MGM // 1989 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 15th, 2005
The final curtain is about to drop.
This updated version of the classic story follows modern day beauty Christine Day (Jill Schoelen), a trained opera singer, into the 1800s (transported through fainting, or something like that) as she falls under the spell of the monster known as The Phantom of the Opera (played by horror legend Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund). Christine begins to work with The Phantom on a new musical work, Don Juan Triumphant, but doesn't realize that her new "boyfriend" is really a homicidal maniac who has been creeping around the theater and killing various innocents. When Christine is finally flung back into modern times, she finds that somehow, someway, The Phantom has zoomed through time and space to track her down and make sure that they are together...forever.
Well, it's a good thing actor Robert Englund has that whole Freddy Krueger thing to fall back on. Otherwise, crap like The Phantom of the Opera would have been his cinematic legacy, and that would have certainly been a real downer for the guy. 1989's The Phantom of the Opera, a retelling of Gaston Leroux's famous chiller, is about as artistic and exciting as an episode of Full House. Come to think of it, had this movie featured Bob Saget and the guy who played Uncle Joey, the filmmakers may have really had something special. As it stands they have a stinker on their hands the size of London.
The Phantom of the Opera wants to be two things: a period piece and a slasher movie. Rarely do these two genres go together, much less go together well. Director Dwight H. Little (who also made the equally forgettable Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and last year's Anacondas: Hunt For the Blood Orchid) isn't able to add any suspense to the proceedings; the scenes seem to meander on without going anywhere interesting. Sadly, fans of costume drama will be put off by the extensive gore and make-up effects (ably provided by effects man Kevin Yagher), while horror buffs will be bored by clunky dialogue (victim: "You're a thing from hell!" Erik Destler: "And you, sir, are hell bound!"), flaccidly staged opera sequences, and poor pacing.
Robert Englund plays The Phantom as a toned-down version of Freddy Krueger. While the performance is not particularly bad, it's not very original, either. Englund traverses the movie with a cackle and flapping cape, two steps away from becoming a parody of Leroux's original character. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag -- lanky Bill Nighy (Underworld, Shaun of the Dead) is effective, if underused, as a local socialite, and Jill Schoelen (Popcorn) allows her girlish giggle to escape once too often (she isn't much of a presence, overshadowed by Englund's Easter ham acting skills). While the set decorations and costumes are all above average, the acting is only mediocre -- that trade off doesn't make for a compelling film experience.
And so we're left with Kevin Yagher's make-up effects, which are passable. The Phantom himself is covered in pieces of dead skin sewn on with needles and thread. When the Phantom's face is off, he looks eerily like another movie monster whose skin is burned to a crisp. I wonder who that could be? This fact solidifies Englund's entrapment in his Nightmare on Elm Street character until the day he finally puts down his acting gloves. The Phantom of the Opera is an unimpressive late '80s entry into a genre that, by '89, had grown tiresome and unoriginal. Unfortunately, time has not been kind to The Phantom -- this is one movie where the fat lady needs to start singing.
FYI: Keep your eye out for a very young Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon in a supporting role as Christine's bookshop buddy.
The Phantom of the Opera is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The good news is that this is most likely the best The Phantom of the Opera will ever look. The bad news is that it isn't great. While the colors and black levels are all solidly rendered without any major defects, the bulk of this transfer feels somewhat dull and boring. However, that may also be the fault of the filmmakers -- this isn't the most exciting looking movie ever made.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround in English. Much like the video transfer this audio mix doesn't offer anything in the way of true fidelity or excitement. The sound mix doesn't include any true surround sounds -- for all intents and purposes, this is a mostly front heavy mix. Most aspects of the mix are free of any major hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical Trailer