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The International Writers Magazine
: 'The Phantom' Review

Overcooked and Underplayed?, or Just Adapted From The Stage?
Ben Macpherson reviews Joel Shumacher’s film of
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera

After a long anticipated wait, the glitz of the West End mega musical, and the notoriously overblown director of the Batman movies collide in a film which may be more aptly titled ‘Batman: The Musical’ or ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber meets Moulin Rouge’. After a reported fifteen years of waiting The Phantom Of The Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most successful musical - in fact the most successful musical ever - has made it to the big screen.

Starring Emmy Rossum, as Christine - the starlet with the voice of an angel (that defies Rossum’s years); and Gerard Butler as the disfigured, love lorn genius, this movie is a more or less literal translation of stage to screen. Some may instantly view this with a morbid dread akin to that of the Phantom’s fear of loathing. Detractors have long levelled criticisms at the show, of the gaping holes in its plot, the emotionless void at the centre of characters - with about as much exposition of their emotional make-up as a badly written Jackie Collins novel - and with probably just as much kitsch. I was slightly preconditioned on entering the cinema, due to an overbearing sense that having seen the stage show and studied it in depth - the film would not quite live up to it’s name (and yes, we could and will call The Phantom, an institution).

In short, before a more considered and specific analysis, I will say that for the price of the ticket, the three hours of opulent, overt and glorious indulgence that is this movie, it is the one to see this winter. The lavish colour, the glamour, the soaring score and gorgeous cast (with the possible exception of Simon Callow, great actor: not gorgeous), one cannot help but sit up and watch. I personally loved the stage show - for nothing more than what it is - a spectacle of entertainment; and I believe the same applies to the film.

For me, the gaps in the story (which stem from the original novel anyway) and the occasional peculiarity are mere ‘charms’ of a succulent piece into which it is plain Mr Schumacher and of course, the ever conceited Mr Lloyd Webber have eagerly sunk their teeth. What I went for was what I got: a tear in my eye when the Phantom realises Christine has deserted him, mourning "I gave you my music...and betray me". Goose-bumps when the two ‘lovers’ play out their seduction in my favourite number The Point Of No Return (a triumph of originality from the composer), and shivers up my spine during the duel. The music soars along with the vocals; and with the exception of Minnie Driver, who had her voice dubbed as the Diva Carlotta, the all star cast with among others Miranda Richardson, Simon Callow, Kevin McNally and Jennifer Ellison all sang their hearts out with great gusto. Rossum, an eighteen year old with an ego problem (judging by an interview I read recently) performs excellently. With a voice like hers its no wonder she feels she has something to ‘sing about’; and, the requisite amount of breathless cleavage heaving and lace draped thigh coupled with big brown eyes, watery and innocent, gave her the perfect reason to fill Sarah Brightman’s shoes. Gerard Butler, performed with modern grit, a role which demands subtlety and yet, over emphasis. I think though, that his presentation was very suited to cinema. The ‘camped up’ sensuality with which the stage character is portrayed would perhaps of looked too pantomime-esque on film. Well judged on his part and on Schumachers.

One major change in the story is the position in the film at which point the Phantom famously brings down the chandelier. In the stage show this is contained in the penultimate section of the first act - a stunning and dramatic reason to retain your bum on it’s seat for the second half (especially in Australia, where there are reportedly no restrictions of health and safety as such, and so the poor audience in the front stalls have to duck as a lethal object flies at high- velocity above their heads.) For dramatic effect, Christine’s "singing to bring down the Chandelier" is reserved until the penultimate ending sequence (just after Point Of No Return). This I was most sceptical of...but, ignoring my previous two experiences at the theatre, it worked well and, for a cinematic audience was perfectly dramatic.

Of course, one cannot write such a review without at least one criticism. The majority are small, personal preferences from the part of a humble fan of the show - but the predominant annoyance for me was as follows: the transition from dialogue to song. My drama lecturer at University is writing a PhD on that very subject and I await his appraisal with interest. For me though, the fact that the preliminary verse of some songs were made into ‘rhyming speech’ sounded lazy, half done and shoddy. Re-written dialogue would have sufficed. Failing that, of course, why not just keep the singing in? It is a musical after all. The other, smaller gripe that stays in my mind just an hour after viewing is that during the graveyard scene, the Phantom, Christine and Raoul have a trio part in the stage version. This was simplified in the film to a smaller scale duet between the Phantom and Christine. Musically, Raoul’s contrapunctal melody line enhances the emotion of the moment, and this is relegated to tremulous strings in the film - softening the entire feel. Still,this is just a quibble, it doesn’t detract from the film as a whole.

In short then, if you do go to see this film - expect nothing more than a solid Joel Schumacher style, gothic portrayal of the most successful musical in all theatre history. For those who love it’s lush, rich, soaring score and stereotypically operatic over-cooked characters, this film is a joy. For those who detract Schumacher for his over blown production and at times slow moving camera work (there is a moment at the end of the film where you feel he didn’t quite know what to do), then this film is one to avoid. Of course, if you don’t like Andrew Lloyd Webber, I shall take it as read that this film is one you won’t want to lose yourself in. 
(But go anyway, just be happily surprised.)             
Rating: 7.5/10
© Ben Macpherson December 14th 2004

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