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Review From Urban CineFile (Australia)

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: December 3, 2004 | Publication: Urban Cinefile | Author: Louise Keller and Andrew L. Urban
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SYNOPSIS:
In the late 19th century, the Opera Populaire is the arts and entertainment hub of Paris society. But in its underground caverns, a shadowy, masked figure lives in the semi darkness, hiding from the world, known to the management, the artists - and especially to ballet mistress Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson) - as the Phantom of the Opera (Gerard Butler). As new management (Ciarán Hinds, Simon Callow) and the new patron, Raoul (Patrick Wilson) take over, the Phantom demands that young chorus singer Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) be given the lead role, replacing temperamental diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver). Christine, whose childhood friendship with Raoul is rekindled as grown up romance, has been secretly tutored by the Phantom (but never face to face) and her beautifully pure voice is an instant hit with audiences. The facially disfigured Phantom's interest in Christine turns to a deep, desperate love, and he draws Christine to his 'music of the night', while Raoul fights desperately to keep her. When she spurns him, the Phantom wreaks a terrible revenge.

Review by Louise Keller:
Surrender to your most romantic dreams, and allow the dazzling spectacle of The Phantom of the Opera to seduce you. Sumptuous visuals and Andrew Lloyd Webber's dramatic, passionate music drives this story of obsession and unrequited love between the disfigured musical genius and the beautiful young ingénue. If you've seen Lloyd Webber's stage musical, which is based on Gaston Leroux's 1925 novel and that has been astounding audiences since 1986, you won't be disappointed by Joel Schumacher's majestic film experience. If it is brand new to you, its magic will overwhelm. Possibly Lloyd Webber's greatest musical achievement, it is without doubt his most personal, having been written for his then muse Sarah Brightman, a vehicle that made her star shine very brightly. It was only their divorce that slowed down the cogs of the wheels that turned the stage show into a musical on screen.

But the film is here at last, and Schumacher and Lloyd Webber have collaborated on the script, keeping most of the original elements. Theatrical to the extreme, music is the driver, while elaborate sets and exquisite costumes deck every single scene. As cobwebs fly, we are whisked from the grainy, black and white present, to the rich and colourful past, when the magnificent two-ton crystal chandelier lights up and rises from its discarded state.

The all-important casting of the love triangle works on all levels - vocally and visually, with Gerard Butler enigmatic as the tormented Phantom, Emmy Rossum breathtaking as the innocent Christine, and charismatic Patrick Wilson as theatre owner Raoul, who is bewitched by her. Rossum sings like an angel, and her 'Think of Me' builds up a head of steam that would charge a locomotive. Her voice is pure, her wide-eyed innocence tangible, and she is vocally matched by Wilson's beautiful tenor voice. Butler may not have quite the depth of voice to deliver some of the notes, but his performance is excellent. There's an abundance of sexual tension between both men and Christine, and we feel for all of them. Minnie Driver (the only cast member who doesn't do her own singing) makes a wonderful Carlotta, the temperamental diva who needs more nurturing than an orchid in a hothouse. (Driver does sing in her own voice during the closing credits - the song 'Learn to be Lonely'.) I also liked Miranda Richardson as the ballet mistress who knows more than she lets on, but it bothered me slightly that she is the only cast member to have a French accent.

The production pieces are splendidly sumptuous - from the opulence and glamour of Masquerade, to the provocative Phantom of the Opera title song, whose sequence in the Phantom's lair, deep in the underground grotto, where candelabras rise in the underground lake is truly fantastic. Emotionally, there may be more drama in the stage production, but the heart-wrenching climactic scene when Christine gives the Phantom the gift of her kiss, will have romantics fumbling for their tissues.

The ultimate musical romance, The Phantom of the Opera is a thrill for lovers everywhere.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This wonderfully gothic tale has all the elements that drive grand opera, so little wonder it was a huge hit as a stage musical, with Andrew Lloyd Webber's multi-layered music. And while the music still drives the film, the story - newly refurbished with a backstory and greater romantic emphasis - is given almost equal billing, to meet the needs of cinema.

The film opens and closes (in colour-drained monochrome) well after the events of the story have taken place. The Paris Opera is a crumbling shell, a ghost of its former splendid self, and an auction of memorabilia has drawn a small but interested crowd - especially a couple of mournful souls.....Their interest is deeply personal and one item triggers a flashback to the momentous events decades earlier, when the beautiful and talented young Christine came under the spell of the Phantom of the Opera.

As the timeframe changes, the film's first truly magical creation explodes in a dizzying blend of swelling music and special effects, with the grey, decaying ruins coming to glorious, colourful life as the old chandelier is lifted on its ancient pulleys, like a rag doll on a string whose puppet master has awoken.

This cinematic illusion sets the tone for the film's many large set pieces, such as the extraordinary Masquerade scene, a glittering masked ball superbly, excitingly choreographed. When the Phantom makes his dramatic appearance at the top of the wide marble stairs, the operatic mood is complete. (Thanks in no small part to John Mathieson's beautiful cinematography, Anthony Pratt's lavish production design and Simon Lee's conducting, not to mention the orchestra's dynamic performance.)

But for a musical that's been seen by 80 million people around the world, it's the performers - and their vocal qualities - that is of utmost interest. When the casting of 16 year old Emmy Rossum was announced (June 2003), all the world knew of her was that she had been with the Metropolitan Opera in New York since she was 7 years old.

Well, now we see and hear why Andrew Lloyd-Webber selected her to play the role he created for his ex wife, Sarah Brightman. (Let's not drag out that old beehive about the parallels between Phantom/Lloyd-Webber and Christine/Sarah.) Rossum is very pretty, her eyes are wide and liquid, her mouth is sensuous yet innocent, her voice is pure yet powerful. What more can you ask. Her performance is sold through her face, and when it really counts, she comes up with the goods; namely scenes like Point of No Return, when the Phantom is seducing her in his watery dungeon, lit by a thousand candles.

At 33, Scottish singer Gerard Butler, was at the time of casting 17 years her senior, but frankly, it doesn't show; partly, I suppose, because he's either masked or disfigured. But partly because Rossum looks like a 20 year old. In any case, his strong but less polished voice - some may call it raw - doesn't quite have the riveting, doomladen quality that I would have preferred. But then perhaps I am a tad obvious. The pathos that is essential to the emotional clockwork of The Phantom of the Opera comes entirely from the title character, and Butler makes that work pretty well.

Patrick Wilson is excellent as Raoul, a handsome young aristocrat whose love for Christine has to withstand her flirtation with her dark side, and Minnie Driver is a knockout as the undevine diva, Carlotta, whose histrionics are the film's light relief. Excellent, too, is a rather still and restrained Miranda Richardson as the ballet mistress whose secret connection to the Phantom is a new element that gives the story a deeper resonance.

If the film is a far departure from the book- it's certainly more romantic and the Phantom is not the hideous creature Leroux describes - it is also a departure from the stage production. I don't criticise the film for any of that, although perhaps my melancholy heart would have preferred a more monstrous Phantom, if only to deepen the pathos and intensify the emotions. Yes, a more gothic retelling would suit me... but then again, as the music swirls inside my mind, I feel the lights dim and the candles burn and hear the music of the night, transporting me beyond the point of no return.

 


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