Thursday, December 23, 2004

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera
Review by Sombrero Grande with the additional perspective of his wife (a Phantom fan)

Let me preface this review by saying that I am a total neophyte to any previous rendition of The Phantom of the Opera. I had never seen the famous stage show on which this film is based, nor had I even seen any of the alternate film versions or knew much of anything about the story going into this. My wife is one of the many who loved the Andrew Lloyd Webber theatrical production (and the one who convinced me to see the film with her) and so I’ll rely on her opinion later to give you a fan’s perspective.

For me, I found The Phantom of the Opera to be rather grueling to get through. There were three very nice cinematic moments which I enjoyed—the initial raising of the chandelier and transition back in time; the way in which the lowering of Minnie Driver’s dress was shot; and the last few shots of the film (which I won’t spoil)—but other than those, I was, quite frankly, bored. The Phantom was really a fascinating character, and the only one I actually came to care about, so it frustrated me to no end then that every time the Phantom showed up and things finally started to pick up, the film would cut and move on to something else for another twenty minutes.

My wife said that she was able to enjoy the film once she was able to get Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman out of her head. Without the familiarization with the stage performers, I had no trouble easily accepting Emmy Rossum as Christine and Gerard Butler as the Phantom. Both, I thought, did an excellent job.

Sombrero Grande is not a fan of musicals, but a few years ago my wife had convinced me to see Moulin Rouge! which I immediately loved and now include in my list of Top 10 Favorite Movies. So, going into The Phantom of the Opera, I was hoping for—though not expecting—something akin to that experience. After all, both films do possess some similarities, beginning with a track into a black and white environment which turns to color as the years roll back, centering around one particular stage venue, being melodramatic love stories, etc. But the wonderful energy, eye candy and humor of Moulin Rouge! has, sadly, very little in common with this film. I found the music and energy of The Phantom of the Opera to be achingly slow and maniacally plodding. There are three songs I can say I enjoyed (“The Phantom of the Opera,” “Music of the Night,” and “Masquerade”) but for the most part I was rolling my eyes at the fact that these characters are seemingly incapable of speaking mundane lines but have to sing them repeatedly. Two characters, Firmin and Andre, complain in one song that there are “too many notes.” I agree. I’d have preferred if they’d saved the songs for special moments, not whenever someone gets a letter or wonders where Christine is.

Perhaps part of the reason the almost non-stop singing bothered me is the fact that, in the sound mix, the music mostly dominates the lyrics. There were whole songs where, as they were concluding, I realized I hadn’t heard or understood a word that was sung. These songs might as well have been sung in Italian for all the good they did me as I’d have to think to myself afterwards, “Okay, she’s mourning,” or “Okay, they’re having a masquerade.”

While I can’t say I enjoyed The Phantom of the Opera, I can say that the character of the Phantom intrigued me enough that I want to see other versions of the story. He was such a tragic villain, who will, maybe, see a more developed treatment in another venue I’ve yet to discover.

My wife told me that she liked the film but didn’t love it. It’s one to rent, not one to buy, she says. As to advice she’d give to other fans of the play who plan on seeing it: don’t expect the passion and the experience that the play delivers. You’ll appreciate hearing the music again and the much easier access to the story (even with skyrocketing movie ticket prices, they’re still a long ways off from the cost of theater tickets). It’s especially interesting to see all the close-ups that give the characters more depth and add to the emotion, intricacies that are hard to portray on stage. Because of these close-ups, many of the characters receive more development. For example, Meg isn’t merely Christine’s sidekick in the movie, but her own unique character. On the flip side, the movie may move too close in certain areas and remove some of the magic of the story. While it is indeed interesting to know the background of each character and what happens to them after “the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera,” offering up so much information removes the viewer from participating, as there is no longer the need for imagination to fill in the blanks. And by showing us that Christine went through a trick sliding mirror, and that the Phantom disappears at the Masquerade through a trap door, draws the Phantom as not a mysterious Opera Ghost, but more of a magician who’s tricks are explained a few minutes after he performs them.

Overall, my wife asserts a fan should not expect to be as swept away by this movie as he/she might be by the stage show. However, if you enjoy the music, the lyrics, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of the story, you’ll enjoy this.


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