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Phantom of the Opera Review

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: December 26, 2004 | Publication: FantasticDaily.Com | Author: Ediotrs

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Another version of Gaston Leroux’s famous novel The Phantom of the Opera arrives on movie screens today. This is however the first time that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of the novel has itself been adapted. The story tells of a French opera house in the late 19th century, when the property, though in full use, is haunted by a mysterious phantom who inhabits the walls and labyrinth beneath. The phantom, not a ghost but a mad genius, falls in love with one of the performers at the opera. This becomes a problem because she’s in love with someone else. Love triangle ensues, complete with darkness and song.

I might be out of my league in reviewing the film adaptation of a stage musical, and a hugely-successful stage musical at that. Not a connoisseur of musicals to begin with, I won’t try to tell a real fan how this compares. I can only tell you about my experience of the movie, perhaps as a sort of nudge for fellow neophytes.

I knew going in, of course, that this was a musical. I wasn’t prepared, however, for the fact that 98% of the dialogue is performed as song. I’m used to such entertaining examples of the genre as Grease and Chicago, where the screenplay consists of either full-blown song or simple dialogue, one or the other at a time. Here, of course, as many of you already know, the dialogue is operatic. To my ignorant ear, of course, as you might imagine, operatic dialogue can throw a guy for a loop. The problem, I think, is that the form seems unnecessary. Why should characters sing everything? In a regular song, after all, everything we hear we can recognize as “song.” But when two people go back and forth discussing the morning news or a trip to the mailbox, and there’s nothing resembling a refrain or chorus, the notes that are sung along the way feel nothing if not arbitrary. Of course there’s no point in complaining about the conventions of the form, I’m just pointing out that I was at a disadvantage.

But if the music didn’t always beguile me, the cinematography and production design did. I heartily approve of what the filmmakers have come up with. Don’t go expecting something like “singing Lost Boys” just because the director is Joel Schumacher. Rather, there isn’t a sign or suggestion that folks without genuine talent and pure love for the project put this together. This is a masterpiece.

If the operatic quality took some getting used to, I was won over in the end by the cinematography, the songs, and (perhaps most importantly) the heartbreakingly romantic story. The climax of the movie, hand-in-hand with the denouement, are the deal sealers. I don’t know if the book-end details which take place years following the main story have been added for the cinematic adaptation, but they, with their faded film effect, really enhance the mythic quality within the story’s own frame of reference. It’s one thing to watch an historical fiction, but quite another to watch an historical fiction where its own characters feel melancholy nostalgia within it.

Casting is a revelation. I was a little surprised that the lead actors aren’t a little better known. A film adaptation of such a grand stage hit would seem to suggest Hollywood star involvement. All I know titular star Gerard Butler from are sleazy sci-fi flicks (Dracula 2000, Reign of Fire, and Timeline). And I knew of Emmy Rossum from Mystic River and The Day After Tomorrow. But I had no idea they could sing! There’s no doubt in the world now that the producers put this movie together with the understanding that talent came first, not star power. I can’t sing praises of the two leads enough. Butler and Rossum have entered the status of cinematic immortality. Wow. And everyone else is good too. Especially Minnie Driver, as Carlotta the Diva; she’s really fun to watch. And Miranda Richardson is fine and dignified in the role of Madame Giry, who has a mysterious relationship with the Phantom.

Guys, if you’re being dragged to this movie by your lady loves, give The Phantom of the Opera a chance. There’s a lot to enjoy here. The romantic story and characters left this reviewer with a lump in my throat and a tinge of moistness around the eyes. Anyone familiar with the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of the story already knows what to expect from the music itself. But the performances, production design, and cinematography in this adaptation are all top-notch too.


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