– Summary –
Director : Joel Schumacher
Year Of Release : 2004
Principal Cast : Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler, Patrick Wilson, Minnie Driver, Miranda Richardson, Simon Callow, Ciaran Hinds, Kevin R McNally, Jennifer Ellison.
Approx Running Time : 135 Minutes
Synopsis: A young opera ingenue finds herself torn between the mysterious tutor who has taught her to sing, and a former childhood sweetheart.
What we think : The classic stage musical comes to brilliant life thanks to the the vision of Joel Schumacher – a very young Gerard Butler does a top job as the Phantom, Patrick Wilson equally as good as Raoul, the Other Man, and Emmy Rossum is simply luminous as the central heroine, Christine. All the great songs are here, and fans of the story will be ecstatic with just how well it translates to the screen.
Hard to avoid the music of the night….
There have been many film and television versions of Gaston Leroux’s tale of the iconic Phantom of The Opera; former Bond girl Jane Seymour appeared opposite Maxmillian Schell in a TV miniseries in 1983, Claude Rains played the title character in the 1943 version, Freddie Kruger actor Robert Englund stretched himself as the Phantom in 1989, and even the great Dario Argento turned it into a horror flick featuring Julian Sands and his own daughter, Asia Argento, in 1998’s Il Fantasma dell’opera – it’s not like the story hasn’t been told before. Of course, most of the modern world would be more familiar with the story thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s blockbusting stage musical variant, which has, since debuting in 1986, become the most successful Broadway production (and stage production generally, I’d wager) of all time. It’s fair to say, though, that the time it took Hollywood to realize that nobody had yet put Lloyd Webber’s musical version onto the big screen was considerable – this version came out in 2004, nearly 20 years after the stage musical took the world by storm. It would take a special director, somebody with a flair for visual extravagance and an appreciation for the source, to translate this famous, fabulous story into cinematic format. That man was Joel Schumacher.
In 1870’s Paris, a disfigured musical genius known as The Phantom (Gerard Butler) haunts the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera, waging a war of terror over its occupants. When he falls in love with the lovely Christine (Emmy Rossum), the Phantom devotes himself into creating a new star of the Opera. Christine vacates the spot left by resident diva La Carlotta (Minnie Driver), and becomes a star overnight. The new patron of the Opera, Raoul (Patrick Wilson) learns that Christine was once his former childhood sweetheart, and the two rekindle their love – a love the Phantom forbids; as his obsessive rage consumes him, he threatens to bring down the very Opera that has consumed his soul since he was a child.
The Phantom story is, essentially, a fairy story based on the classic genre trope – the love triangle. The Phantom is obsessed with Christine, Christine is infatuated with the Phantom, but becomes drawn to former flame Raoul when he shows up all dashing and awesome. She must choose between the man who gave her her ability to sing, and the man who she loves (and has always loved) in Raoul – and of course, hearts are broken along the way. The music, a key ingredient in Lloyd Webber’s version, is brought to life once more here by the maestro, in full Dolby Digital sound, and my goodness, the combo of Joel Schumacher’s fabulous photography alongside the soundtrack just envelops you – you can’t help but be drawn into this story. Schumacher, the man who nearly killed off Warner Bros Batman franchise in the late 90’s with Batman & Robin, isn’t a man known for his visual restraint; if Batman Forever and Batman & Robin taught us anything, it’s that if you need somebody to bring out the best in how a film looks, then Schumacher’s the man. He knows how to produce a shot, how to frame a scene and light a set. This version of Phantom is one of Schumacher’s most accomplished works, technically, and I think if he’s going to be known for anything other than putting nipples on the batsuit, then Phantom of The Opera should be it.
The key ingredient to the films success was always going to be the casting. Gerard Butler, who stepped up as the Phantom following first-pick Hugh Jackman being unable to take on the role, had barely any singing experience whatsoever; he did, however, bring a sense of charisma and masculine energy to the role, giving his Phantom portrayal a mad-eyed, off-kilter suppressed rage that bubbles out at the conclusion of the first act. Emmy Rossum, playing the role of her life (you can spot her in films like The Day After Tomorrow, Poseidon, and Dragonball: Evolution) does a terrific job as the winsome, delicate Christine, delivering both heart and soul to a role which could have been simply the meat-in-the-sandwich to the Butler/Wilson duo. Speaking of Patrick Wilson, he actually surprised me by appearing in this film and performing as well as he did, and it wasn’t until I Googled him that I discovered he had an extensive Broadway career prior to getting into the movies. Wilson’s dashing, handsome Raoul is easily the more sympathetic of the two male leads, although in this I think he’s thoroughly out-acted by Butler’s stomping, gnashing Phantom.
Also of note are Minnie Driver, as the prima donna diva La Carlotta (although her singing voice is actually performed by British soprano Margaret Preece), who absolutely nails it. She’s hilarious, and brings a real sense of comic timing with her – I never really considered Driver to be a solid comedic actress before, yet she proves me wrong. British actor Simon Callow, who always does a great job, is once again magnificent as one half of the Opera’s new managers, alongside Ciaran Hinds – a man I’d not considered as a potential musical powerhouse, and again I am proven wrong. Callow and Hinds work wonderfully well together (most of their scenes are with each other); indeed, the entire supporting cast never once feel overwhelmed with the material. Miranda Richardson, as the woman who saved the Phantom from persecution when he was a boy, is perhaps the most undervalued member of the cast – her story and arc are let down a touch by Schumacher’s stylish camerawork and editing – while Richardson’s on-screen daughter, British glamor model and actress Jennifer Ellison, is also somewhat wasted as Christine’s friend Meg. Their performances aren’t bad, per se, but they’re let down with the shortened running time in which to tell the story leaving much of their material out.
Visually, the film is spectacular. The vivid colors and tones of 1800’s Paris, and the costumes worn by the varied Operatic employees, are sumptuous to behold – perhaps indicative as to why this film received an Oscar nomination for cinematography – and everything looks simply gorgeous. Lensed by John Matheison, the film’s largely soundstage-set production values truly evoke the passion, the flavor of the period and the lust and emotion of the people. It’s a visual and aural film – hardly as intellectual as some might make out – and Schumacher ensures we really get our moneys worth. The soundtrack, of course, is sublime: the deep-bass organ work of the main Phantom theme, the subtlety of The Music Of The Night and All I Ask of You, and the rat-a-tat of Masquerade are all delivered with a pounding soundtrack that is both powerful and elegant. Lloyd Webber’s music wouldn’t have sounded much better in the theater!
The Phantom Of The Opera remains one of the great musical experiences of all time, and Joel Schumacher delivers a rousing rendition of it on the big screen. The stunning visuals, the powerhouse musical score and soundtrack, and some terrific leading performances by Butler, Rossum and Wilson, ensure this version of the classic story remain as enduring, as potent, and as uplifting and romantically charged as ever. This Phantom is eminently entertaining.
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