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PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (PG-13) (2004)

Warner Brothers

Official Site

Director: Joel Schumacher

Producers: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Eli Richbourg

Written by: Andrew Lloyd Webber & Joel Schumacher; based on the stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the novel The Phantom Of The Opera by Gaston Leroux

Cast: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Ciarin Hinds, Simon Callow

Rating:


I don’t dislike musicals. Really I don’t. Not even musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber whom I’ve found is not held in very high regard in the circles in which I travel (AN: Okay, “Cats” was seriously heinous). When I first saw the Webber version of “The Phantom Of The Opera” about seven years ago, and then for a second time on Broadway, I enjoyed the show. So here we are, the latest big-budget musical to come out of Hollywood, directed by Joel Schumacher, the bane of many a film and comic book geek’s existence.

I met Joel Schumacher at SXSW in 2003 where I was working at the premiere of Phone Booth. He was a nice, approachable fellow and he talked to me a little about Phantom. Since I enjoyed Phone Booth, I was willing to give Schumacher another chance. Sadly, the film version of the popular musical and classic story is a poorly executed disappointment.

The biggest problem with Phantom is its slavish adaptation of Webber’s (who co-wrote and produced the movie) work which, I suppose, is good for Webber fans. Every note, song, and line from Webber’s live musical is in the movie. Although the techniques worked for the staged musical, a movie is an entirely different medium. While I am not a huge fan of Chicago, at least the film contained changes from the stage to the screen to make it more cinematic. Phantom does little to accomplish this goal, leading to a rather boring and dull experience. The musical numbers seem to linger forever. A serious lack of pacing is evident.

Phantom is the story of a young chorus girl, Christine (Rossum), at an opera house. The opera house has recently been sold to new managers who find that the theatre contains a long history of mishaps chalked up to “The Phantom Of The Opera.” After some trouble with the company’s leading star, Carlotta (Driver), Christine steps up as a lead and gains the attention of a childhood sweetheart and benefactor for the opera house, Raoul (Wilson). Little does everyone know that Christine’s been getting lessons from said Phantom (Butler). Christine is drawn to the Phantom but she loves Raoul, and the Phantom is not happy when the managers neglect his demands. Needless to say, there’s trouble—big trouble—in Paris, with a capital P, and that stands for… well you know.

At least one good thing I can say about the movie is that Emmy Rossum is truly wonderful as Christine. She captures the character perfectly, she’s gorgeous, she sings beautifully. However, Rossum outshines everyone else, especially Butler’s Phantom, who comes off more as an evil sociopath than the tortured soul he really is. The point is, I think the audience is supposed to be more empathetic to the Phantom, but Butler’s performance lacks that dimension. Wilson, who annoyed me earlier this year in another role with shoes too big for him to fill (Travis in The Alamo), continues to disappoint. Wilson comes from a background of Broadway shows and musical theatre. Although his singing is good, he remains a vanilla and boring personality.

The movie possesses a more fleshed-out narrative-framing device than that featured in the stage version. It is more of the elderly Raoul reminiscing about old times and the events we see. Schumacher also likes to cut to the backstage crew for the opera quite a bit, which shows the crew drinking and reveling. Schumacher used this technique to portray the division of social classes. However, I don’t really see how it pertained to the movie, though I suppose it was a good way of giving you a sense of the time, place, etc.

Anthony Pratt’s production design for the movie is impressive, and pretty much a faithful recreation of Webber’s show. Alexandra Byrne’s costumes are similar to the stage version, though the Phantom’s garb for the masquerade ball was not quite as outlandish as it should have been.

Overall, Phantom is a not-so-ambitious musical adaptation that does little to establish itself as a movie or true spectacle. If you are a hardcore ’phile of Webber and his show, you’ll probably be happy with the film, though Butler is definitely a rather bad Phantom. I will say the movie was definitely not worth the hoops I had to jump through to watch it, but that’s an entirely different story.

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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