The Phantom of the Opera Review
In the golden era of the cinematic musical, the introduction of a new classic was almost a weekly event. In the 1950’s alone well over thirty big screen musicals were devoured by the film going public, including Singing in the Rain (1952), A Star is Born (1954) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1957). During the fifties, two musicals won Best Picture at the Academy Awards; Gene Kelly’s 1951 trademark film An American in Paris and another MGM classic Gigi (1958).
However, during more recent years the musical on film has suffered something of a decline and were it not for the animated efforts of Disney, particularly during the 1990’s, it may well have been in danger of drifting out of the public consciousness forever. That was until 2001 when the flamboyant Moulin Rouge revolutionised and revitalised the stalling genre and re-ignited our love affair with the musical. With the addition just a year later of the stylish Chicago, the cinematic musical is enjoying a dramatic comeback.
Now, ten years after work began on the cinematic adaptation of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, it’s time for one of the Maestro’s most loved classics to get a piece of the action.
Within the grand setting of the Paris Opera House the young and beautiful Christine (Emmy Rossum) finds herself at the centre of a complex love triangle with her handsome ex-childhood sweetheart Raoul (Patrick Wilson) and her mysterious singing tutor, the tortured but infatuated Phantom (Gerard Butler) who resides in the bowels of the theatre.
As the new managers of the theatre attempt to ignore the demands of their most sinister occupant, the seemingly empty threats of sabotage begin to come true. And as Christine’s relationship with the young Viscount develops the Phantom becomes dangerously jealous and any pure feelings of love he has for her boil over into a dark and overpowering obsession.
The inherent problem with the modern musical in general is that they are often difficult to buy into. The very fact that a character is singing rather than speaking dialogue tends to jar with some people nowadays, and often makes it difficult to believe in either the characters or the story. Joel Schumacher's film starts positively enough and with the absence of opening titles, coupled with the fact that we begin literally on stage, the suspension of disbelief is supported and it even succeeds in creating the illusion of being at a theatre.
However, as the narrative develops, it begins to hit familiar stumbling blocks. The colourful and high tempo opening, reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann’s modern classic, and which includes a great cameo by the usually unbearable Minnie Driver as the diva, Carlotta, is replaced by a slow and, frankly, repetitive series of exchanges. That said, the ballad heavy and reprise filled score doesn’t exactly help the pace and the movement from the lavish and vibrant set of the theatre into the murky underworld of the Masked One doesn’t assist the aesthetic appeal. Unfortunately, Schumacher is a little limited to his options in these areas – the score is the score and the setting is the setting. The workman has his tools.
The cast are on mixed form, but, if you can ignore the often blatantly obvious miming, you may enjoy some passionate and powerful performances. Rossum, fresh from The Day After Tomorrow is all sweetness and light personified, but seems to lack the maturity and vocal strength to really convince. Wilson on the other hand, really impresses as the fairy tale prince type and, considering his extremely proficient voice, manages to appear the least “musical theatre”. However, the most questionable performance is that of Butler. His range of emotions seem to be drawn direct from the Pantomime Acting Book. His sinister but misunderstood spectral figure changes to insane and brutal monster with no sense of the journey in between and with his drunken Karaoke style singing and outrageously camp swinging of his cloak, you begin to question the decision to cast him and not someone, well, better. The problem is that you just don’t care about these individuals. But the impressive and experienced ensemble save the day and their seasoned skills go some way to justifying the decision to cast relative unknowns in the lead parts.
In summary, Schumacher’s adaptation of this chilling romance is not really an adaptation at all, more a direct transfer from stage to screen. However, if you were already planning to visit the big white screen for this, then chances are that you are either a fan of the musical or of musicals in general and, in that case, you will not go home disappointed. This is an impressive representation of the stage version and will satisfy the already converted. I am just not sure that Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece will gain any extra friends.