- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
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- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
- French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
- English SDH
- Audio Commentary
- Still Gallery
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Phantom of the Opera (1943) (Blu-ray)
Universal Studios / 1943 / 92 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: October 02, 2012
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Reviewed by M. Enois Duarte
Sunday, September 30, 2012
This review is part of our extensive coverage of 'Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection.'
One aspect Universal Studios is best remembered and remains highly regarded for is their collection of monster features. Their immense impact and influence in the horror film genre is virtually irrefutable. More than any other movie production company, the studio has left an indelible mark in the cinema of horror, pretty much becoming synonymous with the genre and creating some of the most iconic figures in all the history of film. Who can deny the faces of Dracula, Frankenstein's monster or his Bride are not permanently etched into our collective memories when thinking of a scary movie or every year Halloween season rolls around. Even if you've never watched a single one of these films, you're already familiar with the names of the characters, their haunting images or the actors who portrayed them.
Universal's legacy dates are far back as the silent era when Carl Laemmle first founded the company, initially producing a variety of melodramas, westerns and serials. Thanks to the amazing work done by character actor Lon Chaney, the studio starting making a name for itself with horror hits 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925). Three years later, Carl passed the business down to his son Carl Laemmle Jr. on his 21st birthday, who quickly went to work on converting future production to include sound. He proved himself to nervous shareholders when the massively expensive war epic 'All Quiet on the Western Front' went on to become an Academy Award winner. It's during these years that company produced many prominent motion pictures which continue to be admired and are affectionately known as Universal Horror.
Far as I'm concerned, Claude Rains should be held in similar consideration and esteem as Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff when discussing early Universal Monsters. Granted, the accomplished actor has done arguably better-regarded, more noteworthy performances, such as in 'Casablanca,' 'Notorious' and 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.' But his film career took off because his distinct voice provided an ethereal presence to the Invisible Man and his fatherly love reminded the Wolf Man of his humanity.
Moreover, his portrayal of a deformed violinist turned obsessive murderer humanizes the monster and draws our sympathy, twisting the horror feature into a tragic tale of unrequited love. Although not as widely evoked as Lon Chaney's Phantom, Rains performance is memorable nonetheless, and he should be remembered for his participation in building Universal's horror legacy.
Taking four writers to complete the script, this loose adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel differs greatly from the studio's earlier horror features, particularly in the fact that it's the only one filmed in Technicolor. Director Arthur Lubin worked closely with cinematographers Hal Mohr and W. Howard Greene to bring the tale of music, love and madness to the big screen, turning into a radiantly vibrant spectacle of passionate thrills which dazzles the eyes and shocks the imagination. With an original musical score that borrowed from operatic classics by Edward Ward, Lubin recreates the beauty and energy of a live performance for the silver screen.
Unfortunately, a major drawback in the plot (or at least, a drawback from my point of view) comes from Edgar Barrier and Nelson Eddy as rivaling love interests to Susanna Foster, meant as comedic relief. It's neither very funny or of much interest, but the elaborately designed chandelier accident is a fabulous sequence of suspense, as is the rest of the visuals along with Rains' performance, making it a gorgeously ornate piece of entertainment.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings the 'Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection' to Blu-ray in an attractive and elegantly sturdy eight-disc box set. The package is a familiar one which opens much like a book with each shiny page showing poster artwork, a brief entry on the film and disc contents. Those same pages also serve as sleeves for each disc which slide out by placing some slight pressure to the top and bottom, widening the mouth only a little. The inside is smooth and glossy to prevent the discs from scratching.
All eight films are contained on separate Region Free, BD50 discs and found inside one of the pages, respective of the order in which they were theatrically released. The package comes with a 46-page book that features a lengthy essay by Universal Horrors author Tom Weaver, entitled "A Legacy in Horror." The rest is a collection of photos and artwork with interesting blurbs and trivia on each film, the filmmakers, the actors, and on the special effects and make-up work. The side-sliding slipcover is made of a hard cardboard material with beautiful artwork and lightly embossed. At startup, each disc goes straight to a main menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
'Phantom' makes a grand spectacle with this marvelous AVC encode, revealing every nook and cranny in the Technicolor photography of Hal Mohr and W. Howard Greene. From healthy facial complexions and the stitching on the costumes to the ornate details of the opera house and Claudin's sewer lair, the picture is distinct and beautifully defined. Being the only color film of the set, the palette is lavishly animated with sumptuous primaries and radiant secondary hues. With comfortably bright contrast and magnificent, deep blacks throughout, the high-def transfer comes with a lovely cinematic appeal. Every now and then, I could detect a smidge of sharpening and a bit of ringing in some scenes, resulting from the boost in contrast. But aside from that negligible issue, the high-def transfer is gorgeous.
Along with the video, 'Phantom' puts on a stupendous performance with this terrific DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack. Dynamic range is appreciably more spacious and far-reaching with broad acoustical details and superb definition in the orchestration. The soundstage feels considerably wide and warm with a hearty, full-bodied low-end which adds a great deal of depth to Edward Ward's score. Dialogue remains clear and intelligible amid the loud sounds and action, providing the lossless mix with a consistently stable sense of presence. One thing worth noting, however, is some slight audible noise and distortion in the highest frequencies during a couple musical numbers. Considering the film's several other positives, the issue is negligible and shouldn't distract from its enjoyment.
- Audio Commentary — As in other commentary tracks, a film historian is invited to provide some historical details on the movie's production and legacy. This time around Scott MacQueen provides a straightforward and rather dry discussion on pretty much everything there is to know about this remake. It's incredibly informative and educational, giving fans a great deal to take in, but the audio track can a tad on the boring side.
- The Opera Ghost: A Phantom Unmasked (SD, 51 min) — A much more entertaining piece is this great documentary by David J. Skal where Scott MacQueen also plays host. Unique about this piece is its chronicling the history of the story adapted several times for the screen, linking Universal's involvement in some form or another. A good chunk is dedicated to this particular remake, of course, but fans will take great pleasure in the discussion of the 1925 version with screen legend Lon Chaney.
- Production Photographs (SD) — A collection of poster artwork, marketing stills and other photos from the set.
- Trailer (SD) — The original theatrical preview is also included.
This Blu-ray edition of 'Phantom of the Opera (1943)' arrives with one high-def exclusives.
- 100 Years of Universal: The Lot (HD, 9 min) — A short featurette discussing the studio's plans to restore several classic film in commemoration of the company's 100th anniversary.
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Universal Studios' impact and influence in the cinema of horror is virtually irrefutable, responsible for popularizing the genre and for creating some of the most iconic figures in film history. Their indelible mark is fairly obvious and most felt every year around the Halloween season, and the faces of these monsters are permanently etched into our collective cultural memories when thinking of horror. They are a part of our lives, yet many have probably never even seen these classics all the way through. Now, they can be enjoyed on Blu-ray for the first time in this elegant eight-disc box set, featuring the main creatures often associated with Universal Horror. Each comes with excellent audio and video presentations, bringing these icons of the genre as close as possible to their former glory. And they have never looked as beautiful as they do here. Many of the supplements from previous special edition DVDs are preserved here as well, making this an exhaustive must-own for horror fans and cinephiles everywhere.
You can read more about the complete set and order it here!
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