A Lloyd Webber 'Phantom' all the way
Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 22, 2004 | Publication: SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER | Author: WILLIAM ARNOLD
For the record, Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel, "The Phantom of the Opera," has been filmed no less than seven times, including the 1925 silent classic with Lon Chaney, a multi-Oscar-winning 1943 version with Claude Rains and a 1962 cult-favorite with Herbert Lom.
Its surefire formula also has worked even more spectacularly on the stage: Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical hasn't been off the boards since its 1986 opening, and, with box-office receipts of $3.2 billion, is arguably the biggest grossing theatrical event of all time.
And now it works, very nicely indeed, as a film version of the musical. After a 15-year struggle to get off the ground, it's finally here, and even without Michael Crawford in the lead, "Phantom" fans are likely to think it was worth the wait.
With zero concessions to movie-audience demographics and no toning down of its rococo splendor and over-the-top melodrama, it's a strange entry for today's movie audience, which tends to prefer cynical musicals ("Chicago," "Moulon Rouge") and it's sure to be dismissed by many critics as pure kitsch.
But it's hard to imagine a more faithful celluloid translation of the stage phenomenon. The cast is good, the score is sublime, the visuals are sumptuous and it speeds along with a delirious romantic power that, if you let it, can sweep you away.
The element that separates this production from earlier, lesser movie versions of Lloyd Webber's rock operas ("Jesus Christ Superstar," "Evita") is the controlling hand of Sir Andrew himself. This time he did it his way, and he not only takes music and co-screenplay credit, he's listed as the movie's sole producer.
His seemingly odd choice of Joel Schumacher ("Batman and Robin") as director also has paid off. A competent Hollywood veteran with no particular style of his own and the confidence to play it straight, Schumacher stages the film in a style that's closer to classic MGM than MTV: fast-paced and energetic but incorrigibly elegant.
Even better is the casting of 18-year-old Emmy Rossum as Christine, the Phantom's musical protégé and bondage victim. Opera-trained and movie experienced (she was Sean Penn's daughter in "Mystic River"), she carries the movie with an unaffected grace and charm, and a voice that sounds like the cling of Waterford crystal.
The rest of the ensemble also clicks, if not as stunningly: Gerard Butler as the tormented title character, Patrick Wilson as the blander third point of the love triangle, Minnie Driver as a comically spoiled diva and Miranda Richardson as a dresser (who, for some reason, has the Paris Opera company's only French accent).
Every frame of the production is opulent and dreamlike almost beyond description, and its voluptuous interior design, sets, costumes, makeup and computer effects are all Oscar worthy. Especially impressive is a groundbreaking flashback sequence that visually transforms a ruined 1919 opera house to its 1870s glory.
In final analysis, of course, all the above is merely a backdrop for the rock-operetta score, and your experience of the movie will depend on how you relate to a style that has become (at least critically) somewhat unfashionable since the '80s. Non-fans may squirm for 143 minutes, but true believers will be in heaven.