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Grade: CPhantom of the Opera, The (2004)

Director: Joel Schumacher

Stars: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson

Release Company: Warner Home Video

MPAA Rating: PG-13

 

Phantom of the Opera

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The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of...
Jack Keay
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OFCS

I wasn’t looking forward to Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera</b></i> since I was extremely let down by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s crowd pleasing musical version, but that is to be expected for anyone who’s seen Lon Cheney’s classic 1925 silent take or Claude Rains’ 1943 re-make. And that takes in large territory, given numerous opportunities on late night television, Halloween horror screenings, and special edition DVDs. Although the long running hot ticket on Broadway has thrilled audiences and spawned road show success, the musical has little to recommend beyond its fantastic staircase and chandelier set. So, why attend a movie version that certainly must pale in theatrical terms when confined to Webber’s lyrical production numbers?

The good news is that Schumacher has cinematically translated Webber’s musical adaptation as well as humanly possible, preserving the set pieces, musical numbers, and gothic production design. The vocalists all possess sufficient range, so Michael Crawford devotees can rest easy. If you loved the Broadway musical, you’ll enjoy the film and perhaps shed a tear or so over more intimate subtleties impossible to convey on stage. The bad news—like too many modern musicals (especially the trite Andrew Lloyd Webber ones), the bloated numbers remain emotionally overwrought, providing easy prey to shoot down. Thus, the film project was condemned from its inception, being tied down by Webber’s inferior material.

Neophytes will find Schumacher’s adaptation confusing, so familiarity with the source material helps fill in the gaps about a tormented musical genius, who lusts after an aspiring young singer. It’s a relatively simple story—a legend which suits Webber’s interests fine since the production is all about atmosphere and music. Framing the venerable story around black and white sequences involving an auction of abandoned relics, Schumacher paints the old Paris Opera House lavishly in Batman goth. The look and feel of the film works well, from the dark upper reaches of the Opera House to the foggy Parisian cemetery and dank lower regions of the sewers.

Schumacher also inserts touches of humor and uses sufficient camera movement to keep the film visually interesting, which is essential to overcome the repetitive and elongated score. Andrew Lloyd Webber is no “angel of music”—remember, he is the guy that brought forth Cats! Like Chinese water torture emanating from the phantom’s underground lair, the songs blend together in overly familiar fashion but aren’t anything you’ll continue singing long after—nothing like Cole Porter or Rogers and Hammerstein. His classically based operatic score requires singers with great range and technique, and Gerard Butler (as the Phantom) and Emmy Rossum (as love interest Christine) deliver the goods. Rossum’s technically perfect performance, in particular, breaks through with a haunting melancholy presence that would be difficult to duplicate on stage. In contrast, Patrick Wilson (as Christine’s childhood love interest Raoul) pales in power, surrendering center stage far easier to Butler than he did to Billy Bob Thornton in The Alamo. Wilson sings as competently as you’d expect in a road show production, but the film needs more to rise above its material.

More moments like Minnie Driver’s humorous portrayal as the soon to be displaced diva would help a great deal, but the greatest improvement would come if Schumacher was able to find a way to cut down on Webber’s pretentious score and insipid lyrics, drawn out over 143 melodramatic minutes. If only Schumacher could have found a way to incorporate Raoul’s musical plea, “Angel of darkness, Cease this torment!”

Alas, that just wouldn’t be kosher, and Schumacher even prolongs the overwrought “drama” by twice inserting opening scene references to serve as “curtains” separating scene changes. But that’s the only major flaw Schumacher makes with his faithful adaptation of Webber’s popular musical. The public had already spoken by making Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera one of Broadway’s longest running musicals, so a faithful adaptation was certain to make its way to the screen. Schumacher delivers the product competently, and it’s certainly not the worst Phantom to ever grace celluloid. Webber’s musical fans will appreciate this version and champion its cause the same way that Americans promote apple pie, Chevrolet, and McDonalds. But to experience the full anguish and horror of Phantom story, seek salvation from Lon Cheney or Claude Rains.


 


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