Pros:Music and lyrics are fantastic. The Victorian Age rarely looked so good. Freedom of cinema.
Cons:Sometimes clunky and melodramatic.
The Bottom Line: I greatly enjoy the music, so I greatly enjoyed the movie.
On the tail end of a modest musical revival begun by Moulin Rouge comes The Phantom of the Opera, a relatively straightforward cinematic version of the oh-so popular musical based on the book. The film is set in late 19th century Paris at an opera house that is haunted by the titular ghost. Who is he? What are his motives? Why the fascination with promising young soprano Christine, who happens to be romantically linked with her benefactor Raoul? The story answers those questions through waves of passionate music and lavish scenery.
Make no mistake about it, the music carries the movie. A like or dislike for the film will largely hinge on one's opinion of the music. Count me among the supporters, as I consider the poetic lyrics, driving score and songs, enhanced here by a full orchestra, like rich dessert for the ears. Perhaps it isn't highly nutritional, but the taste and sound are capable of sweeping one away into pure cinematic bliss. Combined with the probably too-perfect art direction and attractive if simplistic cinematography (both Oscar-nominated), the music creates chill-inducing moments that thrill the eyes and ears.
A noteworthy difference between the various soundtracks and the movie is the age and vocal styles of the main characters. With a cast of relative unknowns, the entire film skews younger, which didn't bother me as a twenty-something, but might irk older viewers. Eighteen-year old Emmy Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow, Mystic River), whose classical training shines through, is younger than most Christines, but I think her age is more appropriate for the part. Gerard Butler (Reign of Fire, Timeline) plays the Phantom less sympathetically than the familiar Michael Crawford. His less polished but more natural sound tweaks the role with an angrier edge, creating additional conflict that translates well to the silver screen. As Raoul, Patrick Wilson (The Alamo) holds his own with appropriate emotion as he fills the role of foil for both other leads.
The simple mechanics of cinema both aid and afflict the telling of the story. The ability to break free from the sometimes claustrophobic boundaries of stage brings welcome relief on jaunts to the roof and a cemetery. But the constant singing, even while dashing through labyrinthine halls and caverns, works better on stage, seeming somewhat clunky in the larger physical world afforded by movies. Storywise, the narrative is more lucid accompanied by specific images that elaborate upon the words, as several plot points that had eluded me in stage and song were made clear through pictures.
That story, like many musicals, is rife with melodrama, exaggerated emotions that would not play very well without the powerful music accompaniment. But the sweeping lyrical melodies and harmonies temper the potentially abrasive angst, stressing them without flying over the top into excessive cheesiness. There are still soap opera moments, but the strong (even single-minded) and sincere characters keep the tale progressing through the thick and thin of the narrative.
For those who don't care for the show or movie musicals in general, this film likely won't do anything to change your mind. But if you do enjoy the music of Phantom, then you will find pleasure in seeing a different rendition of the classic show, which is more Victorian rock concert than traditional opera, complete with lingering music that will haunt you like the Phantom haunts the opera house. Weeks later, the melodies still waft through my head. 7 of 10, and worth seeing on the big screen.
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