'The Phantom' puts nice spin on classic

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: January 19, 2005 | Publication: Knight Ridder Newspapers | Author: Chris Hewitt
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Ridiculousness doesn't detract from story line

The tiny mask that covers scars on the Phantom's face lets "The Phantom of the Opera" have it both ways: He's disfigured and he's hot.

Something similar happens with the movie, which covers up the peculiarities of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical with gorgeous design and fluid camera work: It's dumb, but it's intelligently made. It's draggy, but it's fast. It's creepy, but it's romantic. It's disfigured, but it's hot.

Just so you know, I can't stand the stage version of "The Phantom of the Opera." The Phantom strikes me as a creepy stalker, Christine the opera singer who becomes his protege at Paris' Opera Populaire is a simp, the songs are all pitched at the same level of caterwauling, the pace is glacial, and the love story works only if your idea of romance involves stalking, kidnapping and murder.

Most of that stuff survives in the movie, but director Joel Schumacher and his sexy, good-not-great cast give the movie more energy and flow than the stage version. A tiny example: Near the beginning, a bold camera movement establishes, in a mere two seconds, the romantic triangle between Christine, the Phantom and Christine's nondeformed suitor, Raoul, a relationship the stage show needs two songs, five scene changes and one fake elephant to set up.

It's thrilling to watch the movie glide through the opera house's backstage, giving us a sense of how much all the employees owe the Phantom, who is the hidden, guiding genius behind the place. And things that are supposed to amaze us onstage the "Masquerade" production number, the falling chandelier, the rococo cemetery, the opera house's magical transformation from ruin to splendor are legitimately amazing here.

This "Phantom" is gorgeous in two eras: Set in 1870, the color sequences that tell the main story seem to be lit entirely by candles (a Pier One warehouse doesn't have this many candles). And black-and-white scenes, set in 1919, have the grace and poetry of silent movies.

Sometimes, I found myself wishing "Phantom" were a silent movie. Bogged down by ballads, the last half-hour succumbs to the pokiness that is the phantom menace of the stage show. The movie trims many of the songs no problem, since they're all the same song but the ballad, "Point of No Return," goes on long past the point of no return.

This "Phantom" is not a dramatic reworking of a stage show, in the mold of "Chicago" or "Cabaret," but a faithful, tightened-up duplication of it. And like the show but unlike virtually every good musical I can think of the movie has no sense of its own ridiculousness. Why, for instance, does it encourage us to laugh at vain opera star Carlotta (Minnie Driver) but not at the hyper-dramatics of its central menage-a-trois, whose anguished posing is even goofier? I'm guessing it's because Andrew Lloyd Webber, who composed the music and footed the bill for the movie, doesn't see the humor in it.