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A musical masterpiece!

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: February 11, 2005 | Publication: Jamaica Observer | Author: Analisa Chapman

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A scene from Phantom of the Opera
"The Opera Ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination. he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade."

First things first. Just so everyone is clear, the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera is a musical. It's not a musical like the film versions of The Sound of Music or Chicago that had a good mix of singing and dialogue. No, it is a musical in its purest sense, so much so that the Phantom (Gerard Butler) only speaks eight of his lines and sings the rest. For those who did not expect differently and have been singing the stage musical's soundtrack for years, you will not be disappointed. The film is fantastic both from a theatrical as well as from a cinematographic point of view. Even if you never saw the theatre production (two of the movie's lead actors never did) you can appreciate it; just come with an open mind and an open ear.

While it is not the first Phantom of the Opera movie (there have been well over a dozen) to be made, it is the first to do justice (naturally as Webber wrote the screenplay) to playwright/composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's take on Gaston Leroux's novel of the same name.

The film opens with a black and white depiction of Paris in 1919 amidst the ruins of the 'Opera Populaire' opera house.
An auction of the opera house's salvaged contents ensues, ending with the unveiling of a crystal chandelier that illuminates a flashback to its glory days of 1870. As the opera house slowly transforms from shaded dust to colourful splendour, while the Phantom of the Opera score is powered by a 105-piece orchestra, that's when you think "Yes, this is gonna be good!"

The 'Opera Populaire' is haunted by (yes, you guessed it) the 'Phantom of the Opera', a disfigured musical genius who becomes enthralled and obsessed with his muse and young soprano, Christene Daaé (Emmy Rossum). The 16 year-old Christene (Rossum was the same age also) is disturbingly captivated by this "Angel of Music" who she thinks at times to be the spirit of her father. However, Christene falls in love with her "childhood sweetheart" the dashing Vicompte Raoul de Chagny (Patrick Wilson). After that it's pretty much a love triangle where Moulin Rouge meets Fatal Attraction with a lovely soundtrack in between, all under the watchful eye of ballet mistress Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson), who might as well be a phantom herself for her uncanny ability to appear in the most unusual places.

As far as masked Phantom's go, Gerard Butler (Tomb Raider: Cradle of Doom)) is dangerously attractive and when you hear that his Phantom character is an accomplished composer "architect, designer, magician" and overall genius, you think 'Hmm, not a bad catch'.

Later on, however, when the mask comes off and the distorted genius takes his obsessions a little (okay, more than a little) bit too far, you think 'Ok.ay, maybe not so much'. The edgy Butler (who has a marvellous tenor), however, grandly portrays the complexities and sadness of this "angel from hell" who hides beneath the theatre to escape the cruelties of the world above.

Apart from possessing impressive operatic training, the tightly-corseted Emmy Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow), convincingly evokes the innocence and fragility of her character that allows the Phantom to consume her mind (and at times her body, as the two have their fair share of erotic moments). Let us not forget Miss "Prima Donna" herself, La Carlotta, (Minnie Driver) who is replaced by the "precious little ingénue". Driver (Good Will Hunting), whose character at times looks like a bad drag queen, amusingly dons idiosyncrasies, wigs and an unusual accent to match the over-inflated ego of La Carlotta. Sadly, Driver is the only one of the lead actors to have her singing voiced, which in her case was by professional opera singer, Margaret Preece.

The film incorporates aspects of the Leroux novel not dealt with in the Webber musical, such as the Phantom's wretched past and how he came to haunt the opera house. More importantly, director Joel Schumacher's (The Lost Boys, Phone Booth) creative use of light and lens fantastically surpasses the confines of the stage and visually captures the world of and beneath the 'Opera Populaire'.

The film's production team outdid itself, and it is no small chance why it has received Academy Award nominations for art direction and cinematography. Film buffs will have a field day.

The film also received a nomination for best achievement in music, as Webber and lyricist Charles Hart created the new song, Learn To Be Lonely (actually sung by Minnie Driver) to join classics such as Music of the Night, All I Ask of You and Masquerade.

Phantom of the Opera really is worth seeing and hearing on the big screen and at the very least you'll get to find out what all the fuss was about.


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