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The Phantom of the Opera
2004 - PG-13 - 143 Mins.
Director: Joel Schumacher
Producer: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Written By: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Starring: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver
Review by: Greg Ursic
Official Site: www.thephantomoftheopera.com
   

There's nothing like a midnight cruise through the sewers.
In 1870, the new owners of the Paris Opera House find themselves on the horns of a dilemma when Carlotta (Minnie Driver) their finicky diva refuses to perform. After their attempts to woo her back with flattery fail, they offer her reticent understudy Christine (Emmy Rossum) an opportunity to sing the lead and are pleasantly surprised with her remarkable voice. Christine’s talents are matched by her natural beauty and she catches the eye of Raoul (Patrick Wilson) the Opera House’s young patron and her former love. Their reunion is dealt a blow when the Phantom (Gerald Butler), the disfigured genius that dwells in the catacombs beneath the Opera House intervenes: after teaching Christine to sing he has become enamoured of her and is not prepared to give her up.

With the unparalleled success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage version of 'Phantom' – the play has been seen by over 70 million people and has grossed roughly $2.5 billion to date – a big screen version seemed inevitable. Indeed the original leads, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, were signed to do the film in 1990 and Webber approached Joel Schumacher to direct. The project fell apart when Webber and Brightman – who were married at the time – went through a lengthy divorce. It seemed that the film would never be made until 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Chicago' lit up the screen and the box office and musicals were once again en vogue. Filming on 'Phantom' began in 2002.

As with book adaptations, purists are sure to be disappointed that certain elements have, by necessity, been lost in the translation from stage to screen i.e. a live orchestra and cast. On the flip side, the film has bigger, more elaborate sets that help with the “show me” aspect of the story. Luckily for me I walked in with an unbiased eye, having never seen the stage version (I did however bring my good friend Frank -– a diehard Phantom fan – to the screening for his thoughts on the subject). From what I remember of the snippets I’ve seen of the stage version Webber’s influence on the film is obvious as it follows the story very closely (Frank verified this for me afterwards). I was surprised with the casting choices.

Whether motivated by budgetary constraints (he had $80 million to work with, not much when you take into account the elaborate staging that they put together) or worries that “stars” would overwhelm the production, Schumacher and Webber chose to cast virtual unknowns for the leads.

Emmy Rossum, a classically trained singer, is radiant as Christine and projects a delicate innocence. While she may not be as powerful as Brightman, she is up to the tasksurprises with a clear voice that rings true. Driver meanwhile is wonderfully flamboyant as the inept Carlotta, creating an amusing caricature both in the way she sings and carries herself. I would like to have seen Miranda Richardson's role expanded - she's always impressed me with her work - but I can only assume that it would have compromised the flow of the play. Our loss. The male leads while they prove to be capable, tend towards unremarkable.

Butler is an actor by trade and despite months of voice training it is apparent that he isn’t a singer: while he is capable of handling the high notes, he sounds like he’s growling and tends to fade out when he attempts the baritone. I was also somewhat surprised that his character, who is supposed to look like a monster (based on earlier suggestions) essentially has a serious case of acne. I wasn’t expecting Lon Chaney Phantom ugly, but they could have given us a little more to be horrified with. Wilson, a Broadway veteran has a better voice and is more consistent, but there seems to be something lacking in his performance. Maybe it’s that he acts too much like a dandy, but this, for lack of a better word “passion”, is most notable in the scene in the graveyard where the rage that is supposed to fuel the characters in a fight to the death feels somewhat muted. The film sure is pretty to look at though.

The stages, built in London’s Pinewood studios, are spectacular both in scope and detail: from the marble stairways to the rich brocaded curtains they reek of opulence and grandeur. The behind the scenes are equally intricate, yet subdued with ropes spider webbing everywhere. Contrary to what I had expected, the catacombs weren’t overly gloomy – not that I’d want to set up house there anytime soon. And then of course there is the glorious chandelier (which cost an estimated $1.5 million): while it lacks the impact (or more appropriately near impact) that it did in the stage version, it is no less impressive. As befits any high end opera, the costumes are outstanding – vibrant, lush, and eye-catching. Ultimately however the film will live or die on the score.

Webber’s soundtrack is as captivating as it was more than a decade ago and is sure to sell a few million more copies. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but if I had to choose I would have to go with Masquerade – the combination of choreography, showy costumes and excellent delivery provide a visual and aural treat. Running a close second would be the piece where the Phantom delivers a series of ultimatums (I believe it’s called Notes) which in turn inspires the film’s most comical moments.

While I’m not a big fan of musicals, to quote Mr. Burns “I know what I hate, and I don’t hate this” : I repeatedly found myself humming along with the numbers and was only occasionally bored. While the singing in is not as polished as the play, it is nonetheless entertaining and will prove to be a pleasant re-run for most fans. And at one fifth the ticket price it’s well worth the investment. And Frank agrees.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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