Based on the 1911 Gaston Leroux novel that has already inspired at least a half-dozen films beginning with the famed 1925 silent, "The Phantom of the Opera" tells the story of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius and possible madman (Gerard Butler- Tomb Raider-The Cradle of Life) who controls, through terror both psychological and real, the operation of Paris' Opera Populaire. After his latest antics send the Opera's incorrigibly temperamental diva (Minnie Driver) storming off, the new owners (Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds) fear the worst. But the Phantom has other plans in store, manipulating circumstance to have a chorus girl named Christine (Emmy Rossum-The Day After Tomorrow) given the lead. Needless to say, Christine is a hit and a star is born. However, for all the Phantom's ability to manipulate and orchestrate ends with matters of the heart, he is unable to quell Christine's feelings for her childhood sweetheart, Raoul (Patrick Wilson), now the wealthy Vicompte de Chagny, who just happens to be the Opera's new patron.
Musicals on the silver screen have, in the past, never appealed to me. I have always found it rather out of place and unnatural for someone to be one moment conversing happily with another only to suddenly break out into song and complete their conversation to music. I believe a movie should maintain the 'Suspension of Disbelief' concept, that being you should accept that whatever it is you are watching, is or could be real. Even a sci-fi movie should be believable and operate in the realms of scientific fact or theory. How many times have you sat through a movie filled with monsters, super heroes and spaceships only to moan at the stupid girl who goes back into the dark house to investigate the strange sounds. “Now this is just stupid!” you shout “You just wouldn't do that, you'd run away as fast as you could!” It's funny how the monster in the movie was believable, but the ridiculous actions of the girl were not. The point I'm making is that I cannot remember the last time my wife told me what she bought from the supermarket to the tune of Nesun Dorma! In reality, it just doesn't happen.
But like I said, that was in the past. This production of The Phantom of the Opera is so lavish, so sumptuous and so overtly extravagant that you are drawn into and become part of the whole affair as you would if you were actually sitting there in the theatre. This is due more to the superb direction of Joel Schumacher, the opulent sets and the fantastic cinematography and less to the story itself which is , to be honest, not that fantastical. Also the music from The Phantom has never previously stirred my emotions as, say Miss Saigon did. Also, forgive me for saying this, but as technically talented as Sarah Brightman may be vocally, I have never really liked her voice that much and watching her perform reminds me of a scared rabbit caught in the headlights of a speeding car. But suddenly I have found a respect, no, fondness for the music in The Phantom of the Opera. It may be the sheer scale of the orchestra (105 members compared to the stage show's 30 something orchestra) which gives the score a huge dramatic and emotional edge to it. Maybe it's the performers themselves. Emmy Rossum's voice in particular is so strong, yet so pure that you find yourself hanging onto every note she sings even if the song itself is not so strong.
Gerard Butler does, unfortunately stand out as the 'non-professional' singer in the lead cast. Emmy and Patrick Wilson have both been singing since childhood and professionally ever since whereas Gerard had lessons specifically for this role and at times, it shows. All the cast use their own singing voices, which they record in the studio and mime to on set. Even Minnie Driver gives a vocal performance worthy of applause (even though her miming leaves something to be desired at times)
But I am not here to rate only the music, but whether the movie itself is worthy of recommendation. Strangely I have to say that it is. As previously stated, Schumacher has done himself proud; producing what is an unequivocal visual masterpiece along with the sound itself which is a revelation. I did not think I would like this but found myself unable to dislike it. The film is quaint, powerful and stunningly beautiful all at the same time. The story has been told a million times and the original horror aspect of the tale has long gone, replaced by a bittersweet romance. Even the Phantom himself, who was once depicted as a hideous, grotesquely disfigured creature would now not look out of place modelling clothes in GQ magazine! His mask acts more as a fashion accessory. But this is not a criticism, merely an observation. Compared to the stage show, the movie adds a layer which could never be achieved in a theatre. There are also some scenes created solely for this production as well as some songs.
All in all a satisfying adaptation of Webber's sometimes flawed Musical. The Phantom of the Opera is never going to be one of my favourite movies, but I can honestly say that I am glad to have seen it.
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