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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Phantom of the Opera" (2005)

High-profile, over-hyped big-screen adaptations such as “Phantom of the Opera” can’t be reviewed without first qualifying the opinion, so let’s get that out of the way. I’m NOT an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, in spite of the fact that I did like “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I do like musicals and I can appreciate the artform. I do not get bent out of shape when characters suddenly burst into song. I’m fine with it. I had no opinion of Webber’s stage musical prior to walking into the screening. Never heard it, not a single song (other than what I heard in the trailer). I know the story and that’s all. Now, I think I know too much.

I went 32 years on this planet unscathed by the music of “Phantom of the Opera” and was all the better for it. This movie just so happened to be my introduction to it, so take that for what it’s worth. If I had seen the stage play, perhaps my reaction would be different, but I doubt it. I can’t stand this stuff. It just bores me silly. I don’t hear any songs here, just people carrying notes as loooooooooooooong as they possibly can. I don’t hear any real emotion coming from the songs, just cheesy artifice. I just flat out plain don’t get the big deal. I’m more than willing to give the movie the benefit of the doubt for the rabid Webber fans. Maybe the filmmakers did everything right and I’m just not its target audience. I would seriously like to know where the die-hards stand on this interpretation.

I can understand someone wanting to turn this—the story of understudy Christina (Emmy Rossum) who becomes the latest passion of the lurking Phantom (Gerard Butler) of the Opera house—into a musical. The story of how she tries to juggle being the object of passionate affection from both The Phantom and Raoul (Patrick Wilson) while also becoming the toast of Paris certainly cries out for song and dance numbers. Heck, my favorite Brian DePalma movie is “Phantom of the Paradise,” which borrows most of its story from Gaston Leroux’s most celebrated novel.

The movie certainly wants to excite its audience, especially in its opening. It starts out looking like an old silent movie. The camera moves into the faded opera house where an auction is taking place. The Phantom gets mentioned in passing and suddenly, the story takes us back in time via a shift from black and white into color as stage lights come on one by one accompanied by a haunting organ score (I was in a band called Organ Score). I could easily see a fan of the show getting goosebumps from this opening.

Unfortunately, the movie stops right there. I remember it started at 7:05pm. Three hours later I looked at my watch and it was only 7:25. I needed a fat lady singing like I’ve never needed one before.

It doesn’t help that the film version—though handsome in production and design—gets a limp, lifeless treatment from director Joel Schumacher. Try as he might in some scenes to instill life into the material (such as the “Masquerade” sequence), the music and the interpretation inevitably put me back to sleep. There doesn’t seem to be any life in front of or behind the camera. It’s almost as though Schumacher took Jonathan Demme’s approach to “Stop Making Sense” by keeping the cameras still and employing very little cutting. Fine, except that at least Talking Heads filled the gap by providing energy and keeping things alive.

The cast tries and I’m sure their performances are as good as can be expected. The material certainly lends itself to overacting and melodrama, which probably works well for the stage, but comes off a bit silly here. Minnie Driver as the self-obsessed diva Carlotta seems to be having fun and does breathe some life into the otherwise stilted and unengaging proceedings. Gerard Butler and Patrick Wilson’s performances don’t stand out as much as Emmy Rossum’s. She looks beautiful and carries the movie as best as she possibly can. She certainly has a secure future on stage and maybe on screen.

However, I’m not sure the big-screen Webber Musical does. I don’t want musicals to be bad. I like them. I’m tired of the Musical as being an outcast in today’s cinematic climate. I don’t want it lurking in the darkness and scaring people away. I don’t want Phantoms and Musicals to be in the same boat. Was I expecting the high energy bawdiness of “Chicago” or “Moulin Rouge”? No, not really. Maybe Webber musicals (or at least downer ones) shouldn’t be made into movies. Maybe the two mediums don’t mesh together. I remember being underwhelmed by Alan Parker’s “Evita,” but certainly not bored to tears. I also don’t remember laughing at Parker’s movie as much as I did here. It was all I could do to stay awake.

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