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Ghost with the most Broadway blockbuster makes successful jump to cinema

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: December 24, 2004 | Publication: Daily Herald | Author: editors
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You probably can't brag to your friends with much satisfaction that you saw "The Phantom of the Opera" for eight bucks at the mall. That's arguably the only point in which Joel Schumacher's lavish, soaringly romantic film fails to rival or surpass the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical it's based on.

Doubtless the input of Webber himself, as co-screenwriter (with Schumacher), enhanced the film's clear, harmonious connection with its source material. Schumacher, however, is on his game and plainly understands the stage production's essential appeal.

The first and very effective ploy in his bag of tricks is to begin with dead silence, fading the Warner Bros. logo into blackness and briefly prolonging the suggestive hush before illuminating the screen with the flame of a single candle and finally introducing a faint breath of sound.

It's a small touch that captures our attention and holds it into an artfully grainy, black and white prologue: In Paris of 1919, the aged Vicomte de Chagny attends an auction of the effects of the long-defunct Opera Populaire, most notably including "lot 666, a chandelier in pieces."

As in Webber's musical, the chandelier is a transitional device. When lit, it becomes whole before our eyes and rises to the ceiling as shadows and cobwebs vanish and the movie shifts into sumptuous color.

Building on the thrill of this transformation, Schumacher sends his camera on a rambling circuit of the opera house's suddenly bustling interior, reveling in the freedom from fixed perspective that is the movie's most obvious advantage over any theatrical production.

In its heyday, the Populaire is successful yet troubled by rumors of the enigmatic "opera ghost" said to lurk beneath the vast building.

The ghost (Gerard Butler), of course, is really a flesh-and-blood madman scarred by a facial deformity who manipulates the rise of young Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) from dancer to star soprano.

Consumed by passion for his pupil, he recklessly abandons his behind-the-scenes MO and becomes a rival for Christine's affections with Raoul de Chagny (Patrick Wilson, who also plays the doddering de Chagny), the Populaire's handsome young patron.

Per the stage version, the story is told in a series of rousing musical vignettes. Butler, Wilson and especially Rossum, each performing his or her own vocals, carry this off with captivating energy.

There are glitches: The dubbing seems spotty at first, creating the unfortunate impression that the leads are lip-synching. And "Music of the Night," the first big showstopper, is hindered by fuzzy lighting, and hairstyling and costume choices that make Rossum look as though she wandered in from the set of a mid-'80s rock music video.

Not to worry. Excellent casting, eye-filling visuals and ear-caressing vocals mesh with ever-increasing fluidity as the movie morphs into a confident succession of smashing songs, tragedy and romance writ irresistibly larger than life.

 


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