The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

"Grim"

The Phantom of the Opera (2004) Review


Criticism toward Joel Schumacher's attempted enactment of Andrew Lloyd Webber's cherished stage musical The Phantom of the Opera likely will fall on deaf ears. If you love the source material (I don't), the chances are high you'll thoroughly enjoy the latest film to pay tribute, even though Schumacher is functionally talentless.

Schumacher and his financial backers certainly spare no expense, though the bulk of their budget apparently went to candles. Their Phantom (the not-so-hideously-disfigured Gerard Butler) hides beneath opulent and gaudy-yet-dimly-lit theatrical set pieces that turn the normally regal Opera Populaire into the west wing of the Moulin Rogue. The Phantom's water-logged lair resembles exactly what it is - a poorly constructed, artificial set dropped into the corner of a vast soundstage. Hire the man who put nipples on the Bat suit, and you're going to get what you pay for. The masquerade ball, which occurs late in the story, starts to explore methods of filling the artistic canvas, but by then, it's too little, too late.

Regardless of your opinions on Webber's compositions, there's one unavoidable fact that prevents me from properly embracing a filmed Phantom - we're sitting in a seat watching performers not sing the show. Oh, Schumacher's cast may sing their hearts out in sound booths somewhere far off stage, but there's no sense of truth to the performance. Most manage beautifully with tunes one fellow critic cleverly described as "music written for Muppets."

When the movie rolls, we're asked to watch handsome but lifeless drones lip synch to previously recorded tracks while they lumber around with their arms glued to their sides. Emmy Rossum plays Christine, the apple of the Phantom's eye, who's elevated into leading lady status after the opera's reigning diva (Minnie Driver) drops out. Rossum has the pipes, for sure, but not the personality. Her Christine maintains a single facial expression throughout the show. Compared to Driver, though, Rossum is Oscar-worthy. Driver doing diva is positively grating in what's written to be a scene-stealing supporting part.

Ninety-five percent of Phantom is sung, a blessing for some and a curse for others. The real trouble, however, lies in the director's bland staging, which Schumacher shackles to the existing score. When one character sings, the others in frame typically stand still with their traps hanging open, politely waiting their turn to lip synch another dialogue line. Plot holes that plagued the original musical still exist, and the limitations of the show carry over onto the screen. Schumacher's dominant contributions amount to clownish, hammy antics backstage and silly asides by broadly drawn caricatures.

So what's the point? There's no passion in the cast's performance, no thrill tied to the notion of live theater and, worse, no showmanship utilizing the power of the cinematic medium. Rob Marshall's Chicago, which opened the door for this current wave of movie musicals and lit the fire under projects like Phantom, at least had the decency to transport its already existing stage story into our reality. Schumacher makes the mistake of leaving his action confined to a small space, and the self-imposed, capped ceiling stunts his film's potential growth.

Now, if you're looking for nothing more than a flat, straight-shooting presentation of the original Broadway soundtrack, Phantom delivers. For my money, I'd rather purchase a CD of the 1986 London cast recording, with Michael Crawford's Phantom and Sarah Brightman as Christine. At least, that is, if you enjoy cheesy, glam-synthesizer rock operas best suited for a cavernous arena.

Aka Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera.

Move, phantoms, move!



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