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The Phantom of the Opera - Messy Start, Perfect Finish

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: December 30, 2004 | Publication: WANE-TV | Author: Jackie Cronkhite
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One of the world's biggest musicals has come to life on the big screen. Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" film is a true spectacle, but falls short of true greatness.

The story, which has been told time and time again in movies, books, and of course this musical, is about a young opera singer named Christine (Emmy Rossum) singing at a Paris opera house haunted by a phantom in 1870. When the lead soprano, an uppity diva (Minnie Driver) storms off the set, Christine gets the lead in the latest production. She's an instant sensation, and she is reunited with her childhood sweetheart Raoul (Patrick Wilson.)

But there's a mystery behind Christine's opera talents. She's being trained in secret by the "Angel of Music," and after her debut, he appears to her in person. The angel is the Phantom, who enchants Christine and brings her to his secret lair underneath the opera house. Hiding half of his face behind a white mask, he believes that Christine is his one true love.

I have a disclaimer for this review. I am a big Andrew Lloyd Webber fan. "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is my favorite Webber musical. He just has a flair for writing great music and musicals that stand the test of time. His "Cats" holds the record for the longest-running Broadway musical of all time, and "The Phantom of the Opera" is in second place. And "The Phantom" wasn't even expected to be a hit when it debuted on Broadway in the 1980s. But audiences fell in love with it, and have continued to fall in love with it years later all around the world to the tune of $3.2 billion in ticket sales. Yes, that's billion. By comparison, the biggest movie of all time, "Titanic," has only taken in $1.8 billion.

Fans of the stage show might love or hate the changes and additions made to the story for the movie. There's more background for the characters, especially that of the Phantom himself. You get to learn exactly how he came to live underneath the opera house. And those of you who haven't seen the stage version will likely enjoy this movie as your first introduction to the musical.

Musicals are thankfully seeing a re-emergence in movie popularity. "Moulin Rouge" kick started the genre again, and "Chicago" took it all the way to Oscar gold in 2003. "The Phantom of the Opera" isn't quite as good as those two films, but it's not a bad movie either. I think that if it had been directed by someone with musical production experience, then the movie would have been sensational. Instead, it comes off just a little above average.

I've always thought that director Joel Schumacher was much better on a smaller scale. I love his smaller films- two of his best in recent years are "Phone Booth" and "Tigerland." But on a larger scale, he's just not as effective, and my stomach heaves every time I think of "Batman & Robin."

In fact, that very same bodily reaction happened when I heard he had been chosen by his friend Webber to direct the movie version of "The Phantom of the Opera." "Oh no," I thought, but being open to directors branching out and trying new things, I pushed those thoughts aside and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Could Schumacher handle directing a lavish big screen version of one of the biggest musicals of all time?

For the first hour and a half, no, he couldn't. The movie was a mess, especially during the musical numbers, which face it, are the most important things in a movie musical. Haphazard shots and bad pacing plague some of the best songs in the show, including "Masquerade," "The Phantom of the Opera," and "Notes/Prima Donna." In an interview with CBS News, Schumacher said if he was going to direct this show, he was going to do it on steroids. Well you know what, steroids aren't doing so well for professional baseball players and they didn't do so well for this movie.

But once the movie started into its finale, it felt as if Schumacher FINALLY hit his stride. The ending 45 minutes are absolutely sensational, enough to lull me out of my semi-sleeping state to sit on the edge of my seat. If only the entire movie could have been at this same level, then "The Phantom" would have really been something special.

Emmy Rossum is the real star of the movie. She was only 17 when she filmed this, her first major leading role in a picture. You've also seen her in "Mystic River" and "The Day After Tomorrow," but you probably didn't know that she is a real-life opera singer. She's appeared in at least 20 different operas singing 5 different languages. Rossum is hauntingly beautiful as Christine, and she ignites the screen.

The same goes for Gerard Butler as the Phantom. You've seen him before in "Dracula 2000," "Timeline," and "Reign of Fire." But "The Phantom" marks his professional singing debut, and he's all right, but he's no Michael Crawford (who originated the role on Broadway.) Butler exudes an intoxicating sensuality on screen that easily mesmerizes the audience. But he's at his best when the Phantom is unmasked, unleashing his raw acting talent.

I couldn't make up my mind if Minnie Driver was really likeable or really annoying as the opera diva. She, however, didn't do her own singing, but does lend her vocal talents to a new song written by Webber in the movie's credits. Patrick Wilson ("The Alamo") is fine as Raoul and has great on-screen chemistry with Rossum.

This movie just didn't create the same sense of passion or intensity as the stage production. There are some things that feel more electric in person, especially a live musical production. The audience can feel like they're a part of the show. But that same essence wasn't captured in the movie version. I recently saw "The Phantom of the Opera" on stage, and its finale was met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. The movie version's finale, while just as spectacular, was met only with the spattering of a few polite applause.

But it all boils down to this- is "The Phantom of the Opera" the movie worth the price of admission? At $8.50 or so a pop, seeing the story in a movie theater is a lot cheaper than seeing it live on stage, but the impact isn't nearly as effective.

"The Phantom of the Opera" is rated PG-13 for brief violent images.

Bottom line: One of the world's biggest musicals has come to life on the big screen. "The Phantom of the Opera" film is a true spectacle, but falls short of true greatness.

Grade: B-

 


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