Phantom of the Opera (1998)
Director: Dario Argento
Julian Sands/The Phantom
Andrea Di Stephano/Raoul
Another re-telling of Gaston Leroux’s classic tale. This time The Phantom (Sands) was raised by rats in the caverns under the opera house, he’s not disfigured and he looks a lot like Julian Sands.
"This is a review of the unrated version"
Dario Argento is my favorite director. Asia Argento is my favorite actress (my biggest wet dream too) and Julian Sands has always been a fav of mine. I couldn’t imagine this film being bad. Boy, was I wrong! Everything is off here. First of all, The Phantom is reduced to being a simple psycho with hints of lust and nobility. He’s supposed to be this tragic figure, half man, half rat in soul…too bad we don’t get to really feel any back and forth from the character until the finale. For most of the film he’s just a murderous dick! There’s also no buildup when it comes to his appearance, he just walks up to Christine (Argento) five minutes into the flick and says "wassup", no momentum there. Then there’s the relationship between The Phantom and Christine (Argento). They fall in love at first sight and I didn’t buy it. I really didn’t see what attracted her to him (maybe it was his blonde wig) and the chemistry between the two reeked of phoniness. Their relationship is supposed to be the core of the film but since it’s developed in an overly-dramatic, stagy way…I didn’t care about it. I won’t even get into the telepathic bond they share…whatever.
The new background for The Phantom is also problematic. Yes, rats raised him but who taught him how to dress or how to speak English? The film even hints that The Phantom has sex with his rodent friends. Argento, what were you smoking?
The silliness doesn’t stop there. Wait till you see the rat catcher and his midget (David Lynch would be proud) sidekick hop on their new rat killing go-cart, driving down the halls of the cavern. What the f**k? Was that supposed to be funny? I didn’t laugh.
Add to that awful acting by every side character (the chocolate giving pedophile, the doctor and Christine’s personal maid were all begging for a beating), characters thinking out loud (where they say what they feel…I hate that) and corny dialogue (my fav is: "I love your woman smell"…lol!) and you get a film that shouldn’t have been made. Even Argento’s signature style is absent, the film looks so flat.
So is there anything good to see here? Well, the last 10 minutes succeeds in delivering the emotion and character development that should’ve been there the whole time. The finale is actually heartbreaking. That’s quite a feat considering I didn’t give a rat's arse about anyone for an hour and twenty minutes. I also liked the first half of the Phantom’s pondering moment on the rooftop. The rooftop set looked very fairytale like and was quite beautiful. Too bad Argento ruins the moment by having the Phantom see dumb arse images in the sky (I won't give them away). I also liked the chandelier massacre (that’s all I’ll say)…very gory. Apart from that…jack all ! I have loved every Argento flick up to this one. Has the master lost his touch? Listen to this opera song...
This is the film’s strongest point. A man cut in half, a nice beheading, the Phantom munching on this guy’s neck, someone getting their tongue ripped out…lots of excessive splat here.
Julian Sands (The Phantom) does fine but more emphasis on the tortured side of the character would have made me feel more for the part. Here Sands plays him as a violent, selfish jerk. Asia Argento (Christine) does what she can with the material. She doesn’t always overcome the bad script. Her character is thin but her lips are still pouty. She should also get more sleep cause the bags under her eyes were huge! Andrea Di Stephano (Raoul) is the more complete character here and even though he looks like pop star "Prince" he still gives out a good show.
T & A
Asia shows us her breasts, Julian Sands goes shirtless and shows off his butt, but the big TNA scene is in a bathhouse. There we get to see fat chicks nude, limp dicks, hot naked broads and more fat chicks. Yippee? I’m not sure. Oh, I almost forgot we also get a tit shot from one of the servants…that enough for ya?
Where’s the Argento I know and love? We get a few nice shots: A little girl seeing a murder through her fingers over her eyes (POV of the girl), the inside of a woman’s mouth and one creepy image of the Phantom standing behind a transparent rock. Gone are the suspense and the super stylish murders though. Don’t get me wrong, we still get some good kills but Argento just points and shoots his camera at them. The film almost feels like a TV movie in terms of look and energy. I never thought I’d say this about Argento but the man just laid his first turd. I am now in mourning.
A sumptuous score by Ennio Morricone and some opera music (not my bag…where’s my Eminem?).
The script is off, the acting is clumsy and the most important factor of the film "the love between Christine and The Phantom" is the least explored ingredient. If at least we had Argento’s trademark high style to fall back on maybe this one would be worth the trip…we don’t even get that. If you’re a die-hard Argento fan (like me) see it so you can witness the master stumble. If you don’t know the man too well, check out "Opera" instead. There he explores similar themes more successfully. If you want to see a good gory telling of Leroux’s tale, rent Dwight H. Little’s version with Robert Englund. It works better than this one. If you’re not down with that…well…there’s always the Lon Chaney classic. Can’t go wrong with that puppy.
The film was shot in Budapest. You can only see the uncut version on DVD. The one tape is rated R.