Last year, I reviewed The Mummy. And now that it’s Halloween again, let’s take a look at another of McFarlane Toys’ ventures into classic horror with the Phantom of the Opera playset! It’s not like I haven’t been hanging onto this thing for about a year or so.
The Phantom is one of the McFarlane Monsters playsets made way back in the ’90s before McFarlane Toys really found its niche. But these things were and are beyond fun, and really worth a look. Even some other review sites bring them up every Halloween!
The Phantom of the Opera predates all the movies and musicals about it as a serialized 1909-1910 novel by Gaston Leroux. And lots of people seem to love debating whether the titular Phantom should be sympathetic, romantic, or a horrible monster (well, what else is there to do in literary circles?). In the movies and musical, he has been all of these things. The Phantom’s role changes with society – when “the other” is seen as bad, his deformed physique makes him a monster. When we feel sorry for isolated weirdos, he becomes sympathetic. But in the original novel, Erik (the Phantom) is extremely sympathetic, even if a little stalkery. The novel ends with him willingly letting Christine and her lover go, albeit with the promise that she will return to give him a proper burial when he dies. The adaptations usually just have somebody shoot him. or maybe he falls into the river and drowns.
As for the Phantom himself, although a lot of adaptations portray him as a man scarred by acid or fire, in the original he was deformed since birth, ran away from anu nloving family, joined the circus, worked for the Shah in Persia, escaped, became a carpenter, built his lair beneath the opera house, and composed an incredible work of music before meeting Christine. With that in mind, it’ll probably be a year or two until a movie picks up the notion of writing a Phantom prequel and casting the handsomest actor possible in the title role. Well, screw that, let’s look at the toy!
This package is a huge, wide blister pack – so wide that it tends to fall apart with age! But if you can ignore that hilarious little snafu, you will end up with a fantastic view of absolutely eveythign in the set as well as how to assemble it.
The Phantom backdrop is much different than the other McFarlane Monster playsets, with the possibe exception of the Hunchback. It is far, far more vertical than the others – think landscape, not portrait.
The backdrop is made up of a bunch of pieces – a small section of floor, the pipe organ, the boxed seat’s platform, an archway with curtain, an overhanging wooden beam, and the chandelier. They all plug in very tightly and the whole rig stands fairly well, even with that dangling chandelier there.
The overall effect is really nice, though it certianly needs some width. I love the details on this set’s various pieces, as each and every part is almost a tiny diorama in and of itself. And you can even drop the chandelier if you so desire! The only flaw is that it is barely wider than one of the figures, and thus is somewhat awkward as a diorama set. And how often does the audience get to sit above the pipe organ like that.
How to depict the Phantom’s face? The novel called him “skull-like,” and adaptations have portrayed him as everything from Lon Chaney’s visceral visage to the 2004 version who is pretty attractive (because a romantic lead can’t be ugly, oh no). This Phantom is like a zombie, and so deformed that he might not even be human. And you know, it’s “extreme,” but it works in a way. Sure, no earthly deformity resembles him, but it does help turn him into a mysterious “phantom” and not just a slightly ugly man. The Phantom is articulated with swivel joints at the head, shoulders, wrists, and waist, and has a cloth cape. He also comes with a nice-looking cutlass and a mask – rather than the usual opera mask the character is portrayed with, his is a bright purple bandanna that turns him into some sort of pirate luchadore. It fits in with the set, though, which is what counts.
I assume that the other guy in the set is meant to be Viscount Raoul de Chagney, Christine’s love interest. In the original book, he was the Peeta – the decoy male “hero” who just gets captured and tortured and needs the girl to save him. In a lot of other adaptations, he gains more of a typical hero theme because audiences just can’t stand a proatctive female. DeChagney here looks more like a pirate than a nobleman, and in fact comes equipped with a pretty big cutlass along with his own mask: A ginormous gold dragon. Did he steal it from a ship’s figurehead? Seriously, he looks surprisingly villainous in this set. DeChagney is articulated on the head, shoulders, wrists, and waist, just like the Phantom, and he is good for some swashbuckling, or just looking creepy in that dragon mask.
The backdrop is really well-painted, with strategic use of wood and gold to make it look like a genuinely lavish opera house. The organ has appropriate paint for every key, too, which helps to make the whole set work.
The Phantom really looks like a zombie, and to tell the truth, his gray face paint feel somewhat of place. Flesh tones would have made him more grotesque and fit who he is supposed to be. Interestingly, he is extremely well-dressed with a fancy black-and-purple suit, something that stands in sad contrast to his hideous features.
DeChagney is sloppy. Very, very sloppy. His torso paint is fine and his mask (which can sit on any part of the backdrop) is also good, but his face just doesn’t work. But then, he really does not serve much of a role in this set except for padding.
You should be able to score this for less than $20, which is awesome for what you are getting.
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Watch out for the fragile parts of the characters and sets, the integrity of the cloth, and those tiny candles. Well, it isn’t the most fragile of the McFarlane sets, so that’s a plus! It should be just fine.
WHERE TO BUY:
eBay might be your best bet, but any place still selling “older” toys might have one.
I have used pieces from this set in my diorama photography for the last year, but I haven’t kept it assembled. That says a lot, though as a whole this honestly is a really good set. The individual elements might have flaws, but the whole package is rather nice when put together.
It’s also odd getting a figure of Raoul DeChagney as opposed to, say… Catherine. But I guarantee that you will never, ever see that man in plastic ever again, so there’s that.
As a whole, the set is nice and creepy, and its Phantom is so hideous that he isn’t even human. But the main draw is that bi-level diorama, and despite being extremely narrow it really does not disappoint. If you like this type of toy (3″ figures, big playset), then by all means go for it!