Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Movie Review: The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

United States 2004
U.S. Release Date: 12/22/04 (wide)
Running Time: 2:23
Rated: PG-13 (Violence)
Cast: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Ciaran Hinds, Simon Callow

Director: Joel Schumacher
Producer: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Screenplay: Andrew Lloyd Webber & Joel Schumacher, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Studio: Warner Brothers

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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage production of The Phantom of the Opera is one of the longest running Broadway shows in history. Since 1988, fans have flocked to the Majestic Theater on West 44th Street to witness the majesty of Webber’s much-admired classic. Now, Phantom aficionados all over the U.S. can flock to the movie theaters to catch the show. However, whether or not they will be satisfied with the Hollywood adaptation is a matter left unknown.

The Phantom of the Opera, the film, will most likely please those partial toward singing and romance on the big-screen. It is a fabulous production for those who have an affinity for lush-looking musicals. As for fans of the black-and-white silent horror, most will find that Webber and Schumacher’s work has nix on the 1925 original.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation takes a classic horror feature and morphs it into a lavish love story that bares a resemblance to Beauty and the Beast. Webber refigures the original full-face mask of the Phantom into a fashion faux pas and an insignificant band-aid of a covering. Here, the Phantom is not as grotesque and horrifying as Lon Chaney’s grim and ghastly portrayal, but rather more of an Antonio Banderas look-alike. And as such, this handsome hunk character with only a smidgen of scarred flesh, simply doesn’t work.

With a mystifying and magical opening sequence where the chandelier is restored to life and the color is brought back into every aspect of the opera house, The Phantom begins. Legend has it that a phantom haunts the 19th century Paris opera house. Only the legend isn’t a myth; it’s factual. Deep within the cellars of the opera house lives a musical mastermind, who chooses to hide his unsightly face behind a small white mask.

This disfigured man, known as the Phantom of the Opera (Gerard Butler), soon falls in love with Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum), a chorus girl whom the Phantom has been giving voice lessons while she sleeps. The Phantom’s love for Christine grows, and he demands that Christine replaces Carlotta (Minnie Driver) as the opera’s leading lady. However, embers begin to burn between Raoul (Patrick Wilson) and Christine, who were once childhood sweethearts, and with this, the Phantom becomes infuriated. In an attempt to cure his broken heart, he spreads fear and holds the opera’s cast, crew, and audience at his mercy.

As far as the voices are concerned, every cast member, for the most part, holds their own. Gerard Butler’s Phantom is probably the weakest voice of all, and yet his “Music of the Night” still rings true. Minnie Driver’s Carlotta works, but her work on “Learn to Be Lonely” is more worthy of mention. Patrick Wilson provides a good look and voice to Raoul, and Emmy Rossum is both delicate and electrifying as Christine. Her sweet 18-year-old voice is smooth and sumptuous.

Overall though, it’s not the voices that pose a problem, it’s the lack of emotion behind the lyrics that cause a quandary. Predominantly, when each character sings, it seems as though they know the words but not the meaning behind them. In this type of film, it is crucial that the main players do not forget that singing is acting through song. Blank stares with no facial expressions cannot convey emotion.

An age-old adage says that sometimes the whole is better than the sum of its parts. Here, that just isn’t the case. The Phantom of the Opera does not contain enough elements that can be chalked up as positive marks; instead it contains too many pieces that do not gel together. For instance, the swordfight in the cemetery is completely inane.

All in all, The Phantom of the Opera is not my cup of tea. Die-hard fans of musicals in general will in all probability enjoy, but from my perspective as a bigger fan of the 1925 original than the 2004 version, the musical as a film is merely recommended with restrictions. (** ½ out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005