The Phantom of the Opera Review

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by Casimir Harlow Apr 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

    The Phantom of the Opera Review
    I find it quite odd that Joel Schumacher was chosen to direct an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. As it is, Webber is to musicals what Jerry Bruckheimer is to films - normally enjoyable popcorn fun but largely lacking depth - but for him to pick a director that single-handedly ruined the Batman franchise and has pretty-much created nothing particularly memorable in his entire film history to work on something as famous as The Phantom of the Opera... well, let's just say it's a little bit of an odd decision. Potentially, The Phantom could have been a breakthrough movie allowing new audiences to appreciate stage musicals on the Big Screen, but in the wrong hands, even one of the most famous musicals of all time may not survive the transition. As it turned out, the movie was a phenomenal success, its box office appeal marred only slightly by rather unfavourable reviews amongst critics. The question is: Were the critics right?

    The story is one which most will be familiar with, although perhaps the details elude most. It is 1870 and the Paris Opera House is having problems with a strange apparition - as much folk lore as reality - that plagues the catacombs, occasionally popping up to cast disdain upon the ongoing operatic mayhem. His hiding in the shadows is due mainly to the fact that he has been horribly disfigured down one side of his face, but his fears are as much psychological as physical. After becoming smitten by a young girl, Christine, who sings at the Opera House, he takes it upon himself to make her a star. All is going well - if a little disturbingly given that Christine is 16 - until her childhood sweetheart appears on the scene and steals her heart. Needless to say the Phantom becomes predictably possessive and increasingly scary in his pursuit of her.

    Given that the story is told almost entirely in song, the first question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you like musicals. Personally, the only 'musical' that has ever truly appealed to me was the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Once More With Feeling” but I doubt that most people would regard that as counting. But if musicals are your thing then the next step is deciding whether or not you can stomach screen actors singing unnaturally high in a desperate bid to convey a serious dramatic message. Admittedly the acting talent is fairly good: you may recognise Emmy Rossum from her hapless heroine role in the flimsy but fun “The Day After Tomorrow”. Here she gets to sing her heart out as the Phantom's dream-girl, Christine - who is under the mistaken impression that the mysterious man may just be her father - and is easily the most captivating of the actor/singers on screen. On the other hand, her counterpart - the Phantom himself - played by supposedly sure thing Gerard Butler (from Tomb Raider 2 and Dracula 2000 and, at one stage, surprisingly suggested to take up Bond's reigns), is remarkably lacklustre. He's supposed to be hideously disfigured, but in actual fact he just looks like he lost an eye-brow and a fight. He's supposed to be love-lorn but he just seems like a bit of a lecherous old man. He's supposed to be angry but when his singing ranges from falsetto to just plain camp, it is difficult to do anything but cringe. I like Butler, he made a good partner/adversary to Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft and I would be happy to see him in more similar action adventures, but choosing to do a musical seems like a mistake to me. There are other names that you may recognise, but be similarly disdained to see in such a position, like the ever serious Miranda Richardson, the resolute Ciaran Hinds or the reliable Simon Callow. About the only two people - aside from Rossum - who seem at home in their roles are the naturally boisterous Minnie Driver and the upcoming starlet Jennifer Ellison. Driver's performance as a loud Prima Donna (who even gets a song by the same name about her) may not be the pinnacle of her career - for that I would look towards her comedic turns in films like Grosse Point Blank - but at least she seems to be having fun here. Ellison may not have secured a particularly solid role since her time on Brookside but at least this is some kind of halfway house between that and her largely looks-based singing career. The rest of them look perfectly suited for the roles - until, that is, when they open their mouths.

    Perhaps my views are somewhat harsh but it is difficult to take this kind of production seriously. A scarred musical genius who hides amongst the shadows of an Opera House only to come out when he wants to hang somebody or stalk an under-aged girl because he cannot express his true feelings? Well, that is certainly a fairly difficult tale to tell in the best of hands and Joel Schumacher was perhaps not a good choice to handle it. It does not help that this was his first musical, or that the production itself has undergone countless rewrites, cast changes and re-workings over the last decade or so. I also suspect that it does not help that I am a fairly hard one to please when it comes to musicals, but the truth is - I think the critics got this one right. However, I do understand its popularity. After all, the story is renowned across the globe, and the production crew have done exactly what you would expect them to do with it - produce an overblown, glossy, loud and largely vapid affair that will no doubt dazzle impressionable teenage girls and engage capricious adults alike. Personally, give me a straight drama or a fun musical any day of the week, but for those who prefer their dramas to run on a higher note, well, I guess you won't be too disappointed.

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