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Blu-ray Reviews: The Phantom of the Opera

Originally published in Sound and Image, Oct/Nov 2007, v.21#2
Last updated 6 April 2010

The Phantom of the Opera cover The Phantom of the Opera
2004 - Warner Home Video Inc
Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver and Jennifer Ellison

Movie: 5 Picture: 5 Sound: 5 Extras: 4

One of the great things about Blu-ray and HD DVD is that, unlike DVDs, the discs are for the most part identical across all areas of the world. Blu-ray does have a region coding scheme, but this seems to be used primarily for new releases. So you can take your chances and order from Amazon in the US, with that country's considerably larger range of discs (nearly 500 BDs as I write, and about 350 HD DVDs).

That's what I did with this disc, the Blu-ray version of the 2004 The Phantom of the Opera movie. This is a belated bringing to the big screen of Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage extravaganza, one of the many that turned him into a very rich man.

But I made a mistake. The movie is from Warner Brothers and, accordingly, is available in both Blu-ray and HD DVD. Thoughtlessly I ordered the former, and only later realised that I was thereby missing out. On Blu-ray it comes with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. On HD DVD it comes with both Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD. Silly me.

The video on this disc is in VC1 format, rather than the (for the moment) MPEG2 more commonly used with BDs. The average video bitrate seems to be around 20Mbps, even during very visually busy scenes, of which there are many. By comparison, the typical MPEG2 BD averages around 30Mbps, yet the picture quality of this movie is magnificent. The conjuring of period gilded and red silken over decoration is glorious, and was always a weakness of the DVD version.

The use of VC1 with its greater efficiency allows this 141 minute movie to be tucked onto a single layer BD (23GB are used). Adding a Dolby TrueHD sound track would probably have demanded another 3GB or so. Still, I'd happily have dropped one or more of the special extras for Dolby TrueHD. I speculate that the HD DVD version is dual layer, yielding 30GB of available space, allowing this addition.

Despite the limitation of Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound, delivered at 640kbps, is marvelous. This work was originally written in the mid-1980s and the original stage cast recording is afflicted at certain points by a certain synthesizer mentality. This is largely replaced in the movie by rather more pleasing traditional orchestration.

But if you're really going to appreciate this movie, make sure you have a sound system that goes loud, cleanly and musically, and a subwoofer that can deliver the pedalled notes from the opening pipe organ. Then, be brave and turn your system up as loud as you know it can safely manage before you start playing this disc. Only in that way will you achieve maximum enjoyment.

You also get a couple of hours of rather interesting SD extras. As purchased from the US, the disk is in a slim case (12mm), whereas all the Australian Blu-ray discs I've seen so far are DVD-case thickness (15mm). I do wish they'd go for the slim cases; it would reduce my shelf space difficulties.

Running time: 141 minutes
Video: 2.4:1, 1080p24, VC1 @ 15.37Mbps
Sound: English, French: Dolby Digital 3/2.1 @ 640kbps
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Documentary: 'Behind the Mask: The Story of the Phantom of the Opera' (480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 65 mins); Featurette: 'The Making of the Phantom of the Opera' (480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 46 mins); Trailer (480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 2 mins); Additional scene: 'No One Would Listen' (480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 2 mins); Cast and Crew Sing-a-long (480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 5 mins)
Restrictions: Rated PG (Australian rating); Region Free

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.3:

Phantom of the Opera video bitrate graph

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the PAL DVD and the Blu-ray version of this movie. At the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison (taken from the Blu-ray), with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 1,024 by 576 (to present in the correct aspect ratio), and then, in order to be comparable to the Blu-ray version, from that to 1,920 by 1,080. The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again.

The right side is from the Warner Blu-ray which I bought from Amazon. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, so I am not comfortable comparing the colour between the two, merely the detail and sharpness. For those visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

Clearly Christine is a great deal sharper on Blu-ray, with her hair decorations revealed to some degree even at this distance, and she lacks the ghostly edge to her left that appears on the DVD:

Comparison 1

In this shot it is clear that a slightly soft focus has been used on Christine's face. Things are a touch sharper on Blu-ray, but not so obviously so as in some of the other shots. Still, the texture of here lips is better revealed in Blu-ray:

Comparison 2

I was expecting more Blu-ray sharpness here, but it was not to be. Surely it is sharper than the Blu-ray, but the difference is modest. Still, in watching this on the big screen the right side stresses the eyes significantly less.

Comparison 3

This is the kind of highly detailed, busy scene which dominates this film.Revealing detail, sharpening edges, makes the thing much more enjoyable. When I watch the DVD, I'm distracted by picture quality defects. When I watch the Blu-ray, I forget about the picture quality:

Comparison 4

This is more like it. With the DVD you have to guess a great deal more at Miss Daae's face.

Comparison 5

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