Goth. Rock. Musical. Words that may induce cringes when uttered separately, and possibly induce convulsions and/or comas for the uninitiated when spoken in conjunction. The musical genre has been littered with “break out into song and dance number” flicks since the earliest talkies, with characters all knowing the impending steps and tunes like they were formulaic nursery rhyme-style chants uttered to them since birth. Despite the amazingly high “cheese factor” that musicals are coated in, I’ve always found them to be one of my greatest guilty pleasures, so when I heard about ‘Repo! The Genetic Opera’, needless to say I urgently wanted to get my hands on it.
The story is pretty complex, like something out of daytime soaps with a dash of vulgarity and violence, but very easy to follow. A futuristic world has been ravaged by disease, killing millions. Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), the founder of GeneCo, is responsible for the cure, amounting to unbelievable power and fame. GeneCo is now in the business of selling body parts and Zydrate, a pain killer derived from the bodies of those passed. Surgery is treated like it were a haircut, without second thought, to fit the needs of one’s whims. While GeneCo finances these organs and surgeries, if someone misses a payment, a Repo-Man comes to take back those defaulted body parts, regardless of the consequences removal of said organs would have on their former owners. Nathan Wallace (Anthony Head) is one such Repo-Man. His tortured soul is in debt to Rotti, as Nathan feels responsible for the death of the woman both men loved, Marni. The former doctor now uses his skills to slash and stab his way through bodies to get to their organs as his form of parole, so that he can raise his and Marni’s ill daughter, Shilo (Alexa Vega), who he keeps under lock and key under the guise of protection.
GeneCo’s annual publicity fest, the Genetic Opera, is this evening, with their corporate voice, Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman), who was Marni’s closest friend, set to give her final performance at the show. Rotti, who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, wants to “go out with a bang,” and sets into motion a plot full of double crosses, to ensnare and punish the man who stole his love, while his three children, Pavi (Ogre), Luigi (Bill Moseley), and Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton), try to swoop in and snatch control of GeneCo from the hands of their father. The stage is set for a Genetic Opera that will not soon be forgotten.
What makes ‘Repo!’ shine is the portrayals of the wide mix of characters, and the performances given by the cast that further stress the massive disparity between them. Each character, no matter how major or minor an impact they have on the film, is fleshed out, with their intentions known easily through their body language and lyrically uttered words. Nathan, the Repo-Man, is the very definition of duality, a doting, yet diabolical father, manipulated through guilt to be a murderous puppet to the invariably scheming Rotti, whose every action has a hidden agenda, who commits no kind act that doesn’t have a selfish payoff later. The Largo children are diverse, yet believable products of their environment, the spoiled rich children of a father who loves money more than his own spawn, who act out accordingly, taking on extreme idiosyncrasies that only those in their position could afford, while being the rare people who can avoid fear of the Repo-Man. The narrator to the story, Graverobber (Terrance Zdunich), has his own ties to a few characters, and acts as a morally corrupt guide to Shilo in her newfound life sneaking out of her home.
‘Repo!’ has an interesting view on civilization, and humanity, to be sure. The focus on cosmetic surgery in the modern world, to fit in, to be more “beautiful,” has it’s price in the long run, and while that isn’t represented accurately here, the parody, in which the downside is repossession, has some merit and political/social innuendo. The lack of concern for human life presented is also interesting, a take that is shown throughout the film, with Mag’s indentured servitude being mocked, Repo’s lack of concern for his victims (as he gleefully growls, “no anesthetic!”), and the entire Largo clan exuding their disdain for everyone and everything save for the almighty dollar, slicing or shooting anyone who crosses their path.
Let’s not forget the singing, the defining characteristic of any musical. The majority of the lines in the film are given in song, some through full blown ballads, others just in token measure. Nathan’s duality is notable through his singing, as the character has two distinct singing voices, the soft/remorseful father, and the raging/maniacal night surgeon. Sorvino’s voice is absolutely amazing, and his performance in “Gold,” where he spills his plans and intentions, is absolutely amazing. The star of the show in terms of vocal performances has to be the goth-dolled-up Brightman as Mag, the most accomplished singer in the cast, in her film debut. She is the only character given a real “operatic” song, fittingly during the Genetic Opera, and to say she nails it, and her performance in “Chase the Morning,” is an understatement. Ogre’s Pavi has a distinct peculiarity to his character, so his strange vocal performance is fitting. The only disappointments for their vocal performances are Moseley and Hilton, but their roles are so minor in the grand scheme of the movie that these small issues aren’t crippling in a Pierce Brosnan in Mama Mia! sense of the word. Both Moseley and Hilton put out good acting performances, regardless of their singing talents, or lack thereof.
Darren Lynn Bousman (of Saw fame) directs this killer musical, adapted from the play written by Zdunich and Darren Smith. The film is a mixture of your standard revenge flick, with a hint of slasher fare, as well as moments of dark comedy, told through a musical theme, so it's an interesting genre defined film, to be sure. The attire and makeup work are very gothic, trashy, and eclectic, including some awesome work on Brightman’s eyes (let it never be said that a gothed out Sarah Brightman is not absolutely gorgeous), and on the skin surrounding Pavi’s “faces.” Amber’s outfits are reminiscent of Queen Amidala in Star Wars; Episode 1, each stunningly different, bizarre works of art worn as garments. Bousman, best known for claustrophobic torture porn, creates an interesting dystopia, and while the disease that wiped out much of humanity is never named or even alluded to beyond the fact that it exists, one has to wonder, since Hilton survived, and is the epitome of slag, did the disease, in fact, come from the world’s most famous celebutard? Like the number of licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.
‘Repo! The Genetic Opera’ debuts on Blu-ray in 1080p through a VC-1 encode, with a 1.85 ratio. This is one of the most curious looking titles I’ve seen on Blu-ray. The opening to the film is presented in the style of an animatic comic that is full of jaggies from aliasing, and numerous shades of blue and red, two predominant colors in the film.
Once the live action feature takes over, the extreme picture stylization is impossible to ignore, as it permeates nearly every scene through the end of the film with an amazingly overblown contrast level. Whites, such as character’s flesh, glow like they were plugged into a wall socket, and as a result they also diminish any finer facial details, or make some shots very peculiar, such as Rotti’s hairline which is indiscernible, or the inscription on Marni’s tomb that is impossible to read, but obviously present. Black levels vary due to this effect, with some shots having a rich and crisp depth, while more often than not they're lethargic and underwhelming. Colors don’t bleed, despite being extremely hot, but characters do wear the lighting of their surroundings, as moody blues and amber hues seem to attach themselves to the actors. Some effects in the film are intended to bleed, such as the glow of Zydrate (it’s like a nightlight), or the blinding LED’s in the headpiece of the Repo-Man suit.
Some shots looked soft, and were distracting, considering how they looked when combined with the other visual elements. The film has a light grain level that is never distracting and gives a natural feel to the film. This may sound like a harsh condemnation of the picture quality, but it really does work for the film when it isn’t obscuring detail at times. On this, my sixth viewing of the film, I still caught some glimpses of hidden brilliance, such as the flickering of Nathan’s eyeglass frames as the lighting on a scene pass by in a red and black pattern.
Debate the video qualities all you’d like, there is no arguing the strengths of the DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 track. The first signs of life come at the closing of the comic opener, with a beating heart thumping with a strong bass thud. Every speaker in your set-up will be utilized nearly non-stop!
There are some strong motion effects, with helicopters passing overhead (from left to right) in the graveyard scene, the camera swooshing through the cityscape in some shots establishing the state of the society transferring from speaker to speaker, and the elevator on the outside of the GeneCo tower rumbling across your room. Chorus lines in songs weep from different speakers than their rock accompaniment and the main vocal lines. The background tracks to the songs are constantly engaging the entire soundscape in every track.
The bass does die off a bit in the middle of the film, playing second fiddle to the rest of the sound range, but it comes roaring back with bravado at the crescendo of the film. Sung word, natural effects, and the music blend clearly, with every element discernible. I'm not lying when I say that the ‘Repo!’ soundtrack has been in my vehicle for a month straight now, and with every viewing of this disc, I can say the clarity in the music is amazing compared to the CD, as each individual instrument is given emphasis, sometimes through its own speaker, as each note is cleanly accentuated. This isn’t demo material, but it sure is fantastic nonetheless.
‘Repo! The Genetic Opera’ very much falls into the “love it or hate it” category, as it's sure to please some and warrant countless repeat viewings, while others will be flabbergasted by it’s excess. In this reviewer’s eyes, though, ‘Repo!’ can be summed up by one of the film’s chorus lines: “Bravi! Bravi! Bravisime! The Genetic Opera is good!”