PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Review by Michael Jacobson
Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie
Director: Joel Schumacher
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 141 Minutes
Release Date: May 3, 2005
we can frighten away the ghost of the past...with a little illumination!"
Phantom of the Opera had been slated by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to be turned into a
motion picture as early as 1990. It
might have been better served had it come sooner instead of later.
Original London stars Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford were once
expected to reprise their roles, but as time passed, so did their chances for
film immortality. Likewise, many
stars over the years were connected with the role of the Phantom, from John
Travolta to Antonio Banderas, but one by one, they fell away from the project.
only constant in the efforts to bring the international stage success to the
screen was director Joel Schumacher. After
seeing his movie The Lost Boys in the late 80s, Lloyd Webber pegged him
as the man who would direct the filmed version of Phantom.
And though it took over a decade, Schumacher finally realized Lloyd
Webber's version, albeit with a cast of largely unknowns.
resulting picture is bland, but beautiful.
It's the kind of movie where you won't be able to look away, but your
mind may wander a bit in the margins. Having
never seen the stage version myself, I can't make educated comparisons, but I
think the film's biggest problem is suffering from moments that would have been
captivating live on stage, but feel a little stagnant flickering on a screen.
original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Charles Hart boasted a few
unquestionably indelible songs. However,
I once owned the soundtrack CD and eventually got rid of it, and the movie made
me remember why. A great deal of
the music is a little on the tedious side, and the best cues end up repeated
over and over to the point where the listener has to feel like he's cramming for
a test. You walk away from the film
humming the songs, but not so much out of enjoyment as out of necessity because
they've driven out everything useful in your brain.
story, based on the classic French novel by Gaston Leroux, is well known.
It involves a disfigured man (Butler) who lives in the shadowy cellars of
a great opera house and takes a liking to a young ingénue named Christine (Rossum).
His ability to move in shadow and cause chaos makes people believe him to
be a phantom, and he intends to use his power of fear to further the singing
career of young Christine.
devious efforts help turn the spotlight from the opera's vain and silly diva
Carlotta (the hilarious Driver) and onto Christine. But what price will she be willing to pay for the help,
especially when the young Phantom's fancy turns to thoughts of love?
story is simply sketched and probably far too short on substance to sustain a
full length musical. Yet somehow,
it did just that and more, becoming one of the most loved and successful stage
shows of all time. As I mentioned,
I've never seen the theatrical production, so I can only comment on the film,
and in my eyes, the film seemed to slow to a crawl more times than I care to
yet despite the flaws, I felt an overall sense of awe and appreciation for the
picture, particularly in its technical grandeur. The cinematography and art direction had to have been the
best of last year save for House of Flying Daggers.
The opera house, with its elaborate décor, sweeping staircases, and
watery underground lair is a miracle of visual conception...throw in the
costumes and expressive lighting, and you have one of the most stunning
main problem fans will have is that there's no way to watch this film without
thinking of Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford...unfair to the movie's young
stars, but a fact of life. And when
you think of the show's original stars, the new ones will unavoidably suffer.
Eighteen year old Emmy Rossum is a fresh-faced find with a sweet sounding
voice, but definitely lacking Ms. Brightman's power.
Gerard Butler's voice seems a little lifeless when one recalls Mr.
Crawford. Would I have judged
differently had I never heard the original?
Possibly...but there's no way to know for sure.
acting is all serviceable considering that, apart from the Phantom, none of
these characters have any real depth. Patrick
Wilson didn't really inspire as Raoul, but it's a thankless role...nobody could
make that walking prancing tuxedo light up.
Ms. Rossum looks suitably worried, enamored and frightened as the scenes
call for. Mr. Butler was the most
striking in the last stretch of film...his grief and anger at the world around
him was genuinely heartbreaking, and I have to say, I think he carved out his
own small niche of Phantom lore with his performance...even if, in my eyes, he
was far too young and naturally handsome for the part (the Phantom was supposed
to be much older, much more hideous, and far less suave).
music, which is now legendary, is something of a mixed bag.
I've always been enamored by "The Music of the Night", but
here, it brought the momentum down to pure inertia.
I think "All I Ask of You" is one of the most beautiful tunes
ever, but while listening to the young stars sing, I kept thinking of Erin, my
band's lead singer, who can sing that song with such emotion and power that you
can feel the vibrations of her voice in your sternum.
The movie's take seemed much more cautious and reserved, and my response
to the song, which usually is a big smile and a glistening eye, was a
yet for these complaints, I still recommend the movie.
It doesn't always connect emotionally, but as a spectacle, it's second to
none. You walk away feeling like
you've really seen something unique and memorable.
It's just that you probably won't be remembering the parts Andrew Lloyd
Webber most hoped you would.
TRIVIA I: Minnie Driver, despite
being a good singer in real life, is the only actor whose singing voice is
dubbed in the movie, because she had no opera training.
But she gets to show off her real pipes with her beautiful rendition of
"Learn to Be Lonely" over the end credits.
TRIVIA II: Patrick Wilson performs
all his own stunts in the film.
anamorphic transfer from Warner Bros. is simply gorgeous beyond description.
The visuals are the movie's strongest asset, and this DVD services them
reverentially. I was captivated
beginning to end. The colors leap
off the screen, the detail level from close up to deep is so strong as to almost
be three dimensional, lines are crisp and clean...it seriously doesn't get any
better than this.
the 5.1 audio is thunderous and powerful...this disc offers the best sounding
presentation of music recording of any I've ever seen that wasn't specifically a
concert film. When the chandelier
lights up and the opening strains of the theme explode near the beginning, I was
rocked back in my seat, and it was only the start. Every tone from every instrument in the orchestra sounds pure
and distinct, and the sound soars like a live symphonic event, using the rear
channels to surround you with Lloyd Webber's unmistakable power.
One of the double disc collector's edition contains only a trailer, which was
smart thinking...most of the available space on the disc was obviously reserved
for superior audio and video presentation.
Two contains the remainder of the extras, highlighted by two terrific
documentaries. "Behind the
Mask" is one of the best ever included on a DVD...it's an hour plus look at
how the musical show came to be, featuring interviews galore with Andrew Lloyd
Webber, Charles Hart, Cameron Macintosh and more.
It includes plenty of footage of the original production with Sarah
Brightman and Michael Crawford, as well as early looks at the musical as staged
at Lloyd Webber's estate, where he tested material on small audiences of friends
and associates. What a treat!
is also a lengthy making-of documentary devoted to the film, containing
interviews with Lloyd Webber, Joel Schumacher, and his young cast.
The lengthy process of getting the show translated to the screen is well
chronicled. You can watch it in
three parts or all together.
out is a deleted scene, "No One Would Listen".