Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Phantom of the Opera (1998)

Over to one of the most hated Argento-productions EVER: Phantom of the Opera, the 1998-movie with Asia Argento as Christine and Julian Sands as the notorious Phantom. I can agree that there's a lot of stuff that don't work (and to be fair, Argento did the same story excellent in Opera) but few critics brings up the parts that actually work fantastic. I know it's difficult to understand the very weak and unconvincing attraction between both Christine and the Phantom and Christine and her fiancé Jerome De Chagny (Leonardo Treviglio). There's no spark at all. I think Asia is quite good here and she makes the best of the character, but the love scenes between her and the Phantom is just silly (he clearly is more interested in having sex with a rat later on anyway!) and the kisses between her and Treviglio is like to rocks touching each other.

I probably don't have to mention the Fellini-esque nude-scenes with fat naked ladies, the infamous turkish bath, the little girls dancing in front of mirrors and the extremely cheesy sequence when the Phantom is on top of the roof watching very, very, very unconvincing visions of both Asia and a bunch of ugly people trapped in mousetrap. The acting from most of the other actors are quite crappy, but I'm sure a lot of that is because of them being Hungarian actors dubbed to English, and directed by a mad Italian. We get to see a lot of very colorful over-acting, which fits better on a local variety show than in a version of Phantom of the Opera. The screenplay is a bit to episodic and has a lot of comedy-scenes involving (among others) some rat catchers that clearly don't work at all.

Now, what's good with this movie is - and I know I've been saying the opposite for many years - Ronnie Taylors cinematography. When I first watched the movie on tape many years ago I felt his work to be static, boring, cold and very flat. Now when watch the movie we new eyes, it's not at all that way. I guess this first feeling was because of the tape-transfer, which actually can take away a lot of the quality. On DVD, especially the Scandinavian disc, the movie looks vibrant, warm and brings forth the color of blood perfectly! It also has a lot of Argento's visual flair, and the direction is more alive and well than for example in the superior Trauma. Even if the script lacked quality, Argento clearly wanted this movie to be something special.

What people also tend to forget is that this is a damn gory movie. I always forget how much blood and body parts Argento treats us. There's stabbings, impalings, decapitations, crushed head and a lot more. It's the most violent of the Phantom-movies and the pratical effects is well done and convincing. The scene when a big lamps falls down on the audience is badly edited, but delivers a lot of creative deaths - so watch out when that scene comes! I like the atmosphere of the movie, Asia Argento, the gore and the amazing locations and visual style - but it lacks in story and characterization - which is a pity, because Argento had something going here.

If his Dracula 3D movie will be reality, I guess we're gonna see more lavish sets, castles and good ol' Italian melodrama!


CiNEZiLLA said...

Strangely you have woken a curiosity to revisit this film again... but that will have to wait as I'm trying to work my way back through them cronologically. But at least I'm now looking forward to this one again. And good job at lifting forth the stuff that's good about it and not going blaster on the movie.


Joel Harley said...

Cool review. I too quite fancy giving this one a shot now.

Alex B. said...

I still only have this in a fullscreen VHS. Haven't watched it for five years or so.
That CGI mousetrap sequence - I enjoyed it in a trashy way.
Also the guy getting impaled on a stalagmite. And all the pointless nudity. And Julian Sands' awful hair.
Very-very tasteless, but not boring.

Thomas said...

Hi there! I am not too fond of this picture but I have to say that I appreciate the fact that you´re not afraid to speak your mind and actually admit that you like it. This is one of those movies that you HAVE TO dislike if you´re an Argento-fan.
Unfortunately, I gave it a second chance a year or so ago and realized that I am one of those predictable bastards. Anyway, I enjoyed your take on it.

Olov said...

I probably would have enjoyed this movie if Argento hadn't made the same mistake as everyone else who has tried to put this fantastic story on film (or turned it into an awful musical) has made: Completely ignored, or misunderstood the Phantom. When a movie comes out where that character actually resembles the one in the excellent book by Gaston Leroux, both in appearance and personality (and background!), then we might get something watchable.