Music of the night drives Phantom film

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: January 11, 2005 | Publication: The Nelson Mail (New Zealand) | Author: MANNING David
Publication/Article Link:

The Phantom of the Opera (Starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson. Directed by Joel Schumacher. PG. State Cinema)

The play's the thing, said Shakespeare in Hamlet, but it's the music - the music of the night - that drives Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera.

The context of Shakespeare's play reference was to catch the conscience of a king; Webber's music is to grip and sustain moviegoers, as it has done theatregoers, despite whatever weaknesses they also confront.

And all of Webber's music from his stage musical - which was based on Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel and was first performed on stage in 1986 - is here, with such songs as Think of Me, The Phantom of the Opera, The Music of the Night, Masquerade, All I Ask of You and Point of No Return.

With Webber as sole producer and co-writing the screenplay with director Joel Schumacher, the film is faithful to the stage production, except for the timing of the chandelier crash, while using cinematic opportunities to make a movie that is not just a theatrical experience in celluloid (as was Chicago, for instance). The advantage of close-ups and intimacy that film has over theatre intensifies the story's emotional appeal, while editing makes for smoother transitions and better coherency.

The film also offers a dramatised flashback of the disfigured Phantom's childhood as a circus freak and how he came to take residence in the Paris Opera House. As well there are journeys to cemeteries and graves and even a swordfight.

The film's central story, set in 1870, is framed in black-and-white by an auction in the opera house in 1919.

It is the story of the Phantom, a musical genius who lives deep in the bowels of the opera house and haunts its denizens. It is the story of how the Phantom seeks to make a star out of orphaned, innocent and lonely chorus girl Christine, with whom he has fallen fatally in love.

Christine becomes the Phantom's protege. He tutors her from the shadows of the opera house, unwilling to show himself, especially the half of his face that is mutilated and hidden by a mask, in fear she will be frightened by his appearance and reject him.

Christine, meanwhile, believes his voice, calling to her unseen, is an ''angel of music'', the spirit of her late father. Though she is enthralled with her enigmatic mentor, she also finds herself courted by the theatre's rich patron and nobleman, Raoul.

As she is drawn to Raoul, the possessive Phantom succumbs to jealousy and murderous rage, setting the stage, so to speak, for a subterranean showdown in the catacombs of the Phantom's underground lair and a resolution to a passionate love triangle.

It's basically a beauty-and-the-beast story which you don't want to think deeply about. Instead, as the Phantom instructs, ''abandon thought and let the dream descend''.

The movie then becomes a romantic fantasy of melodrama and obsessive love, mystery and melody.

It's a film that has been long-awaited by fans of the Phantom stage musical. No doubt many are disappointed that it took so long to make that its stage stars, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, could no longer play the lead roles.

Instead, the lead roles have wisely gone to actors who are not well-known and therefore come without celebrity-star baggage.

Eighteen-year-old, opera-trained Emmy Rossum (who was Sean Penn's murdered daughter in Mystic River) plays the young soprano Christine as a lonely, unaffected and beguiling ingenue who is looking for the love and protection her father provided before his untimely death.

As the Phantom, Gerard Butler (who once played Dracula) brings a more masculine approach to the role while still being a sensitive, tormented, tragically romantic figure, sympathetic yet clearly with one too many screws loose.

Patrick Wilson's role as Raoul is beefed up in the film (he's more aggressive and swashbuckling, even riding a horse bareback), but still cannot escape the blandness his good-guy character suffers in comparison to the dark and conflicted Phantom.

In the main supporting roles Minnie Driver (the only cast member not doing her own singing, although she sings the new song, Learn to Be Lonely, over the end credits) is over the top as temperamental diva La Carlotta; Miranda Richardson is ballet mistress Madame Giry, who knows who the Phantom is; and Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds are amusing and perfectly complimentary as the eager, new theatre managers, Andre and Fermin.

The cast is commendable and the sumptuous art direction, costuming, makeup and sound are excellent, including a magical special effects sequence changing an abandoned, delapidated opera house in 1919 into its 1870s' heyday.

But while the cast and production have done a laudable job in bringing the stage production to cinematic life - Phantom of the Opera is much better than the Evita film of Webber's musical - it ultimately all comes down to Webber's music (and lyrics by Charles Hart). If you enjoyed the music and the stage production, it's more than likely you will enjoy the music again and this film adaptation. - B+