Review Date: October 5, 2011
Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: October 4, 2011
Full Frame 1.37| 16x9: No
Gaston Leroux’s gothic romance novel The Phantom of the Opera
has provided a template for nearly a century of filmmakers. Few other literary figures can lay claim to such influence. The Phantom ranks up there with other cinematic giants inspired by literature, like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. What’s the enduring attraction? I think there’s something innately and immediately appealing about a tragic figure that’s been wronged by colleagues of his craft and spurned by the woman he loves. It lends itself to really any number of stories. The basic elements of the story have been transplanted to other milieu, sometimes with success (De Palma’s The Phantom of the Paradise
), sometimes with less than stellar results (Eric’s Revenge
, a.k.a. The Phantom of the Mall
) and sometimes with a downright painful outcome (Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical travesty, stage or film flavored).
Given the story’s inherently meta nature it seems only natural that a film version would be set among the back lots and sound stages of Hollywood. Such is The Phantom of Hollywood
, a made-for-TV movie made during the final days of the old studio system (irony much?). Interestingly, the film industry is now in a state of transition, with traditional movie exhibition making way for digital distribution, so the stage is set for this iteration of the Phantom story to be poignant and prescient. The question however, is: is it worth watching at all?
The studio system is dead. As post-Vietnam and Watergate cynicism sweeps the nation, audiences have abandoned the theatres. The studio’s greatest assets, large parcels of prime California land that make up their back lots, are about to be sold off, piecemeal, to land developers. The hope is that the quick cash infusion will keep the floundering studios solvent. It is on one of these abandoned and run down back lot sets that the story proper begins.
On the back lot of the once-great, now failing, Worldwide Pictures a couple of young vandals are wrecking havoc on the old facades: throwing rocks, breaking windows, knocking over statues and just generally being jackasses. The pair is blissfully unaware of the masked figure watching them from the shadows. The next day the two punks are found dead, seemingly having fallen from the top of one of the sets. Studio head Roger Cross (Peter Lawford
) wants to keep the incident quiet since he has a pending deal with land developers he doesn’t want soured by bad publicity. A cryptic note is left on Cross’s desk, even though nobody saw anybody coming or going from his office while he wasn’t there, warning him not to sell off the land. Predictably, he ignores the note. Soon after, a fate similar to that of the vandals befalls a couple of land surveyors who are evaluating the property on behalf of the developers.
The natural suspect for the identity of the Phantom is Otto the archivist (Jack Cassidy
). When questioned, Otto seems to know more than he lets on. He may not be the Phantom, but he undoubtedly knows who is. Otto is never given a chance to tell anyone. During a costumed press gala the Phantom approaches Otto. Otto admonished the Phantom, who we learn is actually his brother, Karl, to stop haunting the backlots and killing people. The time of the studios has passed, and Karl must learn to let go of former glories. Karl seems to agree, and leaves. No sooner does Otto breathe a sigh of relief, then a chandelier crashes on him from above, dropped by The Phantom. Security guards take chase as the Phantom tries to slip away.
During his escape The Phantom kidnaps Randy Cross (Skye Aubrey
), the studio head’s daughter, and takes her to his underground lair. He tries to win her sympathy with his tale: he was a young actor disfigured during the filming of a stunt scene of a picture that was supposed to be his big break. Meanwhile, the studio head mobilizes a rescue operation to save Randy and draw the Phantom out. They get the idea that by demolishing the last of his beloved sets, they will be able to draw the Phantom out of hiding and into a final confrontation, and save Randy.
Cinema is such a rich part of the tapestry of American culture; film is to the USA what Opera is to Italy. It makes sense for an American retelling of the Leroux story to be set in the world of movies. As the sun set on the studio era, there was a real opportunity to bring pathos to this story – the phantom representing the last gasp of the old guard. Instead, we get a very run of the mill retelling of the classic story, not done with much wit, creativity or enthusiasm. This is the kind of forgettable filler that would pad out a network’s mid-week line up.
The already Spartan run time is lengthened with an excessive amount of clips from silent and early golden era Hollywood productions. The lame conceit behind that is that the studio is assembling a clip reel of their past glories. The intent is to invoke a sense of nostalgia but the amount of footage pilfered only serves to illustrate just how thin the story of the actual movie is.
There are also a lot of scenes of bulldozers demolishing film sets. I get the impression that the sets were already scheduled for demolition and a writer was charged with creating a story around the planned demolition. They studio could save a few bucks if the footage could be worked into a movie.
The movie seems in such a hurry to be over. It races from scene to scene (most of which are exposition dumps) and other than the first couple of stalking scenes, never stops to establish atmosphere. Pace is essential to building suspense but The Phantom of Hollywood
tries to tell a film-length narrative in the span of a couple of television episodes. There is one admittedly good and shocking death scene but the action, like the rest of the film, is routine. The last few shots are ridiculous and jaw dropping in their ineptness, both from the perspective of craftsmanship as well as a way to tie up the story. The movie ends abruptly and not a moment too soon.
The Phantom of Hollywood
is presented in 4:3 full-frame, as it was originally exhibited on television. Despite the typically muted 70s color palette there is still a fair amount of strong colors that are well represented with the exception of skin tones, which tend to pink and orange instead of more natural hues. There are no visible compression artifacts and film grain is strong throughout. Black levels are surprisingly strong as well, dark and rich without sacrificing detail. There is little evidence of source material damage, except for small and infrequent specks on the print most prominent during transitions, like fade outs. You wouldn’t really expect much from a 40-year-old made-for-TV movie but this re-mastered Warner Archive transfer is far better than anyone could have anticipated.
Not surprisingly, the audio is a simple Dolby Digital 2-channel mono track and it’s good for what it is. Dialogue is always clear and audible even in the few instances when it sounds hollow and canned. The score is loud with a prominent brass section that never suffers from clipping. Sound effects are sparsely used and are of the typical studio library variety. Not a lot went into the sound mix and it shows; if there’s a scene with dialogue and music, good luck trying to discern more than one foley effect on the track. This is a 1970’s TV movie and the audio is perfectly serviceable. There are no additional audio tracks or subtitles of any kind included.
As with most titles in Warner’s Archive Collection, no supplements are included.
The Phantom of Hollywood
’s biggest problem is no longer land developers; it’s a lack of audience. The film is far too timid for fans of hardcore horror and is never tense or exciting enough to work as a genuine nail biter. I’d almost suggest it for younger audiences just on the cusp of getting into horror but the 70’s décor and costumes aren’t going to win it any fans among the Justin Beiber crowd. If you have fond memories of seeing this incantation of the Phantom on TV and want to revisit it, you will certainly enjoy how well the film has been presented here. I don’t imagine there are many people who fit that description. The Phantom of Hollywood
isn’t terrible by any means but with so many different incarnations of the story out there, and this one such a bland affair, it wouldn’t be hard to find a version of the story better suited to your personal tastes.
Movie - C-
Image Quality - C+
Sound - C+
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour and 13 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital Mono