Every once in a while you have a movie that challenges the expectations of a genre and raises the bar for future expectations. Repo! The Genetic Opera may not be that movie, but not for a lack of trying. The rock opera take on a science-fiction/horror story is incredibly ambitious and well executed. So well executed, in fact, that it might have limited its own potential by shutting itself off from the audience it would need to raise the bar for future rock operas.
Set in a future where mankind has faced an epidemic of organ failures and been both saved and doomed by corporate greed, describing the setting of Repo! as dark is an understatement. At the same time, it’s a fair piece of social commentary. With surgery having been a necessity for so long, the elite public have grown addicted to the knife, replacing their mundane body parts in a search for genetic perfection. A painkiller designed to help ease people through surgery has gained popularity in a black market form that is acquired from the dead - a supply that is easily found, considering the apocalyptic future city has been raised on mass graves. Meanwhile, illicitly gained organs, or those financed by people unable to keep up with payments, draw the attention of the Repo Man, a mythic figure of the underworld who hunts down his prey and reclaims body parts - with all the blood and gore you might expect.
But all of that is just the setting - the environment the movie takes place in. The story is something a bit more operatic, dealing with common themes ranging from revenge, lost loves, a loss of innocence, and more. There are so many storylines and they are so intertwined, trying to summarize them for review is a daunting process. In fact, the storylines are so twisted, the movie can’t even present them all without interrupting the regular narrative with sequences of comic book panels that clarify important details. It is a style of storytelling that disappointed me at first. I’d much rather see the details of the story presented through the music as normal, with the expectation that viewers will keep up with things. In Repo!’s case, however, the comic book panels may be a smart move, considering I’ve watched the movie multiple times and there are still new story details I’m discovering. Some might see that as a bad thing, and the storylines can be overwhelming. Some could probably be culled a bit more, but I’d rather have more detail than not enough in a world like this.
The primary story follows the seventeen year old Shiloh (Alexa Vega), a girl who should be coming of age but is held back by a genetic illness and her overprotective father, Nathan (Anthony Head). Shiloh’s mother, Marni, died when she was born, but plays a constant haunting figure throughout the course of the movie, because her death was due to a feud between Nathan and Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino). Largo is the head of Genecorp, the company that proved to be a savior for mankind by providing organs, and also the company behind the evil Repo Men. As Repo! takes place, Largo is plotting revenge upon Nathan for Marni’s death, by revealing all of Nathan’s secrets to his daughter, including the knowledge that Nathan is one of the premiere Repo Men.
The cast of Repo! is interestingly eclectic, with talent ranging from serious actors (Sorvino) and one of the most talented contemporary sopranos (Sarah Brightman) to industrial/goth musicians (Ogre) and vacuous socialites (Paris Hilton). Impressively, ever member of the cast is well used and fitted perfectly to their character. Brightman gets a chance to shine as the talented soprano of The Genetic Opera, Blind Mag, while Hilton puts in an interesting performance that masks her normal blond-hair, blue-eyed persona behind an equally annoying socialite who is addicted to surgery and painkillers. If there’s a weak point to the cast, it’s Ogre and Bill Moseley as Pavi and Luigi Largo, but that’s more because the characters are outlandish comedic relief in a movie that lacks that trait everywhere else.
Repo! is an opera, not a musical, and there’s an important distinction. In a musical, the story progresses with songs bursting out occasionally. In an opera, it’s all songs, with no breaks from the music. That’s an incredibly ambitious task to take on, considering how poorly some musicals manage themselves. Repo! pulls it off beautifully with some fantastic musical numbers, segmented by some less successful transitional pieces between the major songs. It’s a complaint I’ve had about mainstream operettas, however, so giving Repo! the same praise I’ve given a Webber or Soundheim show is high praise indeed.
The music here is heavily entrenched in the Industrial / Goth / Glam-rock style, but creators Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich show off their musical knowledge by offering a variety of genres within that Industrial presentation. Selections range from the jazzy “It’s a Thankless Job” (a tongue-in-cheek song from Repo Man Nathan as he reclaims organs from one of his prey) to the Ramones-style punk “Seventeen” (Shiloh’s anthem of independence) to the operatic “Chromaggia” (Blind Mag’s opera song). The songs are incredibly produced and memorable, destined to stay in the audience’s memory long after the credits roll.
As an incredibly well executed industrial opera, Repo! is destined to find a cult audience that will follow the film with a rabid fandom. There’s actually the potential here for the movie to be much more - a genre transcending picture - but the dark setting and sometimes-gory subject matter will probably keep the film off a lot of people’s radar. It’s too industrial for the opera crowd, but the story is almost too operatic for the director Darren Lynn Bousman’s normal Saw crowd, trapping the movie in a weird little limbo. Repo! is better than most people will give it credit for, but will probably never manage to get the success it deserves.
Repo! The Genetic Opera on Blu-ray is a thing of beauty. The movie is set in a very dark world, and that dark contrast shows up excellently in high definition. Frequently pictures this dark have a graininess to them that is distracting, but here the picture is crystal clear and beautiful. The music sounds fantastic in surround sound, making this an excellent transfer - better than I would have expected, especially considering the lack of attention the movie got from the studio on its theatrical run.
Commentaries are the primary offering when it comes to bonus material. There are two full commentary tracks - one with Bousman and cast members Alexa Vega, Bill Moseley, and Ogre, and a filmmaker’s commentary from Bousman, co-creators Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, and music producer Joseph Bishara. Bousman easily has enough to talk about on two tracks without repeating himself, but the second commentary is the better one, simply because those four people were more involved with making Repo happen and they can talk about this as a passion project. There’s also a more limited scene-specific commentary track with Bousman and Paris Hilton, which is wisely kept short, since Hilton tends to stay in her “hot” vacuous persona for a lot of it, adding very little that hasn’t already been covered in other parts of the disc.
The disc misses a lot of opportunity with the “From Stage to Screen” featurette, which briefly looks at the journey of Repo!, which started as a short piece on stage, evolved into a stage play, then became a movie. There’s no footage included of Repo! on stage, which is incredibly disappointing. Also disappointing is a discussion of how the creators and Bousman sort of returned to their Repo! roots by creating a ten-minute short to sell the movie to the studio, but the short isn’t included either. This could have been a much bigger part of the disc, but it falls woefully short.
Three featurettes about specific songs in the movie are included. These originally appeared on the Repo! promotional website, and the transfer to disc, particularly Blu-ray is incredibly poor. The picture quality is definitely lower than everything else on the disc, and the sound is overmodulated, resulting in a blown-out sound through a lot of them. It’s a shame, because they carry some excellent information, but since that info is also usually said on the commentary tracks, it would probably be better to just listen to those than to watch these. Still, for one viewing, they are interesting, if not fantastically transferred.
There are four deleted scenes, also accompanied with a commentary from Bousman and Hilton (even though she is barely involved in them). Of the four scenes, two are longer songs that were cut from the movie (“Come Up and Try My New Parts” and “Needle Through a Bug”) and two very brief transitional clips. The shame here is that Bousman talks about much longer sequences cut from the movie during the feature commentary tracks, but less than ten minutes are included here. In the commentaries, Bousman does encourage fans to rally together and demand a director’s cut of the film, which would restore several removed storylines. I respect him wanting to put the storylines back in the movie, but the fact that more deleted footage exists than is included here is disappointing.
There are several other bonuses included on the disc, from a poster gallery (in high def) to sing-along options for several of the key songs, making this a well-stocked disc in the way of bonus material. I wish quite a bit of it was better executed, but, considering the theatrical release of the movie was practically overlooked, a disc with anything on it is better than the bare-bones edition we could have gotten. If you enjoy Repo!, let Lionsgate know, and hopefully Bousman will get a chance to put together that director’s cut and give fans the DVD release this movie really deserves