Phantom of the Opera, The
Andrew Lloyd Webber's flamboyant smash musical has finally been made into an equally flamboyant film adaptation. Yet there's a caveat. While certainly spectacular on stage, some of that magic seems to have been lost along the way to the big screen, making The Phantom of the Opera an uninspiring cinematic event.
The tragic opera tells the story of a disfigured musical genius (Gerald Butler) who haunts the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera, waging a reign of terror over its occupants [cue the organ music]. Think The Elephant Man meets The Hunchback of Notre Dame--except this particular ''monster'' has some serious sex appeal. I mean, honestly, his only ''disfigurement'' is some scarring on one side of his face, which he covers with a rather classy mask. No big whoop. But I digress. When he falls desperately in love with the lovely ingénue Christine (Emmy Rossum), who has lived in the opera house for most of her life, the Phantom devotes himself to molding the young soprano into a star, exerting a strange sense of control over her as he nurtures her extraordinary talents. But when Christine falls for the dashing Raoul (Patrick Wilson), all hell breaks loose as the Phantom's growing jealousies threatens to tear everyone apart [OK, now it's really time to cue the organ music].
Fans will no doubt be happy their favorite musical has finally made it to the big screen, but the musical's original stars, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, have been replaced in the movie version by hot, young actors. This is a very wise decision considering the film's rather longwinded nature. In other words, even though the Phantom performers keep singing and singing, and then sing some more, at least they are appealing to watch (and they did do all their own singing). Butler (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) is particularly effective as the Phantom, all brooding, mysterious, and far more intriguing a suitor than pretty boy Raoul, played blandly by Wilson (HBO's Angels in America). With her alabaster skin and long, luscious locks, Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow) also does a nice job as Christine. But she is unfortunately limited to only a few range of emotions--either all doe-eyed and somber over her Phantom, doe-eyed and gushy over Raoul, or just plain doe-eyed. As for the supporting players, Minnie Driver nearly steals the show as the Italian soprano diva La Carlotta. As the only breath of fresh air in the musty opera house, you definitely crave more of her.
It's taken about 15 years to bring Webber's smash hit to the big screen. Apparently, after winning every known theater award for Phantom, the legendary producer-composer approached director Joel Schumacher in 1988 to do the movie after being impressed by Schumacher's work on The Lost Boys. Hmmm, The Lost Boys to Phantom of the Opera--I'm still trying to tie that one together. Anyway, Webber had to postpone production for personal reasons, and then Schumacher was busy doing such films as Tigerland and Phone Booth. Finally, the time was ripe to make Phantom, coming on the heels of the musical movie boom started by Moulin Rouge and Chicago. Schumacher certainly incorporates all the right elements, from the young and talented cast to the opulent sets and magnificent costumes. The problem is the material: Phantom really isn't all that compelling of a story. Sure, the stage production was, and still is, a theatrical event, especially as the Phantom moves on catwalks all over the theater and the impressive chandelier comes crashing down on the stage. But for the film adaptation, there needs to be something more than just grand posturing, set pieces and operatic music. Maybe a little more dialogue? A sex scene? Anything?
The lavishly produced The Phantom of the Opera will certainly sing to its fans, but for the rest of us, it's a very long and boring trip through those Paris catacombs.