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'Phantom' On the Big Screen Captures Magic

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: December 24, 2004 | Publication: Falls Church News Press (Virginia) | Author: Nicholas F. Benton

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Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" blurs the line between Broadway musical and opera. Given that opera used to be more bawdy entertainment for the masses than the high-brow event it's evolved into over the last 150 years, why can't this production slip over the line into the official operatic genre?

Having seen "Phantom" on the stage three times, I like many came to a viewing of the film version, in theatres this week, with a certain trepidation. While eager to see it, my mind was haunted by the many times movies have failed desperately to match what was first on stage. It wouldn't matter so much if original wasn't so good.

Indeed, reading many comments by viewers posted on the International Movie Data Base website, the dominant reaction was to compare of this week's new film with memories from the stage, and they were mixed.

But what someone gets out from a film, play, musical or opera, especially one that emulates a known production and/or story line from a different medium, depends on what one is looking for. In this case, if one is looking to get swept up in the total experience of "Phantom" and with its particular pathos, as I was, this one is a 10 out of 10.

It is important that Webber, himself, was intimately involved in the making of this movie, just as it was for Cameron Crowe to be so closely involved with "Almost Famous," and with other cases.

With Webber's oversight, the film reflects the intent of its creator in two primary ways, in my view, over and above the music, itself. First, it's by way of the context, the remarkable sets, the props, the attention to the detail of the artistic sensibilities of Paris in 1870, the costumes, the close-ups, the camera angles, the lighting and the overall cinematography. Smashing. Second, it's by way of pulling off the climax with maximum impact. The kiss, which took the entire production to work up to properly.

The beautiful, sensitive and vulnerable heroine, Christine, is played and sung by 17-year-old Emmy Rossum, challenged to portray just the right mix of passion, emotional depth and innocent confusion to rise to the critical moment with a credible outpouring of genuine love that was exquisite.

Playing off her with equal but counterpunctual color and sentiment is the facially-disfigured musically-gifted Phantom, performed by Gerard Butler, transformed by the defining embrace from a deadly rage to unlock himself and liberate his true love from his physical, if not emotional, grasp.

As for the young and handsome Raoul, he is played effectively by Patrick Wilson as a well-meaning but generally clueless childhood sweetheart.

The film evolves as one intensely colorful and emotional streaming experience. unfolding like time-lapse photography of a rose in bloom to its central moment when, by the power of love, the beautiful heals the flawed. All done to the rich music and lyrics that have intoxicated audiences since Webber's production first ever took the stage.

The careful articulation of sung and spoken lines in the film permits a full appreciation of the dialogue and the progression of the story. Overall, the production is like one great French rococo painting in motion, worthy of its Golden Globe nominations for best picture, best actress and best song.


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