The Phantom Of The Opera: Music The Star In This Year's Most Guilty Pleasure

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 22, 2004 | Publication: Sun Sentinel | Author:
Jack Zink
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Like its older, musical-theater sibling, the movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera is already ringing up a chorus of catcalls on its way to making money hand over fist. Incredibly sumptuous and hopelessly romantic, director Joel Schumacher's cinematic chick lit is more closely related to James Cameron's Titanic than the movie musical mini-trend of Moulin Rouge and Chicago.

At $80 million, it could be the most expensive series of close-ups for singers who have a lip-sync problem. Neither that nor other credibility problems, however, can derail the vivid soap opera appeal of the tale's central romantic triangle. It's the year's most guilty pleasure.

Emmy Rossum, still going on 18 during filming, displays a young, burnished soprano as the heroine Christine Daae, a lonely member of the ballet corps in Paris's Opera Populaire in 1870. She is furiously contested by two would-be lovers, Patrick Wilson as her former childhood sweetheart Raoul and Gerard Butler as the possessive, vengeful Phantom.

The handsome Wilson, who starred on Broadway in The Full Monty and the latest revival of Oklahoma!, has a fine Broadway tenor voice. Former rock singer Butler, who doesn't look his 35 years as the Phantom, has a rough and undisciplined voice that, while serviceable, will make fans of the original stage star Michael Crawford wince.

Butler does exude sexual magnetism that feeds the movie version's heightened romantic intrigue. That peaks in a touchy-feely Point of No Return duet with a panting Rossum during an onstage performance, while Wilson looks on with envy from the audience. Yet no bodices are ripped, nor skirts lifted in this melodrama's most passionate moments. Its emotions are played out, as in the stage version, via Webber's soaring pop musical ballads.

This Phantom also is a tame creature as horror movies go, even by pre-Freddy Krueger standards. The Phantom's disfigured face looks no more horrifying than an adolescent case of acne, which makes it fairly easy for the heroine to vocalize her compassion.

Rossum triumphs in the musical's best lyrical moment, the dirge Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, sung by Christine to her late father at his grave. She also helps Butler get over the rough spots in their duets, particularly the pounding title song.

The movie gives the songs a full-blown symphonic orchestra treatment, three times the size of The Phantom's Broadway pit orchestra. Those anthems also swirl around many of the expanded action scenes via broad-stroked instrumental underscoring, not the least of which is the thundering organ overture. The instrumental enhancement gives an additional push to the invigorating choral highlight, Masquerade.

Schumacher co-wrote the screenplay with Webber, sticking to the layout of the stage musical while adding backstory from Gaston Leroux's 1911 pulp novel, and a bittersweet epilogue. Most notably, however, Schumacher's directorial touch rejects gothic horror in favor of romantic drama.

The best example of that occurs early on, when the Phantom first kidnaps Christine. As the music throbs, they float down a hallway of golden candelabras held by live arms, a blatant quote from Jean Cocteau's 1946 masterpiece Beauty and the Beast.

A flashback to the Phantom's boyhood, as told by his protector Madame Giry (a sympathetic Miranda Richardson), explains his deformity and genius. Short scenes during the hunt through the catacombs reference Leroux's lavish torture chambers, seldom included in any film or stage adaptation.

These and other stylistic flourishes don't always mesh well. Further, occasional credibility lapses (including the un-synced lip sync) help make for a rocky marriage between fantasy and reality. But a marriage it is, and one that offers a close-enough approximation of the world's most popular stage musical.

A lush scenic design and photography (with cameras that seem in motion as much as the ballet dancers) also create an inviting natural opulence that feels richer than today's increasingly digital environments. It's an inviting playground for repressed desire of an enduring favorite in pulp fiction to explode anew.