Film Reviews

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

By • Dec 22nd, 2004 •

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Warner Bros. Pictures presents in association with Odyssey Entertainment A Really Useful Films/Scion Films production
MPAA rating PG-13 / Running time — 140 minutes

QUOTE: Will kill the behemoth all-time money-making musical.

Earth is home to a lot of people and, according to those who care, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera”, in its 17th year, is the most successful stage musical of all time. Worldwide ticket sales have exceeded $3.2 billion and it has been seen by over an astonishing 100 million people. The winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the New York production has been seen by over 10 million people and grossed over $550 million.

I’m not one of them. Therefore, I have the highly unique position of judging this movie based on absolutely no pre-conceptions.

A creepy mask-wearing deviant-genius lusts over a virgin singer while an entirely appropriate aristocratic suitor fights for her honor and love. For those hungry for a silly opera and an even sillier story laden with cheesy bosom heaving antics and tinged with S&M histrionics (The Phantom likes to be called “Master”), THE PHANTOM will be blessing. For the rest of us, this movie is a curse.

Based on Gaston Leroux’s 1911 novel, the titular Phantom may have seduced musical opera fans (most are repeaters anyway) but will have to rely on whether those millions of Phantom devotees will buy movie tickets. This howler, directed with a weird S&M sensibility by Joel Schumacher, left me cringing with The Phantom’s obvious psychological problems.

A marginally disfigured, yet youthful and buff, musical genius known as The Phantom of the Opera (Gerard Butler) lurks in the bowels of his grand Paris opera house, the Opera Populaire. His dank underground lair houses a life-size replica – in a wedding gown – of his infatuation, the very young singer Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum). The Phantom has mysteriously mentored the chorus girl since childhood as her “Angel of Music.” When high-strung Italian diva, the soprano Carllota (Minnie Driver), leaves in a huff over some trivial slight, Christine inherits the star-making role in a new opera. Now a star, Christine is re-united with her childhood friend, the Vicompte Raoul de Chagny (Patrick Wilson). The orphaned daughter of a poor violinist, Christine was brought up in the opera house by Mme. Giry (Miranda Richardson), the ballet mistress. Mme. Giry knows a few secrets about the nutty Phantom.

The Phantom sneaks around “his Opera House” while getting a monthly paycheck. He is hiding because he spent his life feeling repulsively ugly. So why in the world would he want to subject his angelic love to his damp, repugnant lifestyle? Doesn’t he want his child muse to be happy with a nice, rich suitor?

And then, when the mask does come off, why is The Phantom’s hair suddenly wild and crazy? Why is he suddenly half bald? What happened to his dark, slick-backed hair? And what is so wrong about wearing a mask in public? And finally, get this: The Phantom cries. A lot.

And, to top things off, our anti-hero is a vicious killer! What were 100 million people thinking?

With the exception of the Phantom’s theme, none of the music is memorable. After seeing this, I do not think I missed out on something beloved by so many people. And here is exactly what is wrong with Schumacher’s cinematic adaptation. It should have encouraged me to see the play. Apparently, the stage play was more about the music than the story; yet the filmmakers felt that we, the moviegoers, required flashbacks and a B&W framing device to explain things.

Schumacher is immune from criticism. His past plunders should have made him the wrong choice to even entertain directing THE PHANTOM movie. He just cannot direct a romantic pot-boiler with a light touch. The production lacks a directorial point-of-view. Now, if Baz Luhrmann had directed THE PHANTOM, we would have passion, drama, and horny sex.

Gerald Butler has a thankless role and the constant crying is not going to help his romantic lead career. If Danny DeVito had played the disfigured Phantom perhaps I would have went with the story, but Christine was not the least bit thankful for all of The Phantom’s mentoring or the fact that he wrote an emotionally beautiful opera, Don Juan, just for her. Rossum and Wilson are fresh, beguiling new faces that are nicely showcased. I hope they survive THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.


Credits:
Director: Joel Schumacher
Screenwriters: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joel Schumacher
Based on the novel by: Gaston Leroux
Producer: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Executive producers: Austin Shaw, Paul Hitchcock, Louise Goodsill, Ralph Kamp, Jeff Abberley, Julia Blackman, Keith Cousins
Director of photography: John Mathieson
Production designer: Anthony Pratt
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Charles Hart
Additional lyrics: Richard Stilgoe
Choreographer: Peter Darling
Costumes: Alexandra Byrne
Visual effects supervisor: Nathan McGuinness
Editor: Terry Rawlings

Cast:
Phantom: Gerard Butler
Christine: Emmy Rossum
Raoul: Patrick Wilson
Mme. Giry: Miranda Richardson
Andrew: Simon Callow
Firmin: Ciaran Hinds
Carlotta: Minnie Driver
Buquet: Kevin R. McNally

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