Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Movie Review: The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

A film by Joel Schumacher

This movie is an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's long running Broadway musical "The Phantom of the Opera". I imagine that most people have at least heard of the musical and that it has something to do with a phantom, and an opera, and that there is singing. To be perfectly honest, that is the extent of my knowledge and experience of the stage musical. Because of this lack of experience with the stage version, I had no preconceived notions of what "Phantom" should look like, or sound like, but only that it is supposed to be good and it has been wildly successful. Andrew Lloyd Webber himself was involved in the casting of this project, especially in regards to Emmy Rossum as Christine.

"The Phantom of the Opera" begins with an auction in an old opera house where there is a chandelier which the auctioneer tells us featured prominently in the famous fracas with a "phantom of the opera" and that perhaps time will finally exorcise the phantom. When the enormous chandelier is revealed we are greeted with a powerful blast of music as the dust and cobwebs and decay of the opera house are blown back and we see the opera house return to its former glory of years past. The movie now takes us back to the time where the Phantom did, in fact, haunt the opera house. When the resident diva of the opera, Carlotta (Minne Driver) is nearly hurt in an accident, a young girl from the chorus, Christine (Emmy Rossum) takes the lead with little time to rehearse or prepare. She is a success and the new talk of the opera world and Raoul (Patrick Wilson), the patron of the new owners of the opera house is smitten with her. It also seems that Christine and Raoul knew each other as children.

Something strange happens next. Christine is reluctant to dine with Raoul because her mysterious teacher wouldn't be happy, but we don't know who the teacher is (though we can guess). When Raoul leaves her dressing room, the door locks, the candles blow out and we hear a voice sing out to Christine. It is her teacher. It is the Phantom (Gerard Butler). Christine finally meets the Phantom, her teacher, and they spend some time together as he admonishes her about being faithful to him and his music and sings about "the music of the night". Except for Christine, everybody else wants to be rid of the Phantom and thus begins the heart of the movie where Raoul and the Phantom both want Christine, Christine is initially unsure of her desires, and the Phantom continues to haunt and attack the opera if things do not go exactly the way he demands (and they don't).

It seems unfair to criticize a movie based on a Broadway musical/rock opera of being "too theatrical". Considering the origins of this movie, it only makes sense for it to be "theatrical". Still, Gerard Butler flaps his cape at the camera more than one too many times. It is as if he were trying out for the role of Count Dracula in some campy remake where he isn't supposed to be serious. Except that he is supposed to be serious. Which brings me to my next point: Butler as The Phantom isn't terribly menacing. He is too pretty. His mask seems more of a fashion accessory than something that is just covering up being disfigured. Only when he is in the shadows and attacking people in secrecy do we truly get menace from Butler. It is the unseen that brings the most tension to the character. Butler has a nice voice and on some songs he sounds impressive, but much of his work here is absolutely ordinary. Patrick Wilson, on the other hand, is no better. He doesn't seem the sort of man who would impress Christine and there is no scene, no chemistry that shows us why they are interested in each other except that they knew each other as children. The looming face off between Raoul and the Phantom just doesn't work for me. The movie seemed long, a bit dull, and repetitive.

There is much to praise in this movie, however. The first thing that must be pointed out is that this is a beautiful looking movie. It looks incredible. The sets are fantastic, the costume design, the use of colors, all of it is just perfect. Every scene change brings another fantastic image to the screen. This is a gorgeous movie to look at. The second praiseworthy part of this film is Emmy Rossum as Christine. I don't know what Christine is supposed to look like or act like on stage, but here she radiates such an innocence that it is easy to see why the Phantom wants Christine for himself and why Raoul would be physically attracted to her. Christine is pure. Rossum can also sing quite well. Her voice is what carries the movie as far as it can be carried. The final bit of praise goes to the rest of the cast (excluding Butler and Wilson). They are all excellent, including Minnie Driver as the diva Carlotta. Perfectly overplayed (which is an odd thing for me to say considering my problems with Butler).

"The Phantom of the Opera" has quite a few things going for it, and I am quite sure that fans of the stage musical will be equally happy with this movie. I wasn't quite so happy. I am giving "Phantom" a very generous B- for the performance of Emmy Rossum and the look of the movie.

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