle
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Lon Chaney
Mary Philbin
Norman Kerry
Snitz Edwards
Case PUSH-T1
RPI $29.95 Music Gabriel Thibaudoux


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    "No longer, like a toad, shall I secrete the venom of hate in these foul cellars - for you shall bring me love!"

    Yeah, right! I always thought that the idea of a huge opera house, with hidden passage ways and a secret, subterranean lake was rather far-fetched - but the Paris Opera House, around which Phantom Of The Opera is based, does indeed have these features and maybe even a ghost. Completed in 1875, and still standing today, the Paris Opera House occupies over 3 acres of land and boasts 17 storeys, seven of which are below ground and housing relics of decades of past productions such as Meyerbeer's Robert Le Diable and Gounod's Faust. The lake actually exists too, although theories as to its origin range from a workman accidentally breaking a water pipe, to foundation excavations uncovering an underground river. It was a visit to the dark, damp, grotesque-filled caverns, together with a real-life mishap whereby a huge crystal chandelier plunged to the floor, killing several people, that gave journalist Gaston Leroux the inspiration for writing his novel Phantom of the Opera.

    The tale concerns the demented and facially deformed Eric, master musician and tenant of the hidden caverns and shadows of the opera house. Eric takes a shine to the young singer Christine who he considers has a real talent worthy of his attention. He scares, maims and kills members of the Opera House company in order to give his protégé her deserved exposure and ends up enticing her to join him in his subterranean lair. Christine's wannabe fiancé Raoul, being a gentleman and a scholar, is understandably perturbed by Christine's abduction and teams with the secret police to find the elusive phantom. Somehow a Parisian mob becomes involved in the hunt for the phantom and several versions exist of the finale.

    The first filmed version of Leroux's tale is presented on this DVD: The Phantom of the Opera - Special Collectors Edition. It is widely regarded as being the first horror film, (although F.W.Murnau's Nosferatu was released 3 years earlier). Originally filmed in 1925, this version had a troubled gestation. Universal Pictures Director-General Carl Laemmle, having secured the rights to Leroux's novel, appointed Rupert Julian as director and negotiated No1 box office draw of the day, Lon Chaney, to play the phantom. Chaney had built up a considerable reputation as a character actor specialising in grotesque characters and had invented many innovative make-up techniques - as a result he was given special artistic license to direct his own scenes. As a result Chaney and Julian inevitably fell out and didn't talk to each other for most of the shoot. The interior of the Paris Opera House was faithfully recreated in great detail for the production and Universal had to build a special stage large enough to house it and this still stands today. Although some of the sets from Faust and Hunchback of Notre-Dame were used in the production the budget still blew out to the massive amount of one million dollars, no doubt exacerbated by the 5000 extras employed and the innovative 2-strip Technicolor used for the Bal Masque sequence. The film was not well received by preview audiences, who considered it too horrific. It was cut and additional light-relief comic scenes were shot and inserted. Anyway, in late 1925 the film was finally released, to great public and critical acclaim, grossing $2m, no doubt to the relief of Laemmle. With the advent of the talkies, the film was re-released as a 35mm print in 1929 with dubbed on dialogue and some re-shot footage. Chaney's scenes however remained silent, as he was unavailable due to contractual obligations and terminal throat cancer.

    So what does an 80 year old film have to offer us today in the era of surround sound and CGI? Apart from the considerable interest in how far cinema has come in 80 years, these guys, lacking dialogue, had to act to convey the events of the movie. Lacking electronic special effects also meant that cinematography of the day had to rely on considerable innovation and ingenuity to generate atmosphere - it really was all done by candle, smoke and mirrors. This DVD release has gone to considerable trouble to recreate the original with masterful digital restoration, even incorporating colour tinting to recreate the Universal Pictures projection instructions for early attempts at enhancing the monochrome film footage (a blue filter was often used to denote night scenes, as low light levels couldn't be caught adequately on film of the day). I can't say I was gripped spellbound by the movie but it certainly was a fascinating experience.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    What do you expect from a movie taken from film stock nearly 80 years old? I am pleased to report that you can expect a perfectly watchable film thanks to the heroic restoration job. The 1925 original only exists in 16mm fragments, but this version is taken from the George Eastman Film archive 35mm print which was released in 1929. Interestingly the film was shot at 20 frames per second, rather than the usual 24 fps of today and it has been digitally slowed down to its correct speed in this release - that helps the crowd scenes at the ball look less like a colony of ants.

   The film is presented in window-boxed original ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16 x 9 enhanced.

    Sharpness is mediocre and soft at the best of times. Shadow detail is just about non-existent but there is no low level noise - this is a good transfer limited by the source material.

    Most of the film is in sepia tinged monochrome. The Bal Masque scene is in 2 strip Technicolor (see above) and looks quite good within the limitations of the technique: there is a preponderance of blue and red.

    There are very few compression or film-to-video artefacts. There is mild aliasing on the stage edge at 8:22 and mild pixellization in a few sites such as the theatre edges at 3:26 and the statue  at 56:52. Telecine wobble is evident whenever text dialogue is displayed. There are a few disjointed edits such as at 19:40, which is not surprising considering the 50% footage cut from the original version. Scratches, flecks and the occasional hair are present throughout the film but restoration has made these entirely tolerable and in fact they add to the atmosphere of this oldie. Most of the print is of good quality but there is severe emulsion degradation in the 41st minute (Christine in the Phantom's lair) which substantially obscures the picture.

    There are no subtitles.

    The disc is a single layered DVD-5 hence there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The quality of the soundtrack appropriately matches the film with just enough flutter and noise artefacts to impart realism. There is a (probably unintentional) dropout at 48:33.

    There is one audio track presented in stereo Dolby Digital 2.0.

    There is no dialogue but the operatic excerpts (sung in French) by Claudine Coté are reasonably distinct.

    The score is reasonably well synched to the action but no attempt is made to synch the singing of Carlotta or Christine to the real life recording of Claudine Coté.

    In keeping with the nature of the beast, Phantom has had a long history of sound tracks including the ill-fated rock version by Rick Wakeman in 1990. The score for this movies was composed by Canadian Gabriel Thibadoux and recorded by the I Musici De Montreal in 1990 featuring  soprano Claudine Coté. The score is excellent and beautifully and sensitively complements the movie with many eerie single instrument portrayals pf the main characters and a suitably atmospheric score. Interestingly the original Carlotta couldn't sing and so in the 1929 remake, singer Mary Fabian took her place for the scenes of Faust's Marguerite - the first opera singer to appear in movies. The displaced original actress playing Carlotta, Virginia Pearson was relegated to playing her mother.

    You wouldn't expect surround or subwoofer effects, would you? You won't be disappointed at their absence.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    Static, 1.33:1 ratio, black and white offering as per main feature.

Trailer

    2:53 trailer for the 1929 re-release.

Essay

    Excellent and informative essay by film historian R. Dixon Smith with excerpts from the film and narration by Russell Cawthorn.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There are two versions available in R1 - one seems identical to this release apart from the essay, which is by Michael Blake; the other, earlier, release by Alpha Video Distributors is 20 minutes shorter.

Summary

    Impressive release of an early classic - though the purists will no doubt find fault with aspects of the presentation.

    The video was as good as we could expect.

    The soundtrack was excellent and reasonably presented.

    The extras, though limited were of good quality.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Lancaster (read my bio)
Thursday, June 12, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDHarmon & Kardon DVD10, using RGB output
DisplayPioneer SD-T50W1 (127cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RX-V995. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-995
SpeakersB&W 602 front/rear. B&W LRC6 Centre / Solid (AKA B&W) 500 SW

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