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'The Phantom of the Opera' - Filmed version of stage hit is sumptuous

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: December 22, 2004 | Publication: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Author: Barbara Vancheri

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More is more.

That, in essence, is what director Joel Schumacher told Minnie Driver about her diva in "The Phantom of the Opera." After all, he said, "Nobody ever paid to see under the top."

Over the top it is -- and that applies to the entire movie.

If there is one flickering candle, there must be 25. If there's a chivalrous man to the rescue, he must be riding a white horse bareback. If there's a plummeting chandelier (and you knew there would be), it must weigh 2.2 tons and be festooned with 20,000 Swarovski crystal pendants.

Yes, the phantom has come a long way since Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel and the 1925 movie with Lon Chaney.

This "Phantom" is an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, which debuted in 1986 in London, arrived on Broadway in 1988 and has been seen by an estimated 80 million people. The cast album with original stars Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman has sold 40 million-plus copies.

Even those who haven't seen the play may be familiar with its songs, excesses and iconic mask. And the movie has something the stage show doesn't in a new and forgettable song called "Learn to Be Lonely," sung over the end credits by Driver.

Despite the efforts of Crawford fans, who spent years lobbying filmmakers to allow him to star, "Phantom" features the much younger Gerard Butler as the disfigured musical genius who haunts the Paris opera house. The Glasgow-born Butler ("Dear Frankie," "Timeline," and "Dracula: 2000") excels in his dramatic scenes, while his singing voice sometimes has a rough edge to it.

Emmy Rossum, who joined the children's chorus of the Metropolitan Opera at age 7 and played Sean Penn's daughter in "Mystic River," is chorus girl Christine Daae, the object of the Phantom's obsession. With her ivory skin, wide eyes and vulnerability, she is perfectly cast as the orphaned innocent who believed her dying father when he promised to send an "Angel of Music" to her.

Filling other key roles: Driver is a temperamental soprano; Patrick Wilson is Raoul, a wealthy opera patron who falls in love with Christine; and Miranda Richardson is the ballet mistress who has her own connection to the ghost in the catacombs.

The movie opens in 1919 Paris with an auction at the now-abandoned opera house. The black-and-white footage gives way to color as the theater returns to its glory. It's 1870 once more and the opulent building is bustling. Change is in the air, as new managers (Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds) arrive, the Phantom makes his presence and non-negotiable demands known and the resident diva storms out of rehearsal.

That sets the stage for Christine to move into the leading role, for the Phantom to spirit Christine to his lair below, for Raoul and Christine to retreat to the snowy, darkened rooftop above, and for the Phantom to witness their passionate kiss from the shadows. This Phantom, as we learn in a brief back story, is no stranger to rejection and fury.

It's all sumptuous, from the show-stopping "Masquerade" staged in black, white, gold and silver to the Marge Simpson-like wig worn by Driver and the gown that floats over her like a parachute.

"Phantom" periodically yanks us from color-saturated 1870 to black-and-white 1919, doing so in a way that interrupts the spell. The lip-synching by the actors, to their own voices except for Driver, whose opera was performed by Margaret Preece, occasionally seems apparent, and an end scene feels as if it's gilding the lily. But, as the director said, no one pays to be underwhelmed.


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