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
—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris