Repo! The Genetic Opera [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (16th March 2009).
The Film

I’m not the biggest fan of musicals, but every now and then one comes along with just the right balance of dialogue, fantastic acting, great songs and a visually satisfying palette to tie the entire affair together. I’m speaking of films like "On the Town" (1949), "Singin’ in the Rain" (1952), "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" (1971) and "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (2007). These films often featured actors known for their singing abilities but those without prior song recognition showed they had what it took to make the music work. I doubt many people would have guessed Gene Wilder could pull off a darkly comedic lead role in a musical before seeing his landmark role as the famed confectioner. The onus is placed on numerous variables for such projects to come together and connect with an audience.

Unfortunately, "Repo! The Genetic Opera" is not exactly one of those films.

Set in a gritty, "Blade Runner-esque" dystopian future where surgery is a way of life, GeneCo rules the world. Led by the lecherous Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), people no longer have to worry about disease claiming their lives – all you need to do is get a new set of organs and - voila! - good as new… as long as you can make your payments to GeneCo, that is. Because if you can’t, one of the company’s Repo-Men will be sent to track you down and repossess the organs you’re past due on, and extraction is a grisly process. When Rotti learns that he’s suffering from the only thing he can’t cure - lung cancer – he has to make a decision as to which of his three spoiled children he will bequeath the company to: the murderous Pavi (Nivek Ogre), Luigi (genre fav Bill Moseley) or the surgery-addicted Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton). Even as he faces certain death, Rotti is still planning a grand scheme of double-crossing and back-stabbing as he looks to eliminate his top Repo-Man, Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head), a man to whom he lost his one true love in life. By day Nathan is a devoted doctor and father to his daughter, Shilo (Alexa Vega), who he keeps quarantined in her room to protect her from the outside world (and because of a rare blood disorder she possesses), but at night he relieves his stress by repossessing the organs of anyone behind on their payments. All of this culminates in an evening at the Genetic Opera, a grand celebration led by GeneCo’s star, Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman), where Rotti plans to tie up all loose ends while Nathan seeks his own personal revenge.

I feel so very torn while writing this because director Darren Lynn Bousman shows a considerable talent for thinking outside of a genre-specific box. He managed to create a film so vastly different from anything being made today that distributor Lionsgate simply had no idea what to do with the film, leaving it to languish on a mere few hundred screens last year. The film is a modern-day "Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975), even though it posted weak box office returns it’s virtually guaranteed to be playing midnight screenings for many years to come. I suppose there is a victory for Bousman in knowing the film should have a long shelf life as a modern cult classic. I just wish I could be part of the camp that gushes with effusive enthusiasm for the film.

The film does have amazing production design, courtesy of "Saw V" (2008) helmer David Hackl. Even with a limited budget, Bousman has done an admirable job creating and populating this alternate universe. The sets are impressively detailed, the costumes are outlandish and loud and the atmosphere is palpable. This is easily one of the film’s greatest strengths.

The casting here is hit or miss, an issue which no doubt will divide viewers over whether or not they truly can enjoy an operatic film such as this. You see, while many of the featured players may be good at acting the same can’t be said of their ability for singing. However, as uneven as their voices may be most are doing a respectable enough job to not lose viewers entirely. The standout of the bunch is easily Paul Sorvino as Rotti Largo. Sorvino has a deep baritone voice that reminded me of a cross between Luciano Pavarotti meets Dean Martin. His songs brought a soothing elegance to the film’s rock-heavy soundtrack. Another standout is Anthony Stewart Head as Nathan, Rotti’s head Repo-Man. Head had previously done some singing during his stint on "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" (1997-2003) so the producers must have known ahead of time that he had some abilities in that department. The only other clear standout is Sarah Brightman as Blind Mag but, being that she is a world-renowned opera singer, it should be of little surprise that she has the best set of pipes in the film. Alexa Vega comes across as a little whiny, but that could be more of a character trait than her actual singing tone. Paris Hilton isn’t nearly as bad as people probably want her to be. She has to know that people expect little from her, especially in a musical, so she does the best she can and it’s apparent she’s having fun with this role. Bill Moseley however is not ideal for this type of project. I don’t know how many horror fans have wanted to hear Chop Top from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" (1986) sing and dance, but I’m sure those who have regret it now.

So if the acting and the singing aren’t horrendous, then what could be the major problem with the film? The songs, of course. The original music was written by Darren Lynn Bousman and first-time composer Terrance Zdunich and its all very, very bad. I never once found myself getting caught up in any of the many musical numbers featured here. Not one song resonated in my mind long enough for me to be caught humming it an hour after watching the film. When you’re making a film that is 95% sung the single most important aspect of that film should be crafting songs that are catchy and fun. I feel like Bousman spent so much time on casting, production design and making the most of his limited budget that he simply cobbled together the soundtrack and hoped it would work. Maybe it’s just not my kind of thing; maybe I’m not getting it. But I doubt that’s the case. Tim Burton’s "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" was another fully-musical horror film and yet they managed to write fantastic songs. Granted, it was award-winning composer Stephen Sondheim at the helm so the quality was to be expected, but I digress. I would have enjoyed "Repo! The Genetic Opera" infinitely more if the songs were of a higher caliber. I’m sure they’ll be fun to listen to during a drunken midnight screening at your local grindhouse/art theater, but without a lively crowd to pick things up this is just a chore to sit through at home.

Video

"Repo! The Genetic Opera" is presented in a slightly-cropped aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray which is odd since the DVD is presented in the film’s original 1.78:1 ratio. The 1080p 24/fps VC-1 transfer is presented on a 50GB disc and doesn’t look as good as one might expect from a film shot on 1080p HD cameras. There is plenty of evident film grain, but that isn’t as much of a problem as the overblown white levels. Whites are hot, hot, hot here and they tend to obfuscate the detail level considerably by over-glowing on any and everything. The film has a distinct color palette, using mostly primaries and darker hues. Black levels are wildly inconsistent with some shots looking deep and inky while others look like hazy purple. The film’s budget restrictions are on display here, and little can be done to polish the film any more. Still, for a movie with such a wild and eclectic production design I had expected the transfer to shine more.

Audio

Any shortcomings the video had to offer are easily made up by the film’s soundtrack. Lionsgate wisely chose to give this Blu-ray an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit and it most certainly does rock. The film takes full advantage of each speaker in your rig, so expect a healthy workout for your system. The sound is rich and immersive, drawing the viewer inexorably deeper into the world on screen. I won’t say it’s a reference-quality track, but this is a film that calls for more than your standard Dolby Digital TrueHD track and this one definitely delivers.
Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, English and Spanish.

Extras

Never one to skimp on extras, Lionsgate has given this film a full-on special edition with numerous audio commentaries, a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, webisodes, image galleries and theatrical trailers. Aside from the trailers and video sing-alongs, which are 1080p, all extras are presented in 480p.

Audio commentary #1 features director Darren Lynn Bousman and cast members Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega and Nivek Ogre. This is easily the disc’s most fun track as you can really tell all of the participants have a genuine affection for one another. Moseley has a particular brand of humor that I find hilarious, and the trio never stops riffing on each other and the film’s performances from the get go. They also mention many of the scenes that were cut from the film’s original 150 minute running time to get to its current 98 minute incarnation.

Audio commentary #2 features director Darren Lynn Bousman, along with screenwriters Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich and music producer Joseph Bishara. This track, while still fun, is a little less comical and a little heavier on the film’s technical elements, such as what it took to bring the stage play to the big screen, what obstacles stood in the way of making it and how they think time will treat the movie.

Audio commentary #3 is a select-scene track featuring director Darren Lynn Bousman and cast member Paris Hilton. Hot, it’s not. I’m sure there’s a good reason why she isn’t on an entire track. Be sure to thank whoever made that decision.

“From Stage to Screen” is a featurette which runs for 10 minutes and 54 seconds, features interviews with the cast and crew of the film discussing the genesis of the project, how they tried to achieve the right “look” for the film, the stage play on which it was based and how Bousman got involved.

“Legal Assassin: A Repo Man on the Edge” is a webisode which runs for 3 minutes and 53 seconds, this gives us a look at the dichotomy of the Repo-Man character, played by Anthony Stewart Head, along with some footage of him performing the song “Legal Assassin” in the studio and some interview footage with Head and Alexa Vega discussing their characters.

“Zydrate Anatomy – Amber Sweet: Addicted to the Knife” is a webisode which runs for 4 minutes and 15 seconds, which features an interview with Paris Hilton discussing how she got into her role as Rotti’s surgery-addicted daughter, some talk about the drug that is featured driving people mad and the song included in the film.

“Chase the Morning – Blind Mag: The Voice of GeneCo” is a webisode which runs for 2 minutes and 54 seconds, features a closer look at the character of Blind Mag and her role in the film, as well as providing some thoughts on the role by songstress Sarah Brightman.

Four deleted scenes are presented in letterbox widescreen. All of the scenes also include optional audio commentary by director Darren Lynn Bousman and cast member Paris Hilton, which is odd since she’s only in 2 of the 4 scenes. They are:

- “Come Up and Try My New Parts” which runs for 2 minutes and 26 seconds, is a scene where Amber Sweet tries to seduce Graverobber by showing off her new “goods”.
- “Needle Through a Bug” which runs for 1 minute and 45 seconds, Shilo gets some more of her drug from Graverobber.
- “Buon Giorno” which runs for 41 seconds, is a wisely cut extended introduction for the Genetic Opera.
- “Graverobber and Shilo Escape” which runs for 23 seconds, is pretty self explanatory.

Four sing-along clips are included, presented in 1080p with stereo sound, with the beat being kept for the audience via a bloody heart. The songs are:

- "Legal Assassin"
- "Zydrate Anatomy"
- "Chase the Morning"
- "We Started This Op’ra Shit"

There is also an HD poster gallery of designs used in the film’s marketing which features 10 images.

Finally, there is the theatrical trailer for "Repo! The Genetic Opera" which runs for 2 minutes and 14 seconds and is presented in 1080p. The other included bonus trailers, presented in 1080p, are:

- "The Haunting in Connecticut" which runs for 4 minutes and 30 seconds.
- "Saw V" which runs for 1 minute and 53 seconds.
- "The Doors" which runs for 1 minute and 23 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C Video: C Audio: B+ Extras: A- Overall: C+

 


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