January 14, 2010
Review - " The Phantom of the Opera "
(on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera has finally been captured in celluloid sheen and to breathtaking effect.
Though the musical has enjoyed success for more than 18 years, this sort of film clearly has a limited audience. But the
people who do see it won’t leave disappointed.
For those not familiar with Webber’s musical, the story is based in
Paris, jumping between 1917 and 1870 (the dates have been
changed for the film). Webber's The Phantom of the Opera retells
the classic romantic horror tale of a disfigured musical genius who
haunts a Paris opera house. The story is of the brilliant but insane
Phantom of the Opera (Gerard Butler - 300, The Ugly Truth) and
his obsession with Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum - Mystic River,
The Day After Tommorrow). He is happy to just accept a monthly
stipend from the owners, and to have his private box kept open at
all performances, until Christine, an orphaned chorus girl he has
grown to love, is old enough to start taking lead roles. With the
Phantom’s tutelage and his manipulation of the opera’s owners,
Christine quickly rises from dancer to star, and she catches the
attention of the opera’s new patron and her childhood friend Raoul
(Patrick Wilson - Hard Candy, Watchmen). Raoul and Christine fall
in love, but the Phantom wants Christine for himself. He then begins
a campaign of terror to ensure that his beloved gets the best parts
before spiriting her away to his subterranean lair to be his infernal
bride. Only her true love, Raoul, can save her.
The story behind "Phantom" inspired a string of hit movies before
the 1980s stage musicalization, including one of the most famous
silents ever made. That helps Schumacher immensely.
It is, at heart, a love triangle: singer Christine torn between her Ken-doll suitor (a young but wealthy opera backer) and the
strange, masked monster who lives underneath the opera house and secretly tutors her.
He is father figure, Svengali, Jekyll and Hyde, Quasimodo and devilish Don Juan all in one (he composed an
operatic version of "Don Juan"), and much of the tension in "Phantom" comes from her ambivalence, her repulsion
and attraction, that hint of unawakened lust. Schumacher zooms in close-ups of the singing while delivering a lavish treatment
of the visual elements. Black-and-white footage serves for a frame, set in the early 20th century, when the opera house and
the surviving characters' lives are ancient ruins. Aping the stage moment when the chandelier sails upward above the
audience, Schumacher instead has the decrepit opera house cinematically returning to life, the debris washing away bit by
bit, turning into a color version of the theater in its heyday.
does not disappoint. All of the principal actors sang in the film except for Minnie Driver. Most of the actors have a background
in musicals or opera, but Minnie Driver (a skilled singer) had no experience in opera and was dubbed by Margaret Preece.
Butler, Wilson & Rossum have such impressive singing voices it almost seems a shame their acting takes them away from
and wastes their operatic talents.
Surprisingly, to director Joel Schumacher's credit, this version doesn't suffer from its screen translation, and that's no mean
feat. "Phantom" the stage show partly owed its popularity to its celebrated effects, its chandelier crashing down over the
heads of the audience, its atmospheric boat trips through a stage bathed in smoky mist.
That designer imagination so compelling in a live theater is child's play to cinematic wizards and ought to rob the film of much
of its power. Instead, Schumacher manages, most of the time, to deliver enough cinematic equivalents that echo the stage
magic, so that this "Phantom" enjoys a fair outing, a credible chance to study its genuine strengths and weaknesses as a
story set to music. Shumacher has done a tremendous job of this. The costumes and settings are impressively evocative -
the opera house is a glimmering, luxurious place, though just beneath it is a dark underworld one might expect a deranged
lunatic/genius to inhabit. The 1917 scenes are
presented in grainy black and white, with the bulk of
the story being remembered in strikingly vivid color,
moving between timelines in much the same way that
James Cameron moved from present to past in his
1997 blockbuster Titanic. The crumbling opera house
of 1917 transforms before us into a glamorous, shining
hall. It’s an impressive sequence that assures the
audience that astounding things are to come.
Besides the film’s visual accomplishment and several
delightful performances, the screenplay collaboration
of Shumacher and Webber is well paced, avoiding
the impulse to make a film that’s as long as a stage
production. A film that attempts to recreate a beloved
stage production has big shoes to fill; Shumacher is
obviously aware of this. The Phantom of the Opera is
a truly dazzling piece of work that every musical fan
should be sure to catch.
Phantom of the Opera
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Minnie Driver,
Miranda Richardson, Ciarin Hinds, Simon Callow
There are three kinds of people who shouldn't read this review: people who
hate musicals, people who love Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the
Opera and people who hate my writing. There's nothing new here for any of
you. For the musical haters, this is a real honest to god musical, unlike
Chicago, which removed the musical numbers from the reality of the
narrative, or to an extent Moulin Rouge, which fooled you with popular songs.
To Phantom fans, this movie is full of the songs from the original show. To
the third group, I am writing this.
I sat down last night and watched the 2004 motion picture version of Andrew
Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera - and I have to say I was blown away!
Having seen the Phantom on stage in Boston 15 to 20 years ago I expected
to like it - I don't think I expected to love it.
As the title figure, Gerard Butler is a swarthy phantom both creepy and seductive,
just as Christine sees him. Rossum has a doll-like vulnerability and grace, a
delicacy missing from many a stage Christine. And the marvelous Patrick Wilson,
though in a role not worthy of his talents, is nevertheless a fine Raoul, Christine's
pretty-boy beloved. Minnie Driver (very funny as an egotistical diva), Miranda
Richardson and Simon Callow are typically memorable in their colorful character
As for the musical score, there are few individuals who’ve not at one point of
another heard at least one or two of the songs from this musical, particularly
“Phantom of the Opera” and “Music of the Night.” And if you’re reading about a
musical, particular this one, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with Evita,
Madonna’s 1996 project. Though it’s a rather simplistic comparison, I think that
Webber’s score for that work is really similar to what we’re offered here: an odd,
though appealing, combination of opera and a renegade 70’s electric guitar.
All the film’s stars deliver beautiful musical performances, save the Opera’s star
soprano, Carlotta Giudicelli (Minnie Driver), whose voice is grating and whose
manner offers the film’s only comic relief. Driver is wonderful as an indulged diva,
driving us to want more even as we attempt to will her away. There is one star,
though, whose musical abilities outshine all the others. The way that Christine gains
her stardom demands that we be genuinely impressed with her ability, and Rossum