Phantom of the Opera (2004)
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Phantom of the Opera

Over the last seventy years that motion pictures have included sound (yes kiddies, there where silent films), the musical has been a perennial favorite of audiences. The usual fodder for these films has always been translating popular Broadway musicals on to the big screen. This typically involved more elaborate sets then where possible on the live stage. The latest to enter this time honored genre is Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. The stage play was widely successful; with its marathon Broadway run and numerous city tours this play drew millions of people to the theater. This is not the only long running trend this film hold up, there has been many incarnations of the Phantom story dating back to the 1925 silent film staring the legendary Lon Chaney Sr. The downside here is this is a hefty pair of legacies for any film to hold up.

The book or story line is a simplified variation of the original horror story. Christine (Emmy Rossum) is an upcoming singer at the opera. She dreams of appearing on center stage, the eyes of the audience glued to her as she sings her heart out. To this end she has been taking clandestine lessons from the Phantom (Gerard Butler), yearned to be an incredible singer who was tragically born disfigured. He has lived a life lurking in the rafters and dank basements and cave beneath the opera house. Christine takes her voice lessons from an unseen Phantom, a disembodied voice of grace and wisdom. Under the impression that he is an angle sent by her father, this unorthodox training is acceptable to the naïve young girl. Although the Phantom is deeply in love with the young Christine her heart belongs to a childhood friend and patron of the opera Raoul (Patrick Wilson). The Phantom hides both his feelings and his face behind a stylized mask. Christine’s ambitions are constantly thwarted by the diva of the opera, La Carlotta (Minnie Driver), a brass and over the top signer whose talent is only exceeded by her massive ego. When the diva finds offense at some minor point she walks out right before a performance, the producers have no choice but to turn to the beautiful young chorus singer, Christine. Much to the chagrin of Carlotta the perform Christine gives is met by joyous critical acclaim.

With all of this the stage (no pun intended) is set for the melodrama, unfortunately, the above pretty much takes place at the start of the film leaving about two hours left to fill before the closing credits begin to roll. The remained of the film is therefore padded with lavished production numbers, emotional songs and the pre-requisite sword fight between the two alpha male leads. If more time was spent with exposition and the central plot permitted to organically grow over more time the narrative of this film would have been more cohesive.

With few notable exceptions the cast does little to hold the attention of the audience. Gerard Butler as the Phantom does not have the controlled, entrancing voice of Michael Crawford, who originated the role on Broadway. Wilson is also too handsome for the role. The fantastic reveal in the 1925 silent classic when Chaney rips off the mask to uncover a hideous mockery of a human face is not the same when half the face is a chiseled look of a male model. The mask is little more than fashion accessory. There is a complete lack of any foreboding here; the audience never has a sense of Christine being in any danger. Patrick Wilson has the looks needed for a leading man in a romantic film but he also comes up a bit short with his voice. This role needs a tenor that is true and sure which Wilson, for all his valiant effort, cannot muster. He also comes across as one that would rather stare into his own reflection instead of the beautiful eyes of his co-star. That brings us to Emmy Rossum. She is beginging to gain a reputation for making the most out of films that don’t quite live up to their hype. As the girl friend in the lamented ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ she demonstrated that she has talent as an actress. Here, she is able to show off her best ability, singing. She has been in operas since the tender young age of seven and since she was actually sixteen when she filmed this, Rossum was the age she was playing. To their credit the producers cast a young girl of proper background and talent not worrying about the legal issues of short work days and tutors required for an underage actress. Rossum basically lived the role she played adding realism to her presentation. The one member of the cast that truly shines is Minnie Driver. Not only is she an excellent actress but she can sing. In fact, if you make it all the way through the film she has a song over the credits. Driver adds sparkle in the form of the over the top diva. With her Italian accent she bursts into each scene like a force of nature.

Joel Schumacher is a famous director that, with the possible exception of St. Elmo’s Fire, never really had a solid hit. Many claim that his last two Batman flicks ruined the franchise. Still, he has talent in the director’s chair. He knows how to put on a show. Here, his pacing was off. As previously noted the second two acts of the film are mostly filler. The opulent sets are fantastic but there is a feeling of style over substance here. The chandelier reported cost over two million dollars, money better spent on a couple more rewrites of the script. There is actually a line in the film that goes like this: ‘Flattering child you shall know me, see why in shadow I hide!’ I would have enjoyed this production more if it was a simple filming of a stage presentation, the way plays like Pippin were brought to the big screen. I grew up with the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals of the fifties, they where great productions that could still tell a cohesive story. With a running time of 143 minutes just be thankful that you are seeing this on DVD and can pause every so often. I admit the film is beautiful to look at but there should be more to draw you in, more to allow the audience to connect emotionally.

To their credit Warner Brothers did a good job of mastering this film. The 2.40:1 anamorphic video is nothing short of perfection. The colors are vivid, wildly moving about the screen. There is a pan and scan version as well but that would be the worse possible way to view this film, so much is in the sets that you should see all the pageantry that the film does offer. The audio is spectacular. The Dolby 5.1 sound track presents one of the best sound fields available. The separation of the channels is crisp, each speaker booming out a full frequency audio. While this film is more for those that have seen the play and fell in love with it will miss the mark with many segments of the audience, especially those used to the fast pace of music videos.

Posted 4/9/05

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