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Standard story of the Phantom does have one major variation - The phantom is not a disfigured individual, but rather is an unwashed orphan abandoned in the sewers under the Paris Opera & raised by rats. The Phantom invokes death upon anyone who dares harm his beloved rats. In fact, The Phantom's nemesis is the chief exterminator who develops a rat-catching machine. Written by
John Sacksteder <email@example.com>
Rumour has it that Dario Argento's original cut of the film ran almost an hour longer and that the version which was finally released, has been heavily re-cut and changed by the producers to assure the film's appeal to wider audiences. See more »
Not in the class with 1987's Opera, but better than it gets credit for
This is not a remake; it's a reconceptualization. Thus, it should be expected to be true to the original only where the writers, Gerard Brach and Dario Argento, see fit. Many people are up in arms that the phantom's face isn't disfigured, but that is not the problem. The problem is Dario replaces the disfigurement with a raised by rats story, yet we get a Richard Gere type of suave, supposedly poetic phantom instead of an uneducated Christopher Lambert in Greystoke. What makes this worse is that a totally literate phantom still has almost no chance to utter any decent dialogue.
Virtually the entire movie takes place within the opera house, but this is in no way limiting or constricting to the look of the film because this is Dario Argento we are talking about. Argento creates a bizarre underworld in the depths of the opera house that is original, but at the same time evokes memories of Jeunet & Caro's City Of The Lost Children and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Dario's pays great attention to detail when it comes to the look he wants, but seemingly could care less whether the set is plausible in the real world. This is Dario's world; accept it or watch boring, visually stunted, formulaic directors rehash bad scripts in a conventional manner.
The movie often succeeds in being darkly comedic, and the characters are only meant to be viewed in the sense of what the represent in the real world. This is why the outside world isn't normal the two times we see it. Julie Taymor's ancient Rome is the only one that had cars and video games, but that doesn't stop most people from thinking Titus is a good flick. Both are bold visionary movies that are not trying to be realistic. You can make a valid argument that certain unrealistic aspects don't add anything to the movie and/or simply dislike them, but things like electricity in the opera house were deliberate decisions that intentionally make it implausible in the sense of the real world.
The weakness of the movie, as usual, lies in the script. The most annoying aspect is that Sands has the special powers at the outset, but they mysteriously disappear when he needs them most as if they were provided by the Witchblade. The dialogue is definitely worse than the usual English as a second language stuff we get from Dario. The secondary characters are used well though, societal parodies. Some of the funniest work Dario has even done comes when he mocks the vulgarity of the opera society. The main characters don't provide chuckles or really elicit our love or contempt; it's hard not to be ambivalent toward them. The leading men seem to chase Asia because they become addicted to her at first site. Asia essentially professes to have no concept of love, so her feelings toward them are mostly based on their last action. Instinct vs. duality is a worthwhile concept, but unfortunately the characters only seem drawn to each other because they are supposed to be. It eventually clicks, but not until the final segment of the film.
The strength of Argento's movie, as always, is the look. Some aspects were a little below his own top standard, but this was not the typical Dario movie. The improvements in sets, staging, and costuming help balance off the areas that are obviously going to be weaker given the type of movie. He successfully branched out with the sex related scenes, particularly where the men are haunted by their desire for Asia. Scenes like these gave it the art house feel that made up for it lacking the haunted house feel Dario wasn't going for.
I don't see where the movie would have looked any better with an overbloated American budget. The only thing lacking visually is the innovation we used to get from Dario. There aren't any shots/scenes that really stick out in terms of being shockingly different or original. The tongue being bitten out was the gory highlight, but that would normally be no better than the 4th part you'd mention. The gore is mainly close-ups. Argento & Stivaletti do them better than anyone, but they've overused the grinding/biting/ripping stuff here.
The film doesn't have the edge or create the suspense Dario's used to. That's mostly purposeful because I don't believe Dario intended to make a horror film. Sands is the cartoon avenger who kills off grotesque characters and sinners that we should only feel contempt for, so why should we be worried whether they get decapitated? That's why rats were a great choice of animal to raise Sands. They aren't fluffy little kittens that everyone supposedly likes and can't stand to see harmed; they are vermin. The people who try to steal from the phantom, sin in his presence (note that he saves the little girl, who then returns and tells the tale only to get slapped by an adult), or outright harm `his family' are considered lower than vermin. Of course, no one films animals and insects better than Argento's crew. Sometimes he gets better `performances' out of them than from humans.
Sands & Asia do a very good job considering the extremely limited material. Sands is able to exude the right amount of confidence by being much lower key than usual. Unfortunately, there is not credible material to give him a chance to be scarred inwardly; he just seems too content. Asia is active enough with her body to get over the bad dialogue, but she sometimes looks ridiculous `singing' and the audio dub during these scenes is occasionally atrocious.
The movie certainly has many problems and doesn't hold a candle to Opera. That said, I'd still rather watch this than most films because it offers a unique visual experience that very few directors have the ability and the balls to provide. 6/10
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