When I was eight years old, my family and I took a train into New York City, and saw an evening performance of a Broadway musical. It was my first time seeing a show, and you could not have found a boy who was as excited as I was. Since then, that particular show has gone on to be one of my favorites of all time. As I got a little bit older, and more interested in the art of cinema, I said to myself: “What a movie it would make.” Almost ten years later, the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” hits theaters. And it did, indeed, make quite a movie.The setting is Paris, France. The time is the late 1800s. Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum) is a gifted, young singer who is given the lead role in a opera when the current lead, La Carlotta (Minnie Driver) walks out of rehearsal, due to alleged “technical difficulties”. Daae is a revelation, and is soon stalked by a strange figure, known only as the Opera Ghost. Is this the angel that her late father promised he would send to her? Or is it a madman, bent on using Christine’s talent to his advantage?
"A rapturous experience."
Gerard Butler (“Dracula 2000”) is fantastic in the title role. Going in, I was anxious to see how a non-singer would fare in handling one of the more difficult male parts of musical theatre. I was very pleasantly surprised. What he lacks in vocal experience, he more than makes up in passion. Butler’s Phantom is alternatively heartbreaking and threatening, as well as deeply sexual and mesmerizing. He is a tortured character that one feels sympathy for by the end. While Emmy Rossum ("Mystic River") displayed some spark in "The Day After Tomorrow", she gives a somewhat vacuous performance here. She is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, and her singing is nice enough, but there is very little going on behind her eyes. Ironically, she is the sole cast member to receive any awards notice whatsoever. While neither Butler nor Rossum are as good singers as Michael Crawford or Sarah Brightman (the original Broadway stars of the show), they have more charisma than I've ever seen from those two stage stars.
Christine’s lover, Raoul, has the potential to come off as flat, but Patrick Wilson (TV’s “Angels in America”) does what he can with a sketchily written part. Nevertheless, Wilson continues to impress me. He is a smooth tenor, and his performance in HBO's 'Angels in America' deserved an Emmy (you know what I mean). Miranda Richardson is solid as Madame Giry, the woman who may know a thing or two about the mysterious opera ghost. Ciaran Hinds (“Calendar Girls”) and Simon Callow (“No Man’s Land”) are hilarious as the clueless buffoons who run the theatre. Finally, Minnie Driver (“Good Will Hunting”) all but steals the show as Carlotta Guidileci, the opera diva who is constantly vying for attention.
Andrew Lloyd Webber has written many quality musicals before, namely “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, “Evita”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “and “Cats”. Webber’s work on “Phantom” is his best. Standouts numbers include “Think of Me”, “All I Ask of You”, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”, “Music of the Night”, and the exhilarating title song. The production design, courtesy of Anthony Pratt, is among the finest I have ever seen. Every detail, from the candelabras in the Phantom’s lair, to the gargoyle that sits atop the opera house, to the misty cemetery, breathes imagination. Credit must also be given to cinematographer John Mathieson, whose colors are practically tangible. On stage, the musical tends to drag a bit in certain spots, but Terry Rawlings’s fluid editing keeps the pace surprisingly fast, even during the ballads.
Despite his constant critical bashings, I have usually enjoyed Joel Schumacher’s work. His work in “Tigerland” “8MM”, “Veronica Guerin”, and “The Lost Boys” suggested a filmmaker with a sharp visual style and a sensitive touch with actors. Speaking of which, though I am in the minority, I must say that “Batman Forever” is my favorite of the Batman films. Just don’t even get me started on “Batman & Robin”. Certain sequences are borderline brilliant, and some images are unforgettable. Consider the scenes in which the Phantom first lures Christine through the mirror and into his subterranean home, the masquerade ball, and Christine’s visit to her father's grave. The first ten minutes are astounding. It is set after the events in the film, and is shot in the style of the silent era. Suddenly, the opera house magically goes back in time, to reveal its original glory. I don't know who came up with that idea, but it has the power to raise goosebumps.At the end of the day, “The Phantom of the Opera” is a lavish, no-holds-barred spectacle. The emotions felt are not necessarily subtle, but they register perfectly. The climax and epilogue were especially moving. The final confrontation between The Phantom, Christine, and Raoul packs as much potency as most independent dramas. The stage show was entertaining and all, but I never felt much for the characters, even on the original London cast recording. This was no fault of Webber’s, as his show is as good as anyone could have possibly asked. Maybe it was the actors that I saw at that particular performance. Doesn’t matter. Schumacher’s vision of this popular piece is definitely sufficient enough to solidify its place in musical theatre history. Unfortunately, Rossum's performance and several plot holes are the only things keeping this film from a five-star rating. Who knew that a music box and a rose can induce tears from a person who has seen the show, and listened to the CD for ten years? Certainly not I…
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originally posted: 12/28/04 10:10:10