The Phantom of the Opera (2004) HD-DVD (2004)

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 20, 2006 | Publication: DigitallyObsessed.Com | Author: Mark Zimmer
Publication/Article Link:http://www.digitallyobsessed.com

"Like yellow parchment is his skin, a great black hole serves as the nose that never grew."
- Joseph Buquet (Kevin R. McNally)

Stars: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson
Other Stars: Minnie Driver, Miranda Richardson, Simon Callow, Ciaran Hinds
Director: Joel Schumacher

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief violent images
Run Time: 02h:21m:00s
Release Date: April 18, 2006
UPC: 012569809406
Genre: musical

It's become rather fashionable to trash Andrew Lloyd Webber for some reason. Perhaps it's because success breeds contempt, or perhaps it's his shameless affection for schmaltz. But there's no denying that his many shows have proven both popular and durable. At the head of the list is his adaptation of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, an elaborate stage production translated almost wholesale to the screen in this film adaptation by Joel Schumacher, who is much better known for action films than musicals.

The new owners of the Paris Opera Populaire didn't expect to also inherit the Opera Ghost, who strangely demands both Box 5 be reserved for him, and that he receive a salary. Diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver) is nearly hit by a falling curtain, and she storms out of the production. At the suggestion of dancing mistress Mme. Giry (Miranda Richardson), young singer Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) is suggested to take over the lead role in Carlotta's place. Christine is an immediate success thanks to the training she has been receiving from a mysterious and unseen Angel of Music, who reveals himself to be none other than the masked Opera Ghost (Gerard Butler), determined to bring Christine's talents to fruition and to possess her himself. These dual ambitions threaten to be thwarted by Christine's affections for childhood sweetheart Vicomte Raoul (Patrick Wilson), but the Phantom is both determined and murderous.

In hindsight, it seems a natural to make an opera of the story, but no one had managed to pull it off before Lloyd Webber did so, in the epic-running productions still playing around the world. The themes of the story—love, obsession, music and art—fall neatly into the operatic milieu and the sometimes surreal world of the opera. The staging is quite elaborate, opening up the production nicely. However, while it attempts to translate some of the dazzlingly memorable moments of the stage version to the screen, the effect isn't quite the same since one doesn't have the same "How on earth did they do that?" response to a film that you do to seeing it live; the comparison is seeing a magician on film as opposed to in the flesh. Nonetheless, Schumacher makes some valiant efforts, with swooping shots through the backstage of the Opera and during the Masque Ball sequence. The picture eschews reality, making the Phantom's lair an impossible fantasyland of candles and Victorian bric-a-brac. Taking it literally is certainly a mistake. It's all in the spirit of the operatic, not neorealism.

The one actor who really captures that spirit is Driver, who paints prima donna Carlotta in broad, comical strokes, an over-the-top caricature of every diva and would-be diva. Rossum is appealingly waifish as Christine, and her voice is quite lovely and suited to the part. Patrick Wilson has a fine if unremarkable voice, and gives Raoul a decent presentation even if he does look a bit too much like Fabio. Butler gives the Phantom a suitable driven intensity, but his upper register often sounds as if he's straining; surely a convincing Angel of Music would have a more fluid delivery? It's a bit distracting at times, especially during the signature tune, Phantom of the Opera, where "Phan-" seems to be a serious struggle every time. And of course, he's rather handsome to be the disfigured creature of the story, but that's a problem with the Lloyd Webber presentation in general; the attempt to make the Phantom a sympathetic romantic lead is at war with the supposed ugliness and deformity of the Phantom.

What is truly at the heart of the story is a love of music and a devotion to art, that can be turned to madness and homicide through frustration and isolation. At the same time, there are any number of other conflicts at work in the story, such as art vs. commerce (the new Opera owners are boorish junk dealers, to the Phantom's disdain) and the thin line between love and desire for control. The strange relationship between fathers and daughters also is at work here, with the Phantom exploiting Christine's memories of her father for his own Svengali-like purposes to mold her to his will. These are powerful thematic materials, and Lloyd Webber does a reasonably good job of bringing them forward without being too obvious about the process. The music is pure romantic syrup from beginning to end, with Lloyd Webber being influenced by the music hall tradition as well as Broadway, but it's still endlessly appealing. A few moments firmly root the piece as a product of the 1980s, such as the use of synths and drum machines in a few spots. Lloyd Webber is plainly unafraid of the big sweeping gesture. On occasion the lyrics by Charles Hart let him down with awkward moments (most notably the clumsy words to Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again). But Lloyd Webber's talent for melody is at its best here, and Schumacher puts nice life into the visuals to accompany them, from the sensitive duet of All I Ask of You atop the Opera House to the Phantom's sensuous and seductive rendition of Music of the Night deep beneath it.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-