The Phantom of the Opera
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joel Schumacher (Musical: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Novel: Gaston Leroux)
Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Ciaran Hinds, Simon Callow, Victor McGuire, Jennifer Ellison
PG-13 (For brief violent images)
Sumptuous and delirious, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic theater musical The Phantom of the Opera arrives at the Cineplex.
Far beneath the Paris Opera, a man, or is it a ghost, lives. The Phantom (Gerard Butler) haunts the theater with great relish looking for his next great student. He has found her. Christine (Emmy Rossum) is young, beautiful and hopelessly in love with a man she’s never seen.
The musical is told in flashback as an aristocrat lovingly remembers the trials he and his wife went through. These memories are spurred on by an auction held in the ruined opera house where he, Raoul (Patrick Wilson), purchases a music box that his Christine told him about. The opening scene is impressive but suffers from a grainy black-and-white motif. As the auctioneer tells of the newly-restored chandelier, it is slowly raised from the dusty floor to its original position in the theater. The foot lights are reignited and color slowly seeps across the screen as the audience is returned to the days when the Opera was full of life.
The film then proceeds to tell Christine’s story as she is vaulted into stardom thanks to the Phantom’s tutelage and behind-the-scenes rigging. The Phantom has fallen in love with her but so has the young Raoul (Patrick Wilson). Their rivalry threatens to tear Christine apart. It’s a love triangle of paranormal magnitude but Christine and Roual soon learn that the Phantom is not what he appears.
Through a series of musical numbers, we learn to what lengths the Phantom will go to ensure Christine performs on stage. Murder is obviously not out of the question.
Adapting The Phantom of the Opera to the stage is a daunting task. It’s one of theatrical history’s most popular musicals and fans around the world will be hard to impress. To a small extent, director Joel Schumacher succeeds. The sets and costumes are extravagant, setting the scene brilliantly. The performances are better than expected but they are part of the film’s faults
Rossum gives a terrific debut performance as ingenue Christine. She’s full of life and carries a powerful voice. The other parts of the romantic triumvirate are inferior. Butler captures the horrific sensuality of the Phantom but there are some songs that challenge him vocally and the challenge is not won handily. Wilson is perfectly abysmal until the last 30 minutes of the picture. Up to that point, you couldn’t care less whether his character gets the girl. He’s whiny and uncharismatic. However, when we reach the final scenes in the Phantom’s dark lair, Wilson at last catches on and we’re treated to a fantastic trio featuring all three singers.
Miranda Richardson as Madame Giry, dance coordinator and mother of Christine’s friend Meg (Jennifer Ellison), and Minnie Driver as “Prima Donna” Carlotta are scene stealers. Both actresses provide needed relief from the performances of the film’s leads. Driver gives us some nice comic relief while Richardson makes the film more spooky and dramatically intriguing.
The film’s major faults, however, are in the adaptation. Schumacher adapted the screenplay with some assistance from Webber but his decisions are ill-advised. Several key musical segments are butchered for the sake of expedience. The most egregious is one in which the ghost sends another letter in the second act that Madame Giry reads aloud. The segment is mixed into the conclusion of the “Masquerade” segment, but to the detriment of a great musical number. Other problems deal with sung dialogue being turned into traditional dialogue. Schumacher was obviously attempting to create balance with the relentless barrage of songs. The fault lies with the source material but Schumacher compounds the issue.
Few scenes from the original novel make the transition to the screen. One such revolves around a spinning room of mirrors. The mirrors in the book make up an entire room where the Phantom attempts to kill Raoul and a companion. It’s good to see such salutes to the book but unnecessary when it doesn’t fit into the musical’s themes.
The Phantom of the Opera deviates from the musical as well. It attempts to explain the phantom’s origin and set up his relationship with the all-knowing Madame Giry. It’s perfectly reasonable but completely demystifying. The musical questions the Phantom’s reality. Is he a man or a ghost. The stage version answers the question in its conclusion. The movie alters that conclusion and presents a different version on screen.
Fans of the musical The Phantom of the Opera , however, will find plenty to like in this filmic adaptation but its faults could have easily sunk the entire production.
March 7, 2005