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The Phantom of the Opera

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: January 26, 2005 | Publication: Daily Yomiuri | Author: Tom Baker
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Japan title: Opera-za no Kaijin)
3 stars (out of five)

Dir: Joel Schumacher

Cast: Gerard Butler, Emily Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Simon Callow


"The PHAN-tom of the Op-er-a Is there, Inside your mind."

He sure is. The movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage musical has several tunes you won't be able to get out of your head for quite some time.

The lines above are from one of the more clearly enunciated songs, but even when the lyrics blur, the catchy beats may have you murmuring random words. The "Masquerade" number, for instance, has an oft-repeated seven-syllable line that rhymes with the title but is otherwise maddeningly indecipherable: Have a picnic in the shade? Please don't spill the lemonade? Could you pass the marmalade? What the devil are those people trying to say? (Later in the movie, the Phantom will whisper it for us: "Paper faces on parade.")

The lyrics are not necessarily brilliant even when you can make them out. As you undoubtedly know, the basic concept of The Phantom of the Opera is that a deranged and disfigured musical genius living in the basement of a Paris opera house in 1870 is smitten by a beautiful young singer whom he semi-hypnotically lures to his dank subterranean world. Or as the Phantom himself (Gerard Butler) puts it:

"Sing once again with me a strange duet.

My power over you grows stronger yet."

It's not Shakespeare--it's not even "I'll get you, my pretty"--but as far as rhyming expository dialog goes, it gets the job done.

The "pretty" in this case is Christine (Emily Rossum), a golden-throated orphan who thinks the mysterious voice tutoring her through the opera house's plumbing is the "Angel of Music" that her dying father promised would watch over her.

To call Christine naive would be a drastic understatement. She retains far too much sympathy for the Phantom even after she sees that his underground lair includes a mannequin of herself that looks like something borrowed from Jame Gumb's basement in The Silence of the Lambs. One can only imagine what he does with it.

Her daylight-world suitor Raoul (Patrick Wilson), a childhood friend who has grown up to be rich, handsome and well connected, sees things more clearly, warning her that:

"The PHAN-tom of the Op-er-a

Will kill

And kill again."

In fact, we eventually learn that the Phantom committed his first murder as a child. And while he did this under strongly mitigating circumstances, it was the start of a bad habit. He grew up to be a prickly man who tries to kill anyone who annoys him, and often succeeds.

The only person he respects is Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson), the cold and matronly behind-the-scenes opera boss who secreted him in the basement years ago when she was a teenager and he was a child. There's a distinct whiff of weirdness to their relationship, as if she's Jocasta to his Oedipus, or Frau Blucher to his horse, but the film leaves this mercifully yet disappointingly unexplored.

The main story is Raoul and the Phantom's struggle for possession of the fair maiden, which should end when Raoul bests his rival in a swordfight and is about to run him through. But tender-hearted Christine cries out: "No--not like this!"

A rational person might think she means for Raul to hold the Phantom down while she summons the gendarmes to haul him away to the guillotine. But no, they simply go off and leave him there so he can kill, and kill again. Why?

The PHAN-tom of the Op-er-a

Must live

A few more scenes.

OK, that line is not in the movie, but this scene shows Christine thinking more like a bad playwright than a believable character.

But then, the word "believable" isn't even remotely applicable to this film. Everything about it is fake, including the music, which is sometimes shellacked over with a mechanical clap-machine beat, giving it a tacky Hooked on Classics feel.

The Phantom of the Opera is truly, wonderfully awful. It's as flimsy as papier mache and as garish as 20 pounds of costume jewelry. It has spray-painted nymphs, a lusty midget and Simon Callow dressed as a chicken. It's shallow and silly and fun. If you go in expecting this movie to be a spoof of itself, you won't be disappointed. At the very least, you'll have to admit:

The PHAN-tom of the Op-er-a

Has got

Some catchy tunes.

 


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