PictureThe Phantom of the Opera comes presented in a sumptuous and broad 2.40:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. Unlike the content, there is simply no argument as to whether the image is any good, it is just plain amazing. The detail is fantastic throughout, with clarity on the long shots and focal points as much as on the close-ups. There is next to no grain and only the slightest sign of edge enhancement. The colour scheme is broad - mainly thanks to the vivid and dramatic operatic setting - and the colours themselves are accurately rendered throughout, with luscious reds and deep, solid blacks. It is an undeniably brilliant transfer that could potentially serve as a benchmark by which DVDs could be measured, and - as you would expect from a 2004 production - there is no dirt, dust or other sign of glitches over the entire two-hours-plus running time.
SoundGiven that this production is almost entirely music-based, it is understandably disappointing not to see it receive DTS treatment. I know that there are many reasons why we do not always see DVDs given this extra track but I assumed this particular movie would be a prime choice for DTS. That said, as Dolby 5.1 tracks go, this is one of the best, and it is conceivably so good that it might in fact sound better than some more lacklustre DTS-endowed DVDs. The singing is always at the forefront, pelting out of the frontal array with power and penetration, whilst the musical accompaniment is never out of your head - whether you like it or not - emanating as much from the rears as the fronts. There is some bass and even a few effects to stun you from different directions, although this is definitely more of a consistently overpowering track rather than a direction-based effects experience. But, if you like the music, that simply cannot be a bad thing.
On the first disc all we get is a single, solitary theatrical trailer. It is a shame really because if you're not going to bother putting a DTS track on the disc, the least you would expect is an audio commentary. The trailer is nothing special, with lots of silly titles blasted across the screen and fairly significant shots from the movie itself - although if you're familiar with the story already, that won't necessarily matter.
We get the brunt of special features on the second disc. First up there is an hour-long documentary entitled Behind the Mask. It is a fairly slow but thoughtful affair featuring many of the people who were involved behind the scenes in the production - although there are no contributions from the actors themselves. We get to see the evolution of The Phantom of the Opera, starting out as a book by French novelist Gaston Leroux who originally penned the tale back in the early twentieth century. Since the first silent film interpretation of it in 1925, over ten versions of the story have been made, up to and including Andrew Lloyd Webber's involvement which started back in 1984. The history of the Phantom, and the theatrical and cinematic evolution are dealt with well, featuring many interviews and loads of clips and stills from the other versions and from Webber's other musicals, mainly featuring the talented Sarah Brightman. It is interesting to hear what they intended to do with it in the latest stage version, see some of the concept art for the sets and costume design and even hear from the magic consultant (!) Paul Daniels himself. Unfortunately Webber himself comes across as less than pleasant, starting off badly by completely slating the original book in his own inimitably pompous, condescending and irritating way and spending the rest of his time in interview leaning ironically on an electric keyboard of all things. Still, it is a fairly interesting featurette that tells you most of what you would like to know as background to this production.
Next up there is The Making of The Phantom of the Opera, which is split into three sections with the option to play all - Origins/Casting, Designing, and Supporting Cast/Recording the Album. The first segment runs at little over fifteen minutes in length and details how the stage play was transformed into the movie. Featuring footage from the premiere night, where we get to see most of the cast dressed up and praising the show, it also gives us a behind the scenes look at the set and the play in action. They show the promotional video of the original Phantom cast - Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman - who were supposed to lead the original movie. Webber is back by his glorified electric keyboard, talking about how many big names wanted to be the Phantom (!) but they chose Gerard Butler instead. Joel Schumacher also contributes quite a great deal, explaining his thoughts about doing the film. The featurette starts of quite well, but digresses into a huge amount of film footage and not much substance. One highlight is Emmy Rossum's screen test where she shows real talent. She also spends some time in interview wearing an extremely tight corset and looking unreasonably attractive whilst explaining her awe at the production.
The second section, entitled Designing The Phantom of the Opera is just over ten minutes long and looks at the actual sets themselves. Contradicting Webber's own comment about how this was an extremely low budget affair, the commentator here tells us how it was actually the most expensive independent film made at the time. He talks us through the design aspect of the movie and we get to see lots of behind the scenes footage, set design, models and sets themselves, along with interviews with the relevant crew behind the production. The film clips are slightly more relevant here, punctuating the comments from the crew and highlighting the final version of the sets and shots that we see being formulated. This is another, slightly less fluffy featurette and amidst the footage you can once against spot the lovely Emmy, this time trapped on a boat in the waterway set. Towards the end of the running time we get a brief glimpse at the costumes - something which I would have thought would have warranted a featurette to itself - and a barrage of costume stills shown at ludicrously high speed in a slideshow.
The Supporting Cast and Recording the Album section starts off looking at the cast, discussing how they got them all on board. It features interviews with Miranda Richardson, talking about her character, the lovely Jennifer Ellison, talking about masking her accent, the talented Ciaran Hinds discussing his singing capabilities and the great Simon Callow joking about his own theatrical experiences. The underrated Minnie Driver also pops up to talk about her two-dimensional character. This featurette eventually turns its sights on the music and the songs in the movie - including footage of the cast and the orchestra recording in the studio. The featurettes just seem to get better as this is clearly the best of the three, with the most interview footage and least film footage.
Finally there is a single, solitary additional scene entitled “No one would listen”. Running at two and a half minutes in length we get Gerard Butler's Phantom singing quietly to himself in his underground lair. If you liked the film, I suspect this will be a nice bonus scene and I can't really see why it was cut out.
VerdictThe Phantom of the Opera may not be everybody's cup of tea, but it is a fairly routine mainstream production of a popular long-running stage play, so it is obviously going to attract a significant amount of interest. Personally, I did not like it and found very little tolerable about it, but that is just my personal opinion and in fact the box office receipts themselves could be evidence that mine is a minority view. So if musicals are your thing - in particular Webber musicals - and you are prepared to forgive the flaws in this one in favour of the music itself, then give it a whirl. Any outright fans are unlikely to be disappointed by a disc that has a picture perfect transfer, a solid soundtrack and a decent second disc of extras. On the other hand, if you haven't seen it then I would seriously recommend a rental before you buy.
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