Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Hate and Love are One," and I "Love" THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA [Argento-thon]

The Phantom of the Opera (1998)
Director: Dario Argento
Seen via: Netflix Instant
Rating: 3.5 / 10

Oh boy. Any confidence I had after The Stendhal Syndrome that Argento's career was on an upswing was destroyed by this scatterbrained meandering take on Gaston Leroux's oft-revisited tale of doomed love. Whenever a story that's been done this many times is taken on again, something new has to be brought to the table. Argento's unfortunate decision was to change too much - to add too many diversions and flourishes and soak the whole thing in lavish but ultimately empty costumes and set pieces.

Even Asia Argento can't save this one (sorry, honey). Rather than continuing her streak of psychologically damaged heroines, she adopts the role of a young understudy named Christine and constantly tries to keep a straight face while responding to lines like "Your female smell floats through my veins like the melody of the rolling ocean." Oh, I forgot to mention the Phantom himself, Julian Sands (a.k.a. that guy from Warlock) who's responsible for spewing out stinkers like that with unfailing sincerity. The Phantom is the victim of one of Argento's most drastic changes. Here he's not physically disfigured, but a normal-looking guy who's been raised by rats and is somehow telepathic. This essentially removes any mystery to his character as well as making the clandestine nature of his relationship with Christine something of a puzzle. Couldn't he just, you know, leave the rats underground when he's hanging out with her in public?

All in all, a pretty ordinary guy.
There's rarely time to focus on the weird relationship dynamics though, because the story jumps from the Phantom offing operahouse workers who intrude upon his lair, to a ratcatcher who builds a giant riding lawnmower to chop the pests up, to multiple old men creeping on the young dance students, all occasionally interrupted by a dubbed piece of opera. There's also gore. This easily eclipses any previous work of Argento's in sheer bloodiness, and it's a shame that it feels like it's just there to keep you interested in a plot that's perpetually stuck in equilibrium.

That's the main problem I had with this one: there's just insufficient momentum to keep things going. Instead you get a series of bombastic set-pieces and acting that's more suited for The Phantom of the Soap-opera. I could probably spend time putting this into context and look at it in the general trajectory of Argento's career, but I'd rather just let it go and move on.

The Good

This was the largest budget Argento ever had to work with, so at the very least it looks good.

The Bad

The plot wanders. The tone is uneven. It's corny as hell.

...the hell?

The ratcatcher's rat-lawnmower. Seriously?

Also... this:

The Verdict: 

While it might be tempting to check this one out just because it's right at your little Netflix Instant fingertips, you'll be missing very little if you skip it. Some might enjoy the ridiculousness of it all, but it just didn't work in any way for me.


  1. You're right that Phantom of the Opera is a terrible movie, but for me two things make it worth seeing: Ennio Morricone's beautiful, haunting score, and Nadia Rinaldi's purposefully hilarious portrayal of Carlotta.

    1. To be honest, I didn't notice Morricone's score as much as I anticipated. I guess it's a credit to his work that it blended in so well with the classic opera pieces. Probably worth another listen if I can track it down. Also, I'll agree that Rinaldi nailed it as Carlotta. There are certainly lots of interesting pieces in this one - they just couldn't carry it for me.

  2. I tried to watch this movie and I failed like 3 times... :(

    1. I can relate - it took me two tries, but I did it!