Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 22, 2004 | Publication: Killer Movie Reviews.Com | Author: Editors
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THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA , US/ UK , 2004, MPAA Rating : PG-13 for brief violent images

Joel Schumacher and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was a match made in cinematic heaven. The key to successfully producing a screen version of THE PHANTOM is creating a visual feast that is on par with the extravagance of the score. It’s a sweeping, soaring thing with crescendos that spill over the audience like so many tsunamis so pumped up is it with the sort of melodrama that transcends kitsch and undergoes an apotheosis into the epic. Mere special effects such as the ones prominent in the spectacle that was the stage production, falling chandeliers and gondola chases through the watery caverns far beneath the opera of the title, while impressive, don’t have the same power on screen that they did on a stage. And while those memorable moments re-appear in the film, as do a multitude of other suitably operatic excesses, the single element by which the entire film can be said to succeed is Gerard Butler as the Phantom. Tender, bombastic, more than a little insane, a slave to his enormous passions and his desperate longing for the heroine, Christine (Emmy Rossum), he is larger than life and completely mesmerizing, the embodiment of the quintessential tragic romantic hero against whom everyone else, including the putative, perfectly sane romantic hero (Patrick Wilson), pales in comparison on every level.

The story is a different take on the classic Beauty and the Beast tale. The beauty is Christine, the lovely orphan girl with the magical voice. The beast is, of course, The Phantom who haunts the opera house where Christine is in the chorus. He demands a salary and a private box for each performance, and, as the film begins, he’s added his protégée in a starring role to the list. Christine knows him only as the Angel of Music who comes to her as a disembodied voice to guide her. She's about to know him as an ardent suitor just as her childhood friend, Raoul (Wilson) re-enters her life and wants to be more than just friends.

Director Schumacher, no stranger to the splashier side of filmmaking, has opened the play up with its composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, giving the Phantom more of a back story and more of a field on which to play. He’s also opened it up visually, with extravagant sets full of writhing statues, acres of gilt, and a forest of candles, all providing the perfect frame for emotionally volatile tone of the piece and it helps sweep the audience into the otherworldy splendor of a hyper reality that pays tribute to Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and the 1925 Lon Chaney silent. By contrast, the present, that would be 1919, sneaks into the flashback that is the story as a stark and dull place of grainy grays where all passion is spent and only the distant memory of it remains. It makes for a poignant sort of memento mori, as age catches up with even those who are the most full of life and promise.

Wilson is a good looking morsel in a male model sort of way, the type of loveliness that is pleasant but unremarkable, as is the safe, conventional love he offers Christine. Rossum makes Christine immaculately innocent, yet finds a way to exploit the burgeoning sexuality inherent in the role. Instead of coming across as wishy-washy for the seemingly endless way that she falls under and out of the Phantom’s spell, there is, instead, the fascination for a creature that is both mysterious, dangerous, and completely hers if she will have him. It is the perfect embodiment of the eroticism of that danger and of the unknown. For comic contrast there is Minnie Driver perfectly cast as the Italian diva who bullies the hapless and imaginatively coiffed new owners (Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds) and everyone else in her orbit with bursts of aggressively garbled English and an ego that spans both hemispheres.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is an unrestrained flight of Gothic fantasy, a romance unafraid and unapologetic in letting its emotions run to a fevered pitch while still maintaining its heart and soul. There are not enough superlatives to bestow on this incarnation of the story to do it justice.