The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

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For Those Who Sing in the Shower

Jan 12, 2005 (Updated Jan 12, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Ultra-elaborate set design and visuals; an entertaining spectacle all around

Cons:Phantom isn't a great singer; will not suit those not a fan of musicals

The Bottom Line: High-grade kitsch for those so inclined. (Like Me!)


Ah, Phantom of the Opera. During its heyday, a ticket to Phantom with a bouquet of purple roses was the ultimate date ... when you're a teenager, anyway. And my parents took me a couple of times, too. It's basically the amusement park ride of musicals. So throughout high school and college, I've seen my share of Phantom on stage. I've seen the original Michael Crawford/Sarah Brightman production, as well as with several lesser-known stars (hey, that's what you get in LA and SF). One night the girl who played Meg Giry tripped and fell on her face, poor thing - good thing I had front-row seats for that one! And yes, I have the soundtrack. So I haven't read the original Gaston Leroux novel, and I haven't even seen the Lon Chaney classic. But Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera? Yes, I know it well.

One particular Phantom moment still makes me smile: at my high school, there was a guy named Brian. Quiet, shy, nerdy, and not popular. But during one school talent show, he sat at a piano and sang "Music of the Night." Out of this shy nerd came this booming, sonorous voice that thrilled us. Yeah, Brian wasn't a Casanova, but during the six minutes of that song, all the girls swooned and shrieked and darn near tossed their panties on the stage. A real Revenge-of-the-nerds moment. So an otherwise dreary song is a kind of magical song for me.

What I can say about this movie is that it's a faithful replication of the musical. You would think that the flexibility of the movie medium could have been exploited better. But no, you essentially get the musical, and very little else. There is one enjoyable sequence during a dress rehearsal that probably would not have been possible on stage, a flashback into the Phantom's past, and a few close-up details that are meaningful. But ultimately, little else. Not that this is a bad thing. The musical, for what it's worth, was hugely popular and beloved by many. Maybe they didn't want to fix what wasn't broken. But it's still a little bit of a letdown when the dungeon the Phantom lives in looks, well, just as you imagined it from the stage version. It would have been nice if there was something new.

Emmy Rossum (best known as Sean Penn's daughter in Mystic River) is very good. Her singing voice is clear and sweet, and she makes a lovely Christine. Patrick Wilson (who played Joe, the most tragic character in Angels in America) is also good in a thankless milquetoast role as Raoul, with a fine singing voice and a face that's a dead ringer for Paul Hamm the gymnast.

Gerald Butler as Phantom is a bit of a problem. He's not a great singer. He's certainly better than average, and I'm not an expert critique on vocalists. But I do know the difference between the pleasures of effortless singing, and the discomfits of strained singing. And Mr. Butler struggles through his two showcase songs, "Music of the Night," and "Past the Point of No Return" enough to be distracting. It also doesn't help that the musical itself features almost no choreography to distract the viewer, but that's in part because it is Phantom's voice that's supposed to be the main attraction. His voice is supposed to be so awesomely mellifluous that it has the power to put Christine in a hypnotic trance, after all. Mr. Butler is a pretty good singer I guess, and good for him for doing his own singing, but he should have been better. (And hey, this is a movie. Doesn't technology exist that can smooth over his voice-catches?) And his acting is kind of blah at best. He's supposed to be a monster, but you never feel any real menace. And you know how the TV Batman flounces his cape and that serves as the wipe for the next scene? Yeah, Phantom does that. A lot. And that's just ... funny. I wished they had gone with casting Michael Crawford, the original Phantom, or Antonio Banderas, who reportedly wanted the role. Antonio Banderas would have been good at being menacingly sexy - is he ever not? - and he was in Mask of Zorro and Interview With the Vampire, so the man can flounce a cape.

The general lack of choreography does make the movie feel more dreary than on stage - you just see a lot of people strolling and posing as they burst into song constantly, with none of the thrill of the live performance. Again, I know this isn't a dancing musical, but there isn't much visual innovation that incorporates the music into the action like in Chicago. But a couple of scenes are nicely done: the aforementioned dress rehearsal and a later number called "Prima Donna" are nice little sequences that elevates a stand-around scene into a spectacle of comedy and camp. Both feature Minnie Driver as the diva Carlotta, who fabulously chews the scenery. Also, Miranda Richardson plays Madame Giry, appropriately stolid as the gatekeeper of the opera house, and Jennifer Ellison plays Meg Giry, a chorus girl and Christine's friend. I loved that Ms. Ellison looked like she could really be Miranda Richardson's daughter - it's always great when they cast kids who look enough like their movie parents. It happens so rarely.

The costumes are gorgeous, but they also essentially look the same as in the stage production. I mean, nothing new came to mind for the costume designer? Nothing interesting? Nothing besides velvet capes? But again, this isn't a bad thing, just a touch disappointed at the lack of new-ness.

So basically, there's nothing new here. Whatever movie you imagined in your head after seeing the musical is pretty much what you get. Again, that's not a bad thing. If you saw the original production and loved it, you can re-live it again from your local cinema. If you missed the musical, but this type of show is your thing, you will probably enjoy this movie. Andrew Lloyd Webber is considered a schlock-meister by the high-brow critics, but I'm not well-versed enough in musical theater to know better. But I'll admit that a close examination of the lyrics show that they are largely nonsense and all banal. But never mind. You have to just be willing to go along with it. I like the music, the visuals are absolutely sumptuous, so if you're up for it, there's a lot here to enjoy. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera will not re-invent the musical, but it still makes for a good date.


Recommend this product? Yes

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