Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera
2004, PG-13, 143 min. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Simon Callow, Ciarán Hinds.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 24, 2004
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s plodding stage musical finally comes to the big screen after several false starts, its relentlessly bombastic score intact with a vengeance. Though one of the most successful productions in theatrical history – to date, it has grossed about $3.2 billion worldwide – the appeal it holds for its multitude of cultish fans mystifies the many (this reviewer among them) who find it a gratingly unbearable affair. (Is it just me, or are there only three melodies in this musical, each recycled over and over, ad nauseam?) Given the polarizing effect of Webber’s work, it is unlikely that the film adaptation will affect any existing opinions about the artistic merits of The Phantom of the Opera. It must be said, however, that the screen version is an improvement over the stage production, largely because the grandiose emotions of the latter are now on a more human scale, thanks to the power of the close-up. The underlying psychological tensions inherent in Gaston Leroux’s novel are also more prominent here, particularly the psychosexual attraction that the virginal Christine feels for the mysterious father figure who sings to her nightly from the catacombs below the opera house. As far as production values go, The Phantom of the Opera looks like a hundred million bucks; the gilded decor of the opera house, the exotic set designs and costumes of the performed operas, the hivelike backstage milieu are all exquisitely realized, eye candy that almost overwhelms the film. Cinematographer John Mathieson (along with Schumacher, a so-so director with a good eye) gives The Phantom of the Opera a bold, painterly look that is often ethereal in its beauty – the snowy scenes atop the opera house and in a ghostly cemetery are particularly memorable. But then again, there’s that infernal music to bring you down to earth and below, a hellish blast of syncopated tempos as distorted as the Phantom’s scarred visage. Even Rossum’s excellent performance as the ingenue in this reworking of the Beauty and the Beast tale can’t salvage the film from Webber’s influence. One can’t help but wonder how much better this film would have played straight, without its characters in seemingly constant song. God help us if there’s a film version of Cats in the works.