Article Title:Phantom suffers at hands of hit and miss director
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:9th January 2005 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:564
Text:Phantom Of The Opera Dir: Joel Schumacher, 143 mins Reviewed by Chris Banks The films of gay director Joel Schumacher have always been hit and miss affairs. On one hand, we have the dark thriller 8mm, the under-rated drag drama Flawless, and the gritty boot camp movie Tigerland – which brought the world's attention to Irish heart-throb Colin Farrell. On the other hand, Schumacher single-handedly ruined the Batman franchise with two awful pictures in a row, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin – not even Chris O'Donnell's breastplates could save either of those. Phantom of the Opera fits somewhere in the middle. As a film adaptation of a very famous stage musical, it has two major obstacles to overcome; first, the successful translation of a stage show to film – always difficult. Secondly, its cast members have to escape the very long shadow of the original stage players, whose renditions of the songs – particularly with Michael Crawford as the Phantom and Sarah Brightman as the starlet Christine – were definitive. In terms of translating Phantom to a screen setting, there are a number of exquisite visual touches. The story is essentially told in flashback, as Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny and one-time patron of the Paris Opera Populaire, remembers the strange events of over fifty years ago when his childhood sweetheart Christine was made into a star by the mysterious musical Phantom genius, who resides in the catacombs of the Opera House. These flashback sequences are treated in the style of a silent-era newsreel, in all its faded and degraded glory. The story itself is lit and photographed in the style of a 1950's Technicolour musical. The painterly quality and beauty of many of the images seems to have drawn inspiration from the French artists (and gay couple) Pierre and Gilles. Unfortunately, fluidity in many of the sequences is a lost by frenetic cutting, sometimes for no apparent reason at all. While Schumacher may have longed to make a grand Technicolour musical, it's almost as if he is constrained by the requirements of making a movie musical for the MTV generation. Sadly, the Gene Kelly days of long, choreographed sequences in single sweeping takes are gone. While Moulin Rouge (to which Phantom shares many similarities with its bombastic style) made a virtue of its hyper-cutting, Phantom just seems confused, as if edited for an audience of ADD-sufferers. While there is much to enjoy in the visual department, the performances are rather less stellar. The music is the real star in Phantom, with precious little spoken dialogue sequences, meaning the leads really have to carry off the songs. A decision to cast much younger actors in the main roles of the Phantom, Christine and Raoul has, overall, not worked, especially for the Phantom, played by Gerard Butler. The Phantom's buffed and furry frame seems straight off the cover of a penny-horrible romance, and when his disfigured face is finally revealed, he seems less ugly than your average swarthy Harvey Keitel or Tommy Lee Jones. The Phantom is no longer a pitiful creature, with a genius for music and unrequited love for his starlet. He's Vin Diesel in a mask. Butler's singing is not a patch on Michael Crawford either. His raw style comes close to working when belting out the angry bits, but when sensitivity and dynamic range is called for in a number like Music of the Night, he falls far short of what's required. Emmy Rossum as Christine brings some nice touches, and at times makes the songs her own, but her beauty and youthful looks can't compete with the crystalline innocence and effortlessness in Sarah Brightman's vocals. The supporting players do much better, probably not surprising, as they're established British character actors like Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, and Simon Callow, as opposed to relative unknowns. Some tweaks to the storyline have worked for the better. An extended backstory for the Phantom is presented, giving us a better insight into the horror of his childhood which isn't evident from the action-hero persona portrayed by Butler. The chandelier-crash has been moved to a more dramatically appropriate place, and forms part of the most exciting sequence in the movie. If you've even managed to read this far, I'm guessing that you have some familiarity with the musical and are wondering whether it's worth forking out $14 to see the movie version. If you're a fan, on the whole I would say yes. The grandness of the music still shines through, but the picture certainly has its limitations. If you've got a copy of the original London cast recording, the film is more inclined to make you come home and throw it on – really loud. Chris Banks - 9th January 2005    
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