Cinema Signal:
The Phantom Of The Opera Companion
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher

The Phantom Of The Opera:
The Original 1911 Novel
by Gaston Leroux

"It was the evening on which MM. Debienne and Poligny, the managers of the Opera, were giving a last gala performance to mark their retirement..."

. "The Phantom of the Opera"

For many years I've been observing the long, big success of this light opera and the spell of magic it apparently casts over wide audiences from Broadway to Hollywood. As an outsider, I wondered if the small mask ever came off Michael Crawford's face and if he was the romantic opposite of the female lead. I never ventured to attend a performance since I've never been too keen on drama to a beat. People singing their lines works in the context of theatrical energy and spectacle well enough to please many fans who are able to suspend their disbelief in order to imagine reality. I'll take mine in movies that, at least, approximates reality.

But now, it is a movie. And, finally, my questions have been answered. The mask does come off. No, the Phantom is not the romantic lead--he's the villain of the piece, the heart of darkness. But as an explanation of theatrical longevity, imagination makes a return appearance.

Brilliant choreography of a talented dance company and the skilled performances of big name actor-singers may send light opera fans home fulfilled and humming the tunes. But it doesn't work the same way on the big screen. For one, these elements are standards of the art, expected, and not enough -- by themselves -- to dazzle you into a state of euphoria. Appreciation of a piece comes, if it does at all, from story and character, just as it does from any movie.

Which is not to say there isn't a crossover appeal. Once you get into the musical modality from your movie theatre seat, and past the lip-synched perfection, you can certainly appreciate the hit numbers, like "The Point of No Return," with a new understanding. What I found not enveloping me, however, was the magical net that accounts for the adulation.

For one thing, the mystery of the phantom's existence and intentions are more muddled than magical. The movies' ability to suggest he can appear like a spirit in mirrors, in minds and in the caverns of his lair brings in the element of supernatural power. But, the story doesn't dare go too far with that notion because the real story is down on earth, with real swords and 3-dimensional appearances. Neither director Joel Schumacher nor original playwright-producer-composer and current co-screenwriter Andrew Lloyd Webber are classical Homer, clashing mythological gods against mortals.

Okay, so I get it that by teaching his protegee, the lovely, fully flowered Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum, " The Day After Tomorrow", "The Audrey Hepburn Story") how to sing, Phantom (Butler) may well establish himself in her mind as an ever present influence. But this is about her art, not her heart.

And, yes, I appreciate that the power he has over her contains an appealing mystical edge, but extending to the realities under the proscenium is stretching the magic a bit far for film. I thought it makes you expect more than what can be delivered and, certainly, more than has been delivered here. But I'm willing to bet that this other dimensional texture in the story accounts for much of its drawing power as a legendary stage presentation.

As a very deep fan of Rossum's, I can't fawn too abjectly over her pliant delicacy as the emotional center of this highly conspicuous story. I became enamored of her and her singing gifts in 2000's modest, underseen "Songcatcher" in which she sang Appalachian folk with all the internal conviction of a hillbilly angel. (Talk about mysticism). I don't imagine too many moviegoers ever saw it, nor are they likely to recognize her from her brief role as Katie Markum, Sean Penn's daughter who is murdered in "Mystic River." But I've had an expectant eye on her emergence and wide recognition in a major role like this. Her virtuosic presence as she shifts between fear and triumph is the major jewel in this film's crown even though her co-stars' limitations hazes up its potential brightness.

Gerard Butler was fittingly forceful and selfish as the Phantom though he may have the weakest voice; Patrick Wilson is a little on the too-fine side in asserting himself as Vicompte Raoul de Chagny, Christine's true love interest; Miranda Richardson remains strong and effective as Madame Giry, stage manager and keeper of the secrets. And, while her role may irk some for its staginess and overdone panache, I took joy in Minnie Driver's energetic Carlotta, a Carmen Miranda-esque diva with fiery temperament aided and abetted by a humorously caricatured Italian accent. I haven't enjoyed Driver this much since "Good Will Hunting."

So where does that leave me? Schumaker's sumptuous framing of this classic stage material does nothing to transform my tastes toward what I think of as the Las Vegas dinner theatre crowd. Still, it's a "to each his own" situation. I recognize it's a dynamite attraction for all those who made it endure so long and can hardly see how devotees would ignore it, costume fluffery, rephrasing and all. For the Rossum experience alone, though, I recommend it.

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                               ~~  Jules Brenner  

The Soundtrack Album


Opinion Section
Comments from readers:

Well written
This review will influence me to see the movie
Site rating: 10

Great to find someone that appreciates Emmy Rossum!

                                                          ~~ Tamara A.
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 10

Thank God, you like Emmy Rossum, i would be terribly sad if you didn't. She has the voice of an angel. I'd totally suggest seeing it even if this reveiwer only found it worth seeing because of Emmy Rossum.

                                                          ~~ Meg
Well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 10

i think the movie is great and the phantom is sexy:) i am only 13 years old but my dream is to star in the next phantom of the opera.

                                                          ~~ Danika B.
Well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 6

Christine's love for the phantom is more primal than her love for Raoul. It is also the less healthy... Rossum is oscar-worthy here. Not only did she have a bell-like purity of voice and diction, but showed all of the devastation, enchantment, and discovery that were central to her role with nuanced ease.

                                                          ~~ Aidan M.
Well written
This review will influence me to recommend this reviewer and get my local newspaper to hire this reviewer.
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review.
Site rating: 10
I love this movie and the Phantom is so CUTE!!!
                                                          ~~ Jennifer 

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Emmy Rossum in a star turn as Christine
The well-chosen object of the Phantom's desire

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