Opulent 'Phantom' thrills in high style

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 23, 2004 | Publication: Journal Now | Author: Mark Burger
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For legions of Phantom of the Opera fans (phans?) the world over, the wait is over - and the wait will have been worth it.

Director Joel Schumacher's adaptation of this Andrew Lloyd Webber stage smash has finally come to the big screen. This version of Phantom is as faithful an adaptation to the stage play as we're ever likely to see. That alone should ensure its success at the box office, given the popularity of the play.

Schumacher and a crack team of designers have filled the screen with sumptuous, rich visuals that tend to dwarf the story. And why not? Schumacher has made a spectacle out of a simple storyline much in the same high fashion as Webber did with the stage production. Gaston Leroux's original story is barely a cut above a penny-dreadful potboiler, which is why so many previous screen incarnations differ from each other beyond the initial concept and setting. This presentation is what Phantom fans want - the stage play hasn't become a cultural phenomenon for nothing - and Schumacher and Webber give it to them.

Much as with every other facet of the production, the performances tend to be dwarfed by the sheer opulence of the endeavor. Then again, The Phantom of the Opera - both on stage and now on screen - is chiefly concerned with The Big Picture. Every single element is an end to even larger means.

Gerard Butler plays The Phantom. Emmy Rossum plays The Girl. Patrick Wilson plays The Hero. They make an attractive love triangle, but are merely figures in a much grander landscape.

Again, for Phantom fans, that's how it should be.

This version favors the romantic aspects of the story over the thrilling ones, which previous versions have generally emphasized. The Phantom is a masked, disfigured musical genius who haunts the Paris Opera House. Christine (Rossum) is an orphaned ingenue with whom the Phantom is smitten, and Raoul (Wilson) is the dashing young opera patron who also finds himself drawn to Christine.

Spirited comic relief is provided by Minnie Driver as resident diva La Carlotta, and by Ciaran Hinds and Simon Callow as the new owners of the opera house, initially unperturbed by the Phantom's threats until he begins making good on them. Miranda Richardson plays ballet mistress Madame Giry, and gorgeous Jennifer Ellison plays her daughter (and Christine's best friend), Meg.

The Phantom's obsession with Christine grows as she becomes the toast of Paris - an instant star of the stage. But when Christine begins to reciprocate Raoul's affections, the Phantom makes his displeasure known, leading to a fiery climax whose momentum is sometimes interrupted by the principals' bursting into song. The transition from stage to screen - and the adherence to maintaining as much of the stage production in a screen format - is sometimes a bumpy one, but Schumacher and Webber never look back. This is how they wanted Phantom; take it or leave it.

Schumacher - a filmmaker who has always favored style over substance, sometimes to the point of aggravation - has found the ideal format in which his methodology enhances, rather than detracts from, the overall effect of the work. This is undoubtedly Schumacher's finest hour, and he gets major assists from cinematographer John Mathieson, production designer Anthony Pratt and costume designer Alexandra Byrne - all of whom may well find themselves in the running come Oscar night.