Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Phantom Of The Opera (2004)

Not A Musical Fan - But I Enjoyed This One

- Yes, I admit it: I had a few biases coming into Joel Schumacher's 2004 film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous stage musical The Phantom Of The Opera....

Firstly, I am not a musical film lover. Sure, I can and have enjoyed musicals in the past but I am not a big fan of the genre as a whole.

Secondly, Joel Schumacher is a director that I do not exactly go out of my way to see. He wowed me with his 2003 film Veronica Guerin (of which Cate Blanchett is most of the show), but he has left me wanting with every other film of his that I have seen.

Thirdly, I am not a fan of actor Gerard Butler. He bugs me. I cannot help it - it is how I am hardwired.

However, I was pleasantly surprised and am happy to report that I overcame two out of three of those biases to really enjoy The Phantom Of The Opera.

The film surprised me right away, opening with a fantastic-looking black-and-white picture and a dreary feel to wonderfully transform itself into a bright and up-tempo number. But soon after, the viewer is jolted out of his or her now comforted state of fun and song and is alerted to the mystery of the film: a phantom lurks within the opera house. This Phantom (Gerard Butler) takes a growing special interest in the young Christine (Emmy Rossum) who has recently stolen the stage and spotlight from narcissistic will-be-has-been Carlotta (Minnie Driver). The new patron of the opera house, the young Raoul (Patrick Wilson), also takes notice of the young Christine and the two fire up a bit of a romance. However, this Phantom is hardly one to take his love lumps lightly and being a bear of a character he does whatever he can to take Christine for himself.

Schumacher breaks out of the directorial doldrums he usually rolls in and attacks the film with a very classical style, choosing shot choices resembling the classic rather than the contemporary, subtly over blunt flare and, even though the story is set in France, all of the actors keep their natural accents except those who have the talent to do differently (Minnie Driver, Miranda Richardson). The film is also visually stunning - each shot is carefully set up to capture the powerful mood, detailed set designs, brilliant costumes and glowing cinematography work of each scene.

Obviously, the music in The Phantom Of The Opera is stellar. I have never seen a stage production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom tale but it is hard for me to believe that the music could be done any better than it is in this film. Throughout the film your heart is lifted and your skin is chilled by the swelling orchestra and powerful vocal work - even if the film was not put together well in other ways the music would be well worth the price of a rental fee.

Each actor does an excellent job in his or her role - with most members of the cast doing their own singing as well. Emmy Rossum is a great lead with great presence and a terrific voice; Patrick Wilson delivers yet another solid performance to add to his ever-growing fine credentials; Miranda Richardson is a supporting force to be reckoned with as Madame Giry; and Minnie Driver steals every scene she is in, though it is clear she was hired for her thespian talents rather than her singing (as she is dubbed by Margaret Preece).

The only real let-down for me is the presence of Gerard Butler. As hard as I tried, this was one bias I could not overcome. Is his singing bad? No, quite the contrary really - his voice is gravely and coarse but carrying, perfect for an evil phantom. Is his acting bad? Eh, not really. His performance is not exactly weak or overdone or pathetic or anything like he was in 300 (2007) - but I would not call it great either. He just bugs me the entire film. I cannot put my finger on why.

Still, Butler's annoying mug aside, The Phantom Of The Opera incorporates a wide variety of other very enjoyable aspects to end up as one of the better film musicals that I have ever seen.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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