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Webber's 'Phantom' haunts the big screen

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: January 18, 2005 | Publication: Radford Tartan | Author: Ryan Burke

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For nearly a century, the story of “The Phantom of the Opera” has been haunting our imaginations. In 1911, the French journalist-turned-novelist, Gaston Leroux, wrote a mystery novel entitled “Le Fantome de l’Opera” (The Phantom of the Opera) which earned him international success.

In 1925, the successful novel was adapted into an American silent film with the “man of a thousand faces,” Lon Cheney, starring as the Phantom. This adaptation was a horror movie featuring a particular scene where the female lead, Christine Daae, pulls off the Phantom’s mask to reveal his hideous face. This has become one of the scariest and most memorable scenes in cinematic history.

There were at least four more movie adaptations of the novel, all of which have since fallen into obscurity because of their inability to capture the essence of the story. In 1986, Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted the story into one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history and succeeded where the movies had failed. On Jan. 21, 2005, another movie adaptation of the world-famous story will open nationwide. It should be noted that this new film is the movie adaptation of the popular musical and is not solely based on the original story by Leroux. But how does the new “Phantom” stack up to its Broadway predecessor?

The movie opens with a brief scene occurring in the dilapidated, but once glorious, Opera Populaire, where the last remaining keepsakes of the forgotten glory days of the opera house are being auctioned off. One such keepsake, a repaired chandelier which had fallen from the ceiling, had figured prominently in the disaster which caused the opera house to close. The movie then rewinds time in a beautiful scene where the chandelier is raised towards the ceiling once again as the aged opera house reverts back to its original glory. The rest of the movie deals with the events that caused the Opera Populaire to close.

The opera’s leading diva Carlotta, played by Minnie Driver refuses to continue her performances after a series of strange “accidents” occur. The opera employees believe the accidents are caused by the mysterious “opera ghost” that haunts the numerous catacombs and crawl spaces of the opera house. A talented young chorus girl, Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum), is given the lead role in the new opera to take up the slack. She performs beautifully and becomes an instant star. We soon find out that Christine’s remarkable abilities are due to her many years of tutoring by the mysterious “angel of music,” whose face she has never seen.

Actor Patrick Wilson plays Raoul, the Vicompte de Chagny, who quickly falls in love with Christine after seeing her perform. The two were childhood sweethearts and quickly begin to fall for each other. Little do they know that all the mysterious events which bring about the young diva’s rise to stardom were all carefully planned by the mysterious opera ghost; Christine’s angel of music and the Phantom are one and the same. The Phantom has manipulated these events because he loves Christine and will do anything to have her to himself. Raoul is just another obstacle to be manipulated in order for the Phantom to claim his prize. Can Raoul protect his true love, or will she be seduced by “The Music of the Night?”

Many critics have practically slaughtered “The Phantom of the Opera” as being a mere shell of the glorious Webber musical which they say dwells more on colorful sets and atmosphere than on story. However, they fail to realize that musicals and cinema are two very different mediums and director Joel Schumacher is not just attempting to recreate the musical in a movie form. Instead, he tries to create an individual experience suited more for a cinematic representation. Many lines from the songs have been reduced to spoken dialogue, new scenes have been added and a few old scenes have been moved around to further the storyline and add a larger payoff than the musical had.

Webber served as a producer on the project, adding new music and overseeing the production to preserve the essence of his musical. The result is an incredibly appealing, stand-alone representation of Leroux’s original story and a very entertaining piece of cinema. “The Phantom of the Opera” is a spectacular movie filled with intense emotion, beautiful sets and costumes and incredible music that is sure to captivate moviegoers.


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