Directed by Rupert Julian
Distributed by Image Entertainment
It’s hard to imagine a more iconic moment in the world of horror cinema than when Mary Philbin pulls off Lon Chaney’s mask, exposing his horrific visage as he played the organ in The Phantom of the Opera. The look of sheer anger that spread over Chaney’s horribly disfigured face is one of those moments that will always have the ability to haunt (and delight) audiences regardless of the film’s age (a whopping 86 years since the first release).
Horror fans (and general cinephiles, too) can finally rejoice because on November 1st, 2011, a newly remastered high-definition transfer of The Phantom of the Opera is finally being released courtesy of Image Entertainment, and for those of us who have had to make do with crappy and grainy versions of the flick throughout our lifetimes, high-definition is the way to go here.
In Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera, Chaney’s Erik is a deformed opera lover living amongst the underground catacombs beneath the Paris Opera House who falls in love with a young singer named Christine Daae (Philbin). At first Erik takes Christine under his tutelage and begins to transform her from shy vocalist to prima donna, all the while committing a series of violent acts in order to win her the lead part from the resident diva, Madame Carlotta (Pearson). However, it’s not that easy for Christine, who is torn between her blossoming career and her suitor, Raoul (Kerry). When Erik finally reveals his true feelings for Christine, she spurns him for Raoul, enraging “The Phantom”, and suddenly the body count really starts to pile up around the Paris Opera House.
The real draw for this film ever since its original release in 1925 has always been “The Man of a Thousand Faces”, who was able to bring tragic and grotesque characters to life with his haunting performances. Chaney was known for creating some of the best tortured characters in cinema, and his portrayal of Erik is amongst his best, embodying the Phantom with equal amounts of loneliness, torment and rage.
It’s because of Chaney’s performance that we sympathize with the Phantom (as does Christine initially, too), but soon that sympathy turns to terror as Erik becomes increasingly possessive and homicidal over the young singer, showing his true “face” to those within the Paris Opera House. What separates the Phantom from Chaney’s other classic monsters is that despite his disfigurement, Erik’s quite human, and his monstrousness reflects the violence humanity as a whole keeps buried deep within us. We’ve all seen the Phantom’s terrifying face, but as a victim of fate, it’s the humanity lurking within the Phantom that manages to resonate even to this day, evoking a haunting feeling of pathos for his tragic character.
Despite the passing of 86 years, The Phantom of the Opera manages to still deliver a good number of chills, and with this latest release Phantom proves that good storytelling will always remain timeless. The chandelier drop sequence is still a rather shocking moment, giving the film a violent jolt, and the “Bal Masqué” sequence when Erik comes dressed as “Red Death” (a reference to the Edgar Allan Poe tale by the same name) is still downright creepy and incredibly disconcerting.
For Image Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of The Phantom of the Opera, we get three different versions of the film varying in length and quality, and after some research it looks like the best version offered here is the 24 frames per second 1929 reissue version that clocks in at a 78-minute running time. It’s got the best film quality of the pack, and it really moves the story along well. And while many purists out there will argue that the 1925 version is THE true version of the film (justifiably so), the 1925 version suffers from some image quality issues, making it look blurry at times in comparison to its 1929 counterparts.
That being said, Image should definitely get some major props for including the 1925 version (which includes the epilogue not found in either 1929 version) on the Blu-ray even if it’s not in the greatest of shape because it does offer longtime fans a completely new viewing experience, which will no doubt be pleasing to those who have been waiting for a decent release of The Phantom of the Opera for some time now.
In terms of sound quality, admittedly the last time I saw The Phantom of the Opera was on a 13-inch black and white TV I had in my room as a kid so I don’t know if I’m exactly qualified to make any judgments, but overall everything sounds rich and wonderful. There’s an all new musical score from the Alloy Orchestra that accompanies Gaylord Carter’s theatre score on the 1929 24 fps version, while the other 1929 version is accompanied by an orchestral score from Gabriel Thibaudeau. The original 1925 film features a piano score by Frederick Hodges that’s a bit more minimal sounding, but frankly, there’s not a bad apple in the bunch. Fans should definitely be pleased.
Unfortunately, special features are sparse on this Blu-ray presentation of The Phantom of the Opera, but for a film that was made over 86 years ago now, that’s to be expected. We do get a full length audio essay by Dr. Jon Mirsalis that accompanies the 20 fps reissue, but that’s about it in the commentary department. We also get an interview with composer Thibaudeau from a 2004 PBS special that is a bit dry as well, but the real money shot in terms of special features here is the reproductions of the original theatrical program and the script of the film. Amazing stuff.
If you’re a The Phantom of the Opera fan, then no doubt you’ll want to pick the Blu-ray up, and for those genre lovers out there who may not have ever experienced this adaptation of the classic Gaston Leroux novel, it is the perfect introduction. Image’s Blu-ray presentation is the best we’ve ever seen the film, and with three different options to choose from, it’s a disc you’ll no doubt enjoy revisiting again and again throughout the years to come.
5 out of 5
3 out of 5