Gaston Leroux's 1909 novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra was first adapted in 1911. This adaptation was from its native French language to English, where it gained its more familiar name, The Phantom of the Opera. That was just the start of adaptations for the storied tale of a deformed opera fanatic who terrorizes the French opera house. Three quarters of a century later, the book would be adapted again, but this time from print to theatre. English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber opened his famous musical in 1986; a musical that has become the longest running and financially successful musical and is still running over two decades later. Having earned more than its fair share of box office receipts in London's West End and Broadway, it was only a matter of time before an expensive adaptation of "The Phantom of the Opera" made its way to the big screen. The film launched in 2004 with a budget of sixty million dollars and topped the fifty million dollar mark in domestic receipts.
The 2004 version of the film is noteworthy as it is produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and was originally promoted as "Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera." This marked the first time that the creative team behind the long running stage production became involved with a cinematic version of Gaston Leroux's novel as the 1989 film featuring Robert Englund as the Phantom and the 1998 Dario Argento film did not have the benefit of Webber's involvement. Webber had long wanted Joel Schumacher to helm the film as its director and the film took nearly fourteen years to complete, as the composer had originally intended to feature the stage version's original stars Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman.
For those unfamiliar with the musical's basic story, "The Phantom of the Opera" tells the tale of the Paris Opera House and events that unfold when the opera house comes under the control of new managers and the Opera House's diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver) refuses to perform and is replaced by the young and lovely Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum). Christine has been tutored by a mysterious Phantom (Gerard Butler) who uses terror and intimidation to collect a salary and enact some control over the happenings of the Opera House. The Phantom is a disfigured loner who is a talented mentor, but remains hidden in the shadows. His apparent fatherly love of Christine runs deeper and jealousy builds when Christine's childhood love Raoul (Patrick Wilson) patrons the Opera House and attempts to rekindle his flame with the pretty opera singer. This causes the Phantom to emerge from the shadows and enact a vengeful rage over those involved with the Opera House.
"The Phantom of the Opera" has succeeded for as long as it has on Broadway for a reason. It is a top notch musical that features captivating and memorable songs and a strong plot. "The Phantom of the Opera" features all of the elements of a powerful story. There is strong romance between characters, thrills and suspense lie behind the Phantom's mystique and mysterious maneuvers. There is action and excitement. A rare few laughs are thrown in, though the film doesn't possess too much comedy to its storyline. The film's primary purpose is to surround its viewer with intrigue, sadness, romance and music. The film's title song is very upbeat and will rattle around in your mind for quite some time after hearing its mesh of rock and roll and classical music. The remaining songs are also potent and "Masquerade" was perhaps my favorite song included in the film.
I am not a person that is particularly fond of musicals and I loathe operas. It doesn't matter of I'm culturing myself with the "Barber of Seville" or "Madame Butterfly," I'm not going to become too engrossed in the stage production. I've seen both of the aforementioned operas and struggled to reach the curtain call. "The Phantom of the Opera" is and English Opera and I have to admit that there were rather arduous moments in the musical for me to endure. This isn't because "The Phantom of the Opera" is a bad musical; it is quite the opposite. It was difficult for me to sit completely through became I'm just not particularly fond of this style of film – the operatic musical. I did enjoy the majority of this beautifully shot and well told musical and had my ears been more welcoming of the brilliantly sung songs, I'm sure I would be raving about Joel Schumacher's "The Phantom of the Opera." It is a well done and engrossing film that is just not quite my cup of tea.
Warner Bros. presents "The Phantom of the Opera" to Blu-ray video with a nicely done VC-1/1080p widescreen transfer that is framed at roughly 2.40:1. Part of the splendor of "The Phantom of the Opera" lies in its impressive visuals and both the HD-DVD and Blu-ray boast impressive clarity and coloring. My favorite sequence, "Masquerade" features striking golds and metallic colors that absolutely shimmer on my high definition screen. Another particularly memorable scene involves snowfall and a red rose on the roof of the Paris Opera House. Some of the scenes that occur in the sewers of the Opera House are murky and muddied because of poor lighting and a fog, but this is an intended effect and detail and shadow detail are still surprisingly strong during these moments. When I had first purchased this film for HD-DVD on the launch day, this was my comparison piece between DVD, Upconverted DVD and HD-DVD. Every stop of my comparison showed significant improvement, but going from standard definition DVD to High Definition DVD is striking and impressive. This release is nearly identical to the older HD-DVD release and this very colorful and visually rich transfer shows how good a film can look in the world of High Def.
The primary draw of "The Phantom of the Opera" for its legions of followers and fans is the riveting musical score by Andrew Lloyd Webber. This is where I must sadly report that the Blu-ray release of "The Phantom of the Opera" falls behind the older HD-DVD release, as the impressive Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is completely absent from this release. The Blu-ray release does include a 640kbps English Dolby Digital 5.1 multi-channel surround mix that is quite good, but just can't compare to the next-generation TrueHD format. My two favorite songs "Masquerade" and "Phantom of the Opera" push the .1 LFE subwoofer channel and populate all speakers. The actors singing voices are nicely capture by the soundtrack and sound marvelous (An Interesting side note is that Minnie Driver is the only member of the principle cast that did not sing her own vocals). If you throw the TrueHD soundtrack of the HD-DVD out of the comparison, then "The Phantom of the Opera" stands as one of the better sounding releases from Warner Bros. on any of the next generation formats.
All of the supplemental materials from the HD-DVD release have been carried over to the Blu-ray disc. The supplements will take about two hours to completely sit back and experience and will surely delight fans of the film, as it features information relating to the storied Broadway production and the genesis of the theatrical release. The most notable of the supplements is the lengthy Behind the Mask: The Story of the Phantom of the Opera (1:05:12). The documentary features an lengthy interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber and only touches on the actual film, but spends much of its time looking at the stage incarnation of the tale and the trials and tribulations of Webber's effort to bring his musical to the silver screen. I learned a great deal from this hour long documentary and felt this was easily the best supplement contained on the Blu-ray disc.
A number of smaller vignettes are also included on the disc. The Making of the Phantom of the Opera is broken down into three parts. The first part is Origins and Casting (17:38), which looks at the decisions made in casting the actors and actresses used in the film and includes a quick overview of the efforts made in creating the cinematic production. The second chapter is Design (11:06) and this looks at the wonderful set design, miniatures, costumes and visual splendor of "The Phantom of the Opera." The final chapter is Supporting Cast and Recording the Album (17:17). This chapter showcased the singing of the cast and the songs of the film. An Additional Scene titled No One Would Listen (2:26) features a solo with Gerard Butler. Under the category of "Fun and Games," a Sing-a-long (4:44) shows the cast and crew singing along to the signature title song. This wasn't either a game or much fun, but was oddly unique. Finally, the Theatrical Trailer completes the list of supplements.
I'm not a fan of musicals or operas. I do enjoy musicals that revolve around rock and roll and consider myself a fan of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." However, when it comes to opera, my ears take a defensive stance and try to stop listening. This may speak to the appeal of "The Phantom of the Opera," but I did enjoy most of the film. There were a few segments I struggled to sit through, but for the most part, I thought it was an interesting and mysterious story. Two songs stuck out as being memorable and for my tastes, likeable. This is perhaps the only opera-based musical I will ever willingly sit through and I can see myself watching it again at some point. The Blu-ray release comes nearly nine months after the HD-DVD release and is a visual match for its Warner Bros. sibling, but lacks the potent TrueHD soundtrack that was packaged for the rival format. The supplemental materials are decent enough and spend more time chronicling the Broadway and West End musical than they do the actual production of the film. This is a nice title to own for either of the High Definition formats, and although the title falls just short of the HD-DVD release, it is worth owning on Blu-ray.