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'Phantom Of The Opera' A Bedazzling Spectacle

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: December 22, 2004 | Publication: | Author: Tim Lammers

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'The Phantom Of The Opera' (PG-13)
Four out of four

You don't have to be an opera fanatic to love "The Phantom of the Opera," a hauntingly beautiful screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic stage musical that hits all of the high notes from its quiet beginning to its bedazzling conclusion. It easily ranks among the year's best movies.

To begin with, the music is sweeping and the singing by its leads -- Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum and Patrick Wilson -- sends shivers up your spine. On top of that, the cinematography is breathtaking, the costumes are lavishly detailed and the atmosphere -- created by a combination of the film's gorgeous opera house and its stark, haunting surroundings -- is completely engrossing.

Based on the classic novel by Gaston Leroux, "The Phantom of the Opera" is set in 1870, where a disfigured musical genius (Butler) has become legend by terrorizing the residents of Opera Populaire, a premiere Paris opera house.

Apart from a ballet mistress (Miranda Richardson) who knows his tragic past, the half-masked Phantom leads an otherwise lonely existence in the catacombs of the opera house. He's been deeply longing for the love of Christine Daae (Rossum), an orphaned chorus girl he has been teaching. But their relationship is hardly conventional, for the naive singer believes that her dying father his fulfilled a promise of sending her the unseen mentor as an "Angel of Music."

Teetering on the edge of madness, the Phantom is willing to take extreme measures to fulfill his desires. He first aims to make Christine the star of the opera by displacing the company's obnoxious diva, Carlotta (Minnie Driver). But even when he succeeds, the Phantom's plans only result in a rage of jealously and path of destruction: For her elevated status has attracted the attention of a potential suitor in Raoul (Wilson), a former childhood sweetheart of Christine's, who has grown up to become a wealthy and dashing aristocrat.

Of course, the major difference between the old films and this "Phantom" that it's the music of composer Webber and lyricist Charles Hart that drives the narrative along. Also, the compassionate tone is different than many of the previous film Phantoms. After the tragic love story that was1925 film version starring Lon Chaney, the character came to be portrayed more as a monster than a tragic figure.

Without question, this "Phantom" is more emotionally complex than previous film versions of the story. While I can't reference the stage version of the musical because I haven't seen it, I can tell you that co-writers Schumacher and Webber expanded the backstories of the characters from Webber's original musical, which now, among other things, includes the Phantom's tragic beginnings.

While the film is compelling throughout, it's at it's best, emotionally, when the love triangle between the Phantom, Raoul and Christine starts to heat up.

And while Rossum's soprano voice is enough to make your hair stand up, she takes her performance to the limit as an actor as well. Rossum is amazing in that one minute she convinces you of her innocence in the company of Raoul, but the next she exudes passion in the company in seductive clutches of the Phantom. There's no question that the Rossum, who starred in the summer smash "The Day After Tomorrow," has a promising career ahead of her. Let's just hope she's able to use her singing voice a lot more.

Despite their characters decidedly different backgrounds, both Wilson and Butler have great chemistry with Rossum. Wilson, the star of Broadway's "The Full Monty," brings light and warmth to the film's dark narrative with his dashing looks, a likable persona and silky tenor voice.

Butler, who has a rougher delivery to demonstrate his angst, benefits by his natural charisma, which makes him mesmerizing as Christine's mad, musical mentor. And, like any great gothic film character, like Chaney's Phantom or Frankenstein's monster for example, Butler's Phantom also begs for our compassion as a creature that is misunderstood. His performance is truly heartbreaking.

The film boasts a wonderful supporting cast, from Driver as the playfully over-the-top Carlotta (while she's the only cast member who doesn't do her own singing in the film, she does contribute the film's heartfelt end title song, "Learn to be Lonely"), to Richardson's subtle portrayal of the Madame Giry to Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds as the amusing new owners of the Opera Populaire. The chorus that backs up the main players is nothing short of brilliant.

Schumacher has proven many times with his films that he's a great visual storyteller, so it's almost a given that the film is a wonder to look at. Told in flashback, the film's present is effectively shot in grainy black and white, while its past (which encompasses most the film) is vibrantly played out in color.

As visually stunning as it is, Schumacher's opus becomes further realized, of course, with Webber's classic music. The songs -- which include beautiful interpretations of the classics "Music of the Night," "Think of Me" and "Angel of Music," among others -- aren't just musical numbers to help make a transition from one scene to the next; Webber's music helps convey the emotions and Hart's lyrics help spell it out.

The film is different from its most recent musical counterpart, "Chicago," in that it has far less dialogue. But like "Chicago," the characters to tell the story through their interactions during the songs, and its fairly easy to interpret what's going on.

And like "Chicago," "The Phantom of the Opera" has all the makings of Oscar greatness. Academy members should start making their reservations now for a night at the "Opera." It's one film that can't be missed.


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