The human ego is a curious animal. And greed is a corruptive and seductive force. Both can drive a man or woman to make misguided decisions and monumental blunders. And both, it would seem, are to blame for leading composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to abandon any rational perspective and pen a sequel to his colossal theatrical success, 'The Phantom of the Opera.'
One can understand the temptation, but really... Does the longest running - and arguably most popular and beloved - musical in Broadway history really need a sequel? Why tamper with an iconic show and risk alienating the throngs of admirers who made it the cornerstone of contemporary commercial theatre? Sure, the lure of lucrative box office receipts from fans desperate for another chapter in the story might be irresistible, but does it really outweigh the risk? Why would Webber want to play a game of can-you-top-this with what is largely considered to be his personal masterwork? Aren't the odds of recreating the same success incredibly slim? Why not just leave well enough alone?
Well, Webber didn't, and the result is 'Love Never Dies,' a melodramatic, predictable, and far less spectacular follow-up to the romantic thriller that has captivated legions of New York tourists to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of its multi-decade run. A bona fide flop right out of the gate, 'Love Never Dies' never made it to Broadway, and instead languished overseas, where it died a death as swift as one of Sweeney Todd's victims. The performance on this Blu-ray was filmed during the show's Australian run, and is no doubt a last-ditch effort by Webber and the producers to generate enough interest in the project to possibly inspire a happy and profitable ending on the Great White Way.
Sorry to be a downer, Lord Andrew, but it ain't gonna happen.
Unfortunately, instead of enhancing the original, 'Love Never Dies' - like most sequels - only tarnishes its forebearer, leaving a bitter taste in one's mouth and prompting lingering disappointment and outrage over Webber's callous disregard for the sanctity of his own work. Don't get me wrong; 'Phantom' isn't high art (many, in fact, would term it low-brow entertainment for the masses), but it does enjoy a lofty reputation that needs preserving. With this sequel, however, Webber knocks his show off its pedestal and relegates it to the status of a Disney film or action blockbuster, both of which often spawn needless and idiotic follow-ups that try viewer patience.
Of course, it would be one thing if 'Love Never Dies' had a decent story and/or memorable score, but it has neither. How about this for a premise? The Phantom (Ben Lewis), who vanishes at the end of the previous musical, relocates to New York City's Coney Island, where, among the freaks and clowns who populate this carnival atmosphere, he desperately pines for his former protégé, Christine, for 10 long years. Using a pseudonym, he at last lures Christine to America to perform in a prestigious concert, and her husband Raoul (Simon Gleeson) and - wait for it - 10-year-old son, Gustave (Jack Lyall), accompany her. Predictably, sparks once again fly between the Phantom and Christine, whose marriage shows signs of strain, due to money issues and Raoul's strange detachment from his son. As the two grow closer, secrets are revealed, alliances shift, and danger rears its ugly head.
The denouement is both shocking and ridiculous, and the songs in between, though melodic and pleasant, fail to ignite a passionate response in either the actors or viewers. And while the Coney Island setting supplies some garish flash, it's a cheap substitute for the dazzling Paris Opera House. All the performers possess strong vocal instruments (the young Lyall's is especially good) and attack their roles with gusto, but the trite story and ho-hum songs (with the exception of the Phantom's opening soliloquy) sabotage them at every turn.
I was never a huge 'Phantom' fan to begin with, but the events depicted in 'Love Never Dies' will adversely affect the way I see that classic show forevermore. And that's a shame. Just like 'Psycho II' or any other sequel that monkeys with an immortal story, this bit of drivel taints its lofty predecessor and proves once again that nothing indeed is sacred, and where there's money to be made, scruples go out the window.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Love Never Dies' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the full-motion menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Shot on high-def video, 'Love Never Dies' looks spectacular on Blu-ray disc. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer appears stunningly crisp, with no nicks, marks, or other hindrances disturbing the pristine picture quality. Contrast is superior and fine details are easily discernible. The eye-filling pagaentry of the carnival sequences is well rendered, as vibrant hues burst forth and the texture of the lavish costumes is clear and precise.
There's a lot of black on display, from the phantom's robes to the dark backdrops, but the inky, well-pitched levels lend a surprising lushness to the image, offsetting the somewhat harsh shadings of video. Whites, such as the phantom's mask and Christine's gown, are pure and stable, while fleshtones look natural. Close-ups are razor sharp and accentuate the passion and tension on display.
While the theatrical flavor of the show and the plot's inherent melodrama keep us a bit detached from the characters and story, this excellent transfer immerses us as much as possible in the bizarre world of the Phantom and his ever-conflicted protégé. Even if this misguided sequel falls flat, it's awfully nice to look at.
'Love Never Dies' sounds as good as it looks, with a powerful yet nuanced DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that provides a marvelous showcase for Andrew Lloyd Webber's melodic score. The soaring vocals possess breathtaking force and clarity, with crystalline highs and weighty low tones filling the room without a hint of distortion. The surrounds kick in quite nicely, accentuating the carnival atmosphere of Coney Island and lending the often bombastic orchestrations additional oomph.
Fidelity and tonal depth are superior across the board, and the wide dynamic scale handles every challenge with ease. Effects are crisp and distinct, and though some lyrics can at times be a bit obscured by the accompaniment, most of the words are easy to comprehend. This track is an audiophile's dream, and can be pumped up to extreme volume levels with compromising its quality. It's just a shame the score is so forgettable.
Only a single supplement adorns this disc. That's not too surprising, given the theatrical nature of the production, but an Andrew Lloyd Webber commentary track would have been a welcome addition.
If you're a 'Phantom' fan, try and resist the morbid urge to see 'Love Never Dies.' Andrew Lloyd Webber's forgettable follow-up to his Broadway blockbuster falls flat, and only serves to poison one's memory of the original. But if curiosity gets the better you, just remember, it killed the cat, and it may also kill your respect for Webber, a consummate showman who just couldn't leave well enough alone. Excellent video and audio, however, somewhat salvage this subpar experience, yet the disc's lone extra fails to answer that nagging question on everyone's mind: "Why, Andrew, why?"