Andrew Lloyd Webber’s colossal musical smash The Phantom of the Opera is the stuff of legend since its 1986 debut. It’s grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide, been seen by an estimated 52 million people and is the third-longest-running show in Broadway history. Demand and speculation for and about the inevitable film version has raged with names like Antonio Banderas being mentioned for the title role (in the wake of his respectable showing in Evita) having to compete with those who believed that no one but the original Phantom, Michael Crawford, was entitled to the role.
After years of struggle and speculation, the film version, directed by the Batman franchise slayer Joel Schumacher, finally arrived in theaters at Christmas 2004, where it was soundly thumped by most critics and did poorly at the box office, though it did far better overseas. Many of the reviews at the time seemed to focus on the critic’s general distaste for the show itself &151; they hate Webber, they hated the music and the fact it was so popular &#Array; and as a result, the movie didn’t stand a chance of getting a fair shake.
While I’m not one of those “Phantom Phanatics”, I have seen the show four times on tour and in Toronto and own the Original Cast Recording, so I went into this film adaptation with a favorable attitude about the source material and hoped to enjoy it. Did I? Yes, but not initially.
After seeing it in the theatre, I had a list of problems with the casting and limited vocal talents of some of the players and some of the story changes took away more than they added. After watching this DVD and its featurettes a couple of times, my appraisal grew more charitable, though some criticisms remain.
For those 12 people in the world who haven’t seen the stage show, The Phantom of the Opera is a musical based on Gaston Leroux’s 1911 novel about a horribly disfigured genius/madman who lives beneath the Paris Opera House, here renamed the Opera Populaire.
He’s been secretly tutoring 16-year-old Christine (Emmy Rossum), an orphan who is living and working at the Opera as a chorister. Her violinist father had told her he’d send an “Angel of Music” to guide and protect her after he died, she’s taken this unseen tutor’s training as a sign her father was watching over her.
When the Phantom (Gerard Butler) orchestrates her big break by scaring off the house diva, Carlotta (Minnie Driver), Christine becomes a sensation and draws the attention of the hunky Raoul (Patrick Wilson), a wealthy patron of the opera whom Christine had known as a child.
After a visit to the Phantom’s lair, the love triangle between young singer, suave dude and freaky genius plays out in tandem with the drama of the operas being produced and the Phantom’s increasingly violent acts of obsession. Much singing ensues and the score will stick in your head like a dream that never ends.
It’s immediately obvious that the extraordinary production design and cinematography richly deserved their Oscar nominations as the monumental scale and detail of the opera house sets and lighting thrust the viewer into the time and place of the story. There are shots from the balconies that allow us to see beyond the stage into the workspaces behind that aren’t special effects, but genuine, old-fashioned big sets.
Rossum gives a remarkably poised breakthrough performance which belies her age &#Array; she was 17 when this was filmed &#Array; and when teen singers are typically like Avril Lavigne, Rossum’s voice, which reminded me of Julie Andrews’ in tone, is up to the demands of the score which was tailored to Webber’s then-wife, Sarah Brightman’s, sizeable talents. Occasionally, she seems a little bland, but overall she’s okay in her acting.