THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
**1/2 (out of 5)
December 22, 2004
Gerard Butler as THE PHANTOM
Emmy Rossum as CHRISTINE
Patrick Wilson as RAOUL
Miranda Richardson as MADAME GIRY
Minni Driver as CARLOTTA
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
BY KEVIN CARR
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In a recent review, I lamented the fact that there has been a recent rash of movies coming out based on books I have not read – like “The Polar Express” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Additionally, there are other films that have been out recently based on existing movies or plays, like “Closer” and “Flight of the Phoenix” where I haven’t seen the original source.
However, I am proud to say that I have already seen “The Phantom of the Opera,” not just the Broadway play upon which this film is based, but the original Lon Chaney film of the 1920s.
I originally saw the theatre production of “The Phantom of the Opera” about seven or eight years ago. I took my wife as part of her birthday present, and I ended up spending more than $90 for tickets. When you take into account the fancy dinner we had, parking and other incidentals, this was a $150 expenditure. After putting out so much money, you can’t help but like the play. After all, “The Phantom of the Opera” is an experience.
However, things are a little different for the trip to the movie theatre. Sure, movie tickets are pricey, and you can easily double or triple your costs if you want popcorn and the 82 oz. soda. However, unless you plan on eating a dozen supersized tubs of popcorn, you probably aren’t going to spend $150 on the event.
This seems to work against the movie.
A basic truth of life: Cinema is cinema, and theatre is theatre. They are two different things. It is what is at the heart of the failure of a movie like “Closer” as a form of entertainment. Too much of that film clung to the theatre experience, which ultimately appears wildly ingenuine on the silver screen.
The same problem hangs “The Phantom of the Opera.” While I have been looking forward to this production for a while, I felt let down by the movie. First, there was a lot of fat that could be trimmed from the film. While I might feel cheated if I spent $90 for Broadway tour tickets and get a 90 minute show, my butt starts to hurt if a 90-minute story is stretched out over an hour and a half on screen – no matter how much I paid.
The story behind “The Phantom of the Opera” is more about archetypes than about real characters. The Phantom (Gerard Butler) is the mysterious stranger. Christine (Emmy Rossum) is the beautiful debutante with the heart of gold who has a thing for the bad guy. And Raoul (Patrick Wilson) is the romance novel coverboy who is both charming and rich.
These characters worked on the stage for some reason, but there isn’t enough meat there for the screen. Some successful Broadway productions, like “Mamma Mia,” have really fun, appealing characters. Other productions are more about the experience.
However, if you love “The Phantom of the Opera” stage show, you’ll most likely love “The Phantom of the Opera” movie. It is very true to the original source, and the only changes it makes serve the plot – like a brief flashback to the Phantom’s childhood.
Joel Schumacher has a firm grasp of the theatrical style here. He oversees a grand production, with some spectacular costume design (which at times even seems too spectacular, like they’re campaigning for the Oscar) and great set design. But one pot hole in the movie is the laughable make-up effects on the Phantom in the end.
And one failure of costuming is the lame masquerade outfit of the Phantom. Where in the theatre production, his mask is a reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” he just looks like he’s wearing a Halloween mask he picked up at the local Walgreen’s. Unfortunately, Schumacher doesn’t dig into his horror movie bag of tricks that he used in “The Lost Boys” and “Flatliners.”
Maybe that’s part of the problem as well. “The Phantom of the Opera” is really more of a romance than a horror movie. But like “Dracula,” attention should be paid to the horror element, or you just end up with a fancy costume drama.