Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera has finally been captured in celluloid sheen and to breathtaking effect. Though the musical has enjoyed success for more than 18 years, this sort of film clearly has a limited audience. But the people who do see it won’t leave disappointed.
For those not familiar with Webber’s musical, the story is based in Paris, jumping between 1917 and 1870 (the dates have been changed for the film). Set in the Opera de Paris, the story is of the brilliant but insane Phantom of the Opera (Gerard Butler) and his obsession with Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum). With the Phantom’s tutelage and his manipulation of the opera’s owners, Christine quickly rises from dancer to star, and she catches the attention of the opera’s new patron and her childhood friend Raoul (Patrick Wilson). Raoul and Christine fall in love, but the Phantom wants Christine for himself. Drama ensues.
As for the musical score, there are few fully abled individuals who’ve not at one point of another heard at least one or two of the songs from this musical, particularly “Phantom of the Opera” and “Music of the Night.” And if you’re reading about a musical, particular this one, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with Evita, Madonna’s 1996 project. Though it’s a rather simplistic comparison, I think that Webber’s score for that work is really similar to what we’re offered here: an odd, though appealing, combination of opera and a renegade 70’s electric guitar.
All the film’s stars deliver beautiful musical performances, save the Opera’s star soprano, Carlotta Giudicelli (Minnie Driver), whose voice is grating and whose manner offers the film’s only comic relief. Driver is wonderful as an indulged diva, driving us to want more even as we attempt to will her away. There is one star, though, whose musical abilities outshine all the others. The way that Christine gains her stardom demands that we be genuinely impressed with her ability, and Rossum does not disappoint.
I’ve never seen Phantom performed on stage, so I’ll have no difficulty avoiding the stage/screen comparisons that many reviewers will no doubt be writing. Such comparisons are mostly pointless, as a film is an entirely different sort of endeavor than a stage production. theater audiences can be expected to do much of the imaginative work, but movie audiences, particularly in far-fetched scenarios such as those presented in Phantom, expect the presentation to be of a world more or less complete in itself.
Director Joel Shumacher has done a tremendous job of this. The costumes and settings are impressively evocative—the opera house is a glimmering, luxurious place, though just beneath it is a dark underworld one might expect a deranged lunatic/genius to inhabit. The 1917 scenes are presented in grainy black and white, with the bulk of the story being remembered in strikingly vivid color, moving between timelines in much the same way that James Cameron moved from present to past in his 1997 blockbuster Titanic. The crumbling opera house of 1917 transforms before us into a glamorous, shining hall. It’s an impressive sequence that assures the audience that astounding things are to come.
Besides the film’s visual accomplishment and several delightful performances, the screenplay collaboration of Shumacher and Webber is well paced, avoiding the impulse to make a film that’s as long as a stage production. A film that attempts to recreate a beloved stage production has big shoes to fill; Shumacher is obviously aware of this. The Phantom of the Opera is a truly dazzling piece of work that every musical fan should be sure to catch on the big screen.
Ryan Lindsey previously wrote political commentary and the occasional movie review for Pajiba.
The Phantom of the Opera / Ryan Lindsey
Film | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()