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Phantom' is lavishly escapist

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: December 22, 2004 | Publication: v | Author: Claudia Puig

Posted by: admin

Those who enjoyed Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera on stage surely will like the movie version ( * * * out of four).

And even audiences who are not familiar with the production - one of musical theater's biggest successes since its Broadway debut in 1988 - might be drawn to the slightly more contemporary-sounding and sumptuously staged movie.

The look is dazzling, befitting the romantic tale of a tortured musical genius who lives in the catacombs of the Paris opera house and takes a promising young singer as his protégée.

Scotsman Gerard Butler does a fine job as the charismatic, ghostly character who hides away in the opera house because of his disfigurement. Emmy Rossum, only 16 when the film was shot, seems born to play Christine, the trusting ingénue. She has a lovely voice, and her scenes with the Phantom in the cavernous nether regions of the opera house are the movie's finest moments. His resplendent but sinister lair, reached via gondola, is wonderfully stylized and seductive.

For those whose primary experience with musicals is on the screen, this melodramatic tale with the familiar soundtrack should hold substantial appeal. (There is one new song written by Lloyd Webber, Learn to be Lonely, sung by Minnie Driver (news) during the closing credits.) The film Phantom is more in the overblown, extravagant mold of Moulin Rouge than the sophisticated Chicago.

And there are some jarringly flat notes. Driver as the diva whom Christine replaces is a ridiculous caricature, and ballet mistress Miranda Richardson's over-the-top French accent is off-putting. Christine's suitor Raoul, played by Patrick Wilson, is meant to be swashbuckling but is a bit of a drip. Butler's brooding Phantom is a much more compelling screen presence, and the half of his face we do see is manly and handsome.

But the shortcomings don't stop the whole lavish affair from being a guilty pleasure. The Phantom offers a couple of hours of escapist and macabre fun. (Opens Wednesday in select cities; PG-13 for brief violent images)


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