"Phantom' is phab-ulous

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 21, 2004 | Publication: sbury Park Press | Author: ELEANOR O'SULLIVAN
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Oddly, the best movie-movie of 2004 was wrought from a stage musical.

Director Joel Schumacher has found a perfect fit for his very big and flamboyant style in "The Phantom of the Opera," a remake of the hit musical that sprang from several dramatic movies that were based on a novel.

Schumacher loves the smallest detail and the grandest gesture, so his "Phantom" has gorgeous sets, lovely vistas, amazing costumes, the best lighting and location work. It also has a trio of actors who project great emotion, which is really the linchpin of the Phantom story.

A freak -- The Phantom -- who has been rescued from a life of torment and abuse grows up in hiding underneath the Paris Opera House, and is looked after secretly by the kindly Madame Giry. He builds himself a fantasy world and falls in love, unseen and from afar, with a supporting player, Christine, from the opera company. He tutors her and terrorizes the company bigwigs into giving her a starring role when the company's diva has an inexplicable stage accident. But her long-ago suitor, Raoul, returns and she falls in love again with him.

This sets up a classic triangle, with the Phantom refusing to give up his protege, and the suitor equally stubborn in his devotion.

What sets the story apart from the usual love triangle is rather obvious at this point: Andrew Lloyd Webber's archly dramatic score (which also has some glorious, beautiful melodies), which Schumacher has presented with great flourish. Two big egos have worked together harmoniously enough for a big, happy product.

Moreover, "The Phantom of Opera" is really about the allure of show business, the enormous fun of acting out emotions, and getting to dress up while doing so. If you love show business, this "Phantom of the Opera" should be diverting and rewarding. It moves in and out of the phantom-protege story now and then in flash forwards, but Schumacher makes sure the film always retains a transporting sense of the fantastic.

The trio of players in the lead roles are all on high wires, especially Gerard Butler as the Phantom. If his voice can sound strained (and even off key now and then), he compensates with an intensity that is nerve rattling. He plays the big moment when the disfigured side of his face is exposed with the right balance of horror and pity.

As the protege, Emmy Rossum can be stared at for hours, she's that pretty, and she moves well. Her voice has crystal-clarity and is sweet as well.

In the role of Raoul, Patrick Wilson's sturdy body and well-scrubbed look are not show stoppers, but he throws himself into the role of the boyfriend with passion. In supporting roles, Miranda Richardson and Minnie Driver also get themselves into the spirit -- and then some.

This "Phantom" reminds us what movie-movies are all about.