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Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: December 6, 2004 | Publication: YourMovies.Com (Australia) | Author: Mark Beirne
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Since its Broadway debut in 1988, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "The Phantom of the Opera" has remained the pinnacle of stage plays. Now the second-longest running musical in Broadway history, "Phantom" has seduced audiences with its timeless score, sumptuous setting and suspenseful story.

More than 15 years later, Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth, Tigerland) brings the classic musical to the big screen. The result is a grandiose, epic film that remains faithful to the source material and honours the millions of fans around the world who prayed that the transition to the big screen would be a success.

"The Phantom of the Opera" opens in Paris, 1919, where a group of elderly characters descend on the Opera Populaire for an auction of antique props. As a dusty sheet is thrown off a shattered chandelier and the lights explode to the boom of Lloyd Webber's spine-tingling overture, the film seeps from grainy black and white into full colour; the chandelier rising and the Opera House transforming into its original state in 1870.

The central events of "Phantom" are told in flashback, where beautiful chorus girl Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) is seduced by her singing instructor, the mysterious Phantom of the Opera (Gerard Butler), a disfigured musical genius who lives beneath the Opera Populaire and haunts the theatre. Is he a master of the arts or a murderous madman?

When the handsome Raoul de Chagny (Patrick Wilson) is appointed patron of the Opera, Christine's heart is torn in two directions and her journey of sexual awakening begins.

Based on Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel, "The Phantom of the Opera" is a sumptuous tale of love, deception and the power of music. Beneath that, however, is a more compelling story of conflicted human emotion, fear, insecurity and loneliness.

The feature film version of "Phantom" has expanded the central character arcs and back-stories from the stage musical. Christine's personal longing for her deceased father helps us to better understand her attraction to the Phantom, her 'Angel of Music'. Madame Giry, the ballet mistress who was relegated to a supporting role in the stage play, assumes a pivotal position in the plot. We also learn of the Phantom's origins and how he ended up in the underground lair; an outcast of the bitter world.

Schumacher's visual palette is extraordinary. From Gothic to Renaissance to the bohemian trappings of "Moulin Rouge!", the director's vision for "Phantom" is a broad array of colours and spectacular set designs. The song "Think of Me" is bathed in a starry white to highlight Christine's purity; "Masquerade" has been updated to a black, white and gold palette to contrast with the Phantom's Red Death costume; "Point of No Return" is a fiery red; and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" takes place in a white, snowy graveyard to complement Christine's angst.

Schumacher has made only minor changes to the structure of the stage play and its musical numbers. The managers' "Notes" sequences have been compacted into one, while the chandelier crash has understandably been moved from the end of the first act to the climax. A new epilogue is a welcome addition.

The standout number is "Point of No Return", a fiery confrontation between the Phantom and Christine on stage as they perform his self-written opera, "Don Juan Triumphant". The scene has been injected with an intense sexual energy that will leave you clutching your armrest; Butler and Rossum exude a chemistry that is often lacking in film musicals.

If Butler lacks the vocal excellence of original Phantom, Michael Crawford, he makes up for it with a superb acting performance. His take on the character is unique, playing the Phantom with much more anger, bitterness and insecurity than I've seen from stage performers like Anthony Warlow and Rob Guest. Butler's performance in the closing chapter (Track Down This Murderer) is astoundingly good; his reaction to Christine's kiss is heartbreaking and raw.

Wilson makes Raoul a solid character rather than simply the 'dashing jock', while Minnie Driver delivers a hilariously over-the-top performance as opera diva, Carlotta. Driver steals her scenes and gets some genuine laughs from her audience.

But the real success story is Rossum, who was 16 at the time of filming. She strikes the perfect balance between innocent child and emerging adult, layering her tremendous vocal skills with emotion and heart. Her physical beauty is matched by a voice that will send shivers down your spine, and her rendition of "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" is honest and powerful.

Lloyd Webber has composed a new song for the film entitled "Learn to Be Lonely". The intrumental track is played after "Masquerade" and then in the epilogue, followed by a lyrical version sung by Minnie Driver over the end credits. It's a nice tune; I don't think it stands up to the quality of the other tracks but the instrumental version fits well with events on screen.

As a die-hard fan of "The Phantom of the Opera", I couldn't have been happier with the film adaptation. It captures everything that I love about the stage musical, and then some.

Lloyd Webber's music has never sounded better, and I hope the film draws in legions of new admirers while re-igniting the nostalgic flame in existing fans.

 


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