PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Best Suspense-Thriller, 2004 - 5 stars
Jewel Box of a Musical, Loaded with Many Cinematic Gems
First, you have to like musicals. Second, you have to like the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Third, you have to understand that a movie is a different animal from a stage play. And fourth, you have to be open to a different, younger interpretation of the story than the stage version. If you accept those four conditions, you will love this film.
The two-disc special edition is well worth the extra money. There are two extensive features: one tells the story of how the stage musical came to be; the second, how the film originated and developed. If you ever had a question about either the play or the film, they’re answered here.
In taking Phantom from stage to screen making it the most expensive independent film in history Webber increased his orchestra to over 100 pieces. So the music has never sounded better, making the CD equally necessary for the Phantom fan. In addition, he wanted to use a rock-and-roll voice for the Phantom, rather than a trained voice like Michael Crawford thus, the choice of Gerard Butler (Dear Frankie, Beowulf and Grendel) for the role. This is probably the stickiest point for Phantom fans that expected the rich tones of a Crawford or Hart. But Butler does an admirable job. My only complaint is that he is so covered up with mask, wig, makeup and costume that there is very little of Butler left to look at. If you’ve seen him in other films, he has a strong masculine look. So you get little more than his voice. But even with those restrictions, he creates an emotionally appealing Phantom.
It was director Joel Schumacher’s (Batman Forever, Phone Booth, The Lost Boys) idea to give Phantom a younger cast and look, so that it would appeal to younger audiences. Part of his justification was that Christine is so naïve and innocent, how could she not be younger. Emmy Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow, An American Rhapsody) fills the role perfectly, with a beautifully mesmerizing face and equally beautiful voice - though not with the vocal strength of a Sarah Brightman, for whom Webber wrote the role as a testament to his love. Patrick Wilson (Oklahoma on Broadway, The Alamo), as Raoul, fills out the three main principals, and is probably the most solid of the group, both dramatically and vocally, though his role is the smallest.
The supporting cast is equally stunning, headed by Miranda Richardson as a compelling Madam Giry; Minnie Driver as a delightfully self-obsessed Carlotta (dubbed vocally by Margaret Preece except for the final, hauntingly beautiful credits song, “Learn To Be Lonely,” which was nominated for an Oscar); Ciaran Hinds as flamboyant opera owner Firmin; Simon Callow as Andre his partner; Jennifer Ellison as winsome Meg Giry; and Kevin McNally as devious Buquet.
The production design by Anthony Pratt (2001: A Space Odyssey) is exquisitely colorful certainly romantic, but not gothic or scary enough for many Phantom fans, even though it was nominated for an Oscar. The cinematography by John Mathieson (Gladiator) was also nominated, and is breathtaking, for the most part, with many standouts, including the “Overture,” the transition in “Think of Me,” “Prima Donna,” “All I Ask of You” (rooftop scene), and the chandelier crash; as well as the grainy black-and-white sequences. My favorite is the shot at the end of “Prima Donna,” in which the camera cranes back from the stage, through the curtain and into the house, with the curtain closing behind it. That shot was masterful, and one of the finest in film history, in my opinion.
It is no easy task bringing a stage musical to the screen. They rarely succeed. Most successful movie musicals (e.g., Sound Of Music, Singin’ In The Rain, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, An American In Paris) were written for the screen. There are exceptions: My Fair Lady and West Side Story; but it’s always a gamble. In spite of the critics, I think Phantom is one of the better ones. I wish there were more.
Waitsel Smith, January 20, 2007
Text © 2007 Waitsel Smith. Image © 2004 Warner Bros., Int. All Rights Reserved.
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