Mark Reviews Movies

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Joel Schumacher

Cast: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Ciarán Hinds, Simon Callow

MPAA Rating:  (for brief violent images)

Running Time: 2:23

Release Date: 12/22/04 (limited); 1/21/05 (wide)



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Review by Mark Dujsik

Welcome to the world of Andrew Lloyd Webber, where an entire libretto is derived from variations on five songs. In terms of music, The Phantom of the Opera has a few memorable songs, some for their obvious but still effective melodic swells and one for its contagiously romantic lyrics, but the attempt to make a genuine opera from bits and pieces of these selections and simplistic lyrics simply becomes tiring. Now we have a film version of the hugely popular musical, and it's an opulent production that suffers from flaws inherent to the material and a difficulty pinpointing the emotional connection to its central story. The suggestion is that the movie has been made for fans of the musical, who already have a sentimental attachment to the material and most likely have already decided to adore a cinematic adaptation of it before the opening title card, and in turn, director Joel Schumacher has extended the scope to give us visuals inconceivable on any stage. For the rest of us, though, we take in the sometimes exquisite images, process the shaky dramatic structure, and find it ultimately hollow. In other words, the movie plays far better than a mere highlight reel but never manages to become a worthwhile entity of its own.

At the Opéra Populaire in Paris in the late 1800s, a new set of managers has taken over. Their production of an opera about Hannibal has hit a snag, though, when the diva prima donna Carlotta (Minnie Driver) walks out on the show the day of a gala in which it will be previewed. The ballet mistress Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson) thinks Christine (Emmy Rossum), one of the chorus girls, can take over the role, since she has been leaning from a mysterious teacher within the opera house since she was a young orphan. Christine becomes a sensation, and the theater's patron Raoul (a vocally solid Patrick Wilson) recognizes the new star as a childhood sweetheart. As it turns out, Christine's "angel of music" is actually the Phantom (Gerard Butler), a disfigured form who has haunted the theater for years and orders the management around, receiving a premium box for performances and a salary. The Phantom is unhappy with Raoul's attention toward Christine, so he brings her down to his underground lair to reveal himself as her angel. He attempts to keep Christine in the spotlight and becomes even more perturbed as Christine and Raoul become even closer.

The story, I suppose, is a love triangle, although in the form we have here, the relationships between Christine and either of her potential suitors are devoid of any substantial development. The Phantom's feelings for her are clear, but what exactly Christine's attitude towards him remains somewhat a mystery. She pities him, sure, but how that entails her to abandon good sense and more or less willingly return to his den late in the movie is cloudy. If there's an emotional connection between the two because she once thought him her "angel," sent by her late father to watch over her, it remains a distant subtext. Instead, she seems attracted to him simply because the screenplay dictates it. Christine and Raoul suffer slightly less, thanks to their singing the hopelessly romantic duet "All I Ask of You." Emmy Rossum has a spectacular voice, propelling Christine as a sympathetic heroine, and she handles the unusual character turns thrown at her by Webber and Schumacher's script with delicate ease—even if we don't believe a second of them. Oddly enough, though, it seems that she had some tutelage outside of the Phantom in developing her voice, as Gerard Butler is, to put it kindly, far less impressive.

Webber throws his operatic intentions in our faces with each musical dialogue exchange, and none of them finds any sort of success with Webber's propensity for bland language and simply rhymes. The big songs vary, although if Butler is attempting to belt out one of them, you can assume it will falter. The anachronistic rhythm and electric guitar sections of his theme song "Phantom of the Opera" sound just as odd here as they usually do, but it's offset by the impressive design of the Phantom's underground tunnel hideout. The rest of the production design is equally impressive, from the monochrome cemetery where Christine's father is laid to rest to the interior of the theater itself, where the chandelier crashes through the house with an intense realization. If there's a problem with the look of the movie, it comes from Schumacher's decision to block each musical number with characters slowly walking, rowing, moving to embrace, etc. and singing, which gradually lessens the impact of the visuals. A dance number during "Masquerade," however, doesn't fare much better, and despite the ornate costuming, the robotic choreography is unintentionally amusing.

The movie isn't terrible, just not involving, and more and more little annoyances stick out as it progresses. Wondering just how exactly the Phantom manages to keep his half-mask on his face without any sort of strap is a trivial bother compared to feeling nothing for any of the parties involved in the entire affair. Without an emotional entryway to the story, The Phantom of the Opera is all empty spectacle.

Copyright © 2004 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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