Unboxing the Silents: The Phantom of the Opera (new Kino Lorber release)

The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most beloved and iconic silent films but, let’s face it, the home media releases have been a mixed bag. For every quality release, there have been several duds with faded, scratchy prints and unsuitable music.

The new edition on DVD and Blu-ray from Kino Lorber bills itself as definitive. Does it live up to that boast? We are about to find out!

(Thanks to Kino Lorber for the review copy.)

The Phantom of the Opera as it was released in 1925 no longer exists as a 35mm film. What you are seeing is the 1929 re-release, which was altered considerably but is in measurably better shape than the battered reduction print of the 1925 release. We’re going to be getting a bit geeky about this so just remember that there are two distinct cuts of this movie.

(This review is only going to cover the Kino Lorber release. If you want a review of the film itself, check out the one I wrote, she self-plugged shamelessly.)

It's iconic for a reason.
It’s iconic for a reason.

The Film: The new transfer looks good, though there is still visible nitrate decay in some brief passages, particularly noticeable in the scene where Christine investigates the bedroom Erik prepared for her. In general, though, viewers should be pleased with what appears on the screen.

What is really interesting is that this release offers two different projection speeds. We have the option of seeing the picture at 24fps or 20fps. Speed is a very hotly debated topic but this disc should please most everyone.

The really fab extra is all the music! I am a huge fan of alternate scores, though I know the cost is prohibitive for more obscure titles. The Phantom of the Opera has one of the most generous collections I have ever seen in a silent film release.

image via Kino Lorber
image via Kino Lorber

24fps version:

For a more modern sound, the Alloy Orchestra offers an eerie soundscape of organ, synth, some harp and assorted creaks and groans.

Gaylord Carter’s classic organ score is the second option for this projection speed.  If you’re looking for that silent movie sound, then Carter’s music is exactly what you want. He knew his onions.

20fps version:

This version features the popular orchestral score by Gabriel Thibaudeau. This is by far my favorite score for this film and I am delighted that it was included. It’s just so perfect! Operatic, dramatic, it hits the spot exactly.

The 20fps version also includes a commentary by silent film accompanist Jon Mirsalis. (His piano score for Waxworks is divine, by the way.)

So, as you can see we have classic, eerie and operatic. Something for everyone!

In addition, the disc includes the original 1925 cut. (Well, the one that was retinkered by Universal, anyway. Long story.) The print is in poor shape (no better one exists) and so it is not presented as the main event but it is fascinating for historical purposes as it includes many scenes cut from the re-release. It is accompanied by an energetic piano score from Frederick Hodges.

So, by the numbers, we have two cuts, three ways to watch, four scores representing the most popular silent film music options (orchestra, piano, organ, modern) and one commentary. Nice!

Extras: Once again, this release is extremely generous. It includes the original screenplay, vintage travel films of Paris, the original trailer and a 2004 interview with composer Gabriel Thibaudeau. (By the way,  Thibaudeau comes across as a delightful person with much humor and a touch of mischief.)

Score "The Phantom"
Make the Phantom operatic

The most exciting extra is probably the lengthy excerpt (54 minutes!) of the “talkie” re-release of the film. Basically, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry (Lon Chaney was both ill and at odds with Universal and did not return) and a supporting cast were called back to record talking sequences and the whole film was recut and scored. The actual footage of these talking sequences is lost except for one reel (which is included) but the soundtrack survives.

So, how do Kerry and Philbin do? Let’s just say that it’s no shock that they didn’t exactly set the talkie world on fire. Neither of them were particularly good in silents but with the new stage-trained talent flooding the movie industry, it’s no shock that they were swept aside.

The period music, as was typical during the talkie transition, is a little on the jaunty side and I didn’t care for it but it is very valuable to know what audiences of 1929/1930 enjoyed.

Buy? Oh yeah! This disc does indeed live up to its boast as the definitive version. It looks great, sounds great and is jammed with extras. After ages of uncertainty as to which home media release to recommend, I can say without hesitation that this is the one you have been waiting for.

Availability: The Phantom of the Opera will be released in the United States on Blu-ray and DVD on October 13, 2015.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this film for free for the purpose of reviewing it on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

13 Replies to “Unboxing the Silents: The Phantom of the Opera (new Kino Lorber release)”

  1. Wow! This sounds fabulous. I can’t wait to purchase it! Thanks very much for your informative review. Kino is really to be commended for putting out such a nice edition as this. I’m interested to see the differences in the ’25 and ’29 versions, and also very curious as to what those talkie sequences sound like. It is great to have these differing scores available. A silent film with a bad score is often a deal breaker for me, so I’m glad to see they have some quality ones here. Re Jon Mirsalis: is his commentary pertaining to the score of other aspects of the film. (I LOVE his work, by the way. What a gifted individual!)

    1. I think it is, especially if you get the Blu-ray. The Alloy Orchestra score is a fun change of pace and the two different projection speeds are great to get your geek on with. I don’t remember how long the Milestone’s excerpt of the dialogue sequences is. I don’t think it is quite as long as this, nor does it contain the surviving footage of the Phantom’s “servant” but please feel free to correct me if I have it wrong. The Photoplay restoration is very nice & the Davis score is always good to have but this version has much to recommend it.

  2. Well, I haven’t owned a copy of Phantom since I bought a VHS copy waaaaaaaay back in the late ’80s/early ’90s. It’s been on television enough to satisfy my cravings, but it’s been on my Blu-ray list for a long time. Looks like I’ll be treating myself to an early birthday present. Can’t wait!

  3. Great review. I saved your original review from some time back and went through it again to review the whole film as you saw it then. I note the cover of the new release seems to indicate that Eric is an early-day “frog-man”, as it show him underwater on the attack. Is that in the film? I’m one of those who has never seen the whole film, only clips, and look forward to getting it now. Thanks for two good reviews of this classic

    1. Thanks so much! Yes, the underwater scene is in the film, though no actual underwater footage is used. The Phantom uses a tube that allows him to breathe as he swims beneath the surface of his underground lake and pulls his victims into the water. This is only shown once but we can assume that he has made a habit of it as the tube is kept by his lair’s entrance on a special shelf.

      1. Fantastic Review. I am geeked about this release and have mine on order. I got the Image Blu-ray release in 2011 but want to get this one for sure. Question for you: The 20 FPS version with Thibaudeau’s score (which is my favorite score too) had a few “freeze” moments in the Image studio release 4 years ago. One was when Christine ran from the couch when first in the Phantom’s chamber, and the other was when she awakens in his chamber. Can you let us know if the freeze moments are gone now? Also, and finally, please tell me there is no motion blur at the end when the Phantom runs from the crowd with their torches? Thank you.

      2. I haven’t seen the Image Blu-ray so I am not absolutely sure if I know the sections that you are referring to. I didn’t notice any freezes or blur (though the print does show its age a little) but I am really the wrong person to ask as I generally don’t even notice that sort of thing when I am engrossed in a film. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

  4. Thank you Fritzi for the reply. It sounds like a definite improvement over the Image release of a few years ago. I really appreciate your review as you hit on the important things for Phantom fans such as myself. I hope to read more reviews by you.

    1. Just got my copy of the new Kino Blu-ray release. The 20 FPS version has a glitch 71:23 into the film. A scene from later on pops up for a second or two and then it is back to the current scene of the Phantom being upset with Christine. I don’t know how quality control could have let that one slip by. It is not an issue with the 24 FPS version but, unfortunately, my favorite score is on the 20 FPS version.

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