Andrew Lloyd Webber'S The Phantom Of The Opera

Screechy, Overstuffed Phantom Dies Of Stage Fright

Devin D. O'Leary
4 min read
“Boo. I’m a phantom.”
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Here's the problem: I think Phantom of the Opera is a crap musical. The songs are too literal, the music is smug and repetitive and the plot is frosted with far too much swooning romance. So the odds are pretty good I'm not going to enjoy the film version all that much. You, on the other hand, may love everything Andrew Lloyd Webber puts his rich little mitts on—from Jesus Christ Superstar to Cats to Aspects of Love. If that's the case, then you'll probably find plenty to enjoy in Joel Schumacher's garish, overstuffed film version.

Schumacher already produced the gayest musical ever made (sans music) when he directed Batman & Robin, which looked like some ungodly union of a rubber fetish ball and the Icecapades. Now, he's been let loose on Webber's clunky Harlequin Romance and has filled it with more visual gewgaws than a turn-of-the-century New Orleans whorehouse.

It's 18-blah-blah Paris, and the famed Opera Populaire is being haunted by a masked phantom (Gerard Butler, Tomb Raider) who insists that the owners replace raging diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting) with willowy ingenue Christine (Emmy Rossum, The Day After Tomorrow). If they don't, he's gonna start bumping off cast and crew. Instead of Gaston Leroux's traditional tragic figure of romance and horror, we now get the world's pushiest press agent.

For whatever reason, our Phantom is madly in love with Christine, an orphan who has been raised since childhood in the opera house. She, however, is all girly for this delicate young viscount named Raoul (Patrick Wilson, The Alamo). Of course, this sets off the Phantom's jealousy, and he's obliged to sing lots of brooding songs and engage in the occasional sword duel.

The performers are a mixed bag. Butler cuts a fine figure as our titular ghoul, but his voice doesn't have much range. (And the climactic scene in which his teeny mask is ripped off to reveal … a hugely deformed head is just plain laughable.) Rossum projects a certain believable fragility as Christine, but her singing voice is screechy enough to annoy family pets. Wilson probably has the best voice in the whole cast, but his character comes across as such a little wuss, it's hard to sympathize with him. Driver seems to have developed an appetite for scenery and goes about devouring this film's suitably impressive backdrops with abandon. Her campy, over-the-the-top performance is one of the most entertaining things in the film, but it seems out of sync with everyone else around her.

Unlike recent film musicals such as Chicago, this one does little to embrace the cinematic medium. Whereas Chicago seriously retooled its story, adding dialogue, flashbacks and more character development, Phantom remains hopelessly stagebound and favors audiences with only the vaguest of scripts to fill in the brief gaps between songs. Aside from dumping a lot of money into elaborate costumes and big gold statues, the filmmakers seem to have added nothing to the stage version. They've taken nothing away, either. At two and a half hours, the film feels like an eternity of people prancing around and lovers caterwauling at one another. My glutes would have appreciated a serious trim to the endless parade of musical numbers.

The sets are certainly opulent and lavishly mounted; but they start to feel like they belong on a Disneyland ride after a while. There's something just intangibly phony about them. On the whole, that's how all of Phantom of the Opera feels: garish, melodramatic and—despite all the pretty pictures—somehow patently unbelievable. Frankly, I think it's a fine fit with a show that was schmaltzy, overproduced and barely coherent to begin with. … But, hey, at least you don't have to pay 70 bucks to see it now.

Phantom of the Opera or Harlequin Romance? You decide.

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