Andrew Lloyd Webber is a master. His musicals have an immersive quality that has garnered multitudes of fans and myriads of awards. It’s one thing for a musical to have a few catchy songs spaced at opportune points throughout a play or film; it’s another to weave a soundtrack in which the songs flow together with such pervasive melody that listeners disregard where one ends and the next begins. Webber has pulled off such a feat several times over, and no film captures that lavish musicality like The Phantom of the Opera.
Joel Schumacher’s films are a mixed bag, and though Batman and Robin still lives in infamy, The Phantom of the Opera redeemed his skills as a director, at least to my mind. From the elaborate exploration of the labyrinthine opera house to the stark winter backdrops, the film has all the spectacle one would expect from a Broadway adaptation. Attention to colors is evident in the frequent combination of black, white, and red, similar to (though not quite as striking as) the red flourishes of The Sixth Sense, with red again representing the presence of the ghost. Though dancing takes a back seat to the glorious music itself, the pantomime choreography in certain scenes is outstanding, particularly during the pomp of “Masquerade.”
None of the acting is quite Oscar-worthy, but again it’s less important than the music. Emmy Rossum is lovely as Christine, though a few notes elude her efforts, such as the final scream of “The Phantom of the Opera.” She’s a talented singer, just not as trained as that of Sarah Brightman, the original Christine and Lloyd Webber’s former wife. Patrick Wilson as Raoul is a bland but handsome lover for her, and Minnie Driver is appropriately dreadful as arrogant diva Carlotta, but the best role is, of course, the Phantom, played with surprising power by Gerard Butler. Though he had no prior singing experience, Butler performs like a pro, with his voice alternating from soft and seductive to severe and monstrous. His is the emotional heart of the film, and though his actions are reprehensible, an Elephant Man-style flashback gives the audience clear reason to pity him and his desire for love, though Butler’s underwhelming make-up doesn’t seem to warrant all the cruelty endured by his character or being described as “hardly a face.” (On a side note for Pirates of the Caribbean fans, I was surprised to see that the Phantom’s onstage victim was played by a barely recognizable Kevin McNally, aka Mr. Gibbs, Jack Sparrow’s first mate.)
The haunting music possesses the rare ability to induce frequent goosebumps, particularly during the Phantom’s sensuous crooning of “The Music of the Night,” by which my VC was especially affected. Lloyd Webber’s venerable arias hold significance for me as well, for I learned to play several during my inconsequential stab at piano lessons, mainly “The Phantom of the Opera,” “All I Ask of You,” “The Music of the Night,” and “Masquerade” (my favorite to play with its staccato strokes). Even when the story itself drags at times, the music is so unforgettably dynamic and the production values so sumptuous that every scene has something to please the eye or ear.
Though the casting is only satisfactory, the human story also carries the film, whether in the colorful world of the opera house of years past to the faded, tragic present. The end brought me to tears the first time, though not for any other character’s loss but for a character’s death itself. My sense of sorrow was simpler back then. All in all, the romance, tragedy, and beauty of The Phantom of the Opera come extremely close to living up to its glorious music.
Best line: (Christine, to the Phantom) “This haunted face holds no horror for me now. It’s in your soul that the true distortion lies.”Rank: 56 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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