Monday, November 28, 2011

Musicals Of Darkness, Desire and Disfigurements: The Phantom Of The Opera

The Good: Great singing, orchestration, costumes
The Bad: Garbled audio in several scenes, Most characters don't "pop," Plot technique removes menace
The Basics: Worth watching for Emmy Rossum's magnificent voice and performance, The Phantom Of The Opera is otherwise a startlingly average tale of love and obsession.

I think the reason most horror movies do not play with narrative technique is that it keeps the viewer wondering who lives and who dies in a story. It's hard to have menace when the story is told in flashback by one of the characters. In fact, one of the few drawbacks of the show Carnivale (reviewed here!) is that the series begins as a story told by one of the characters, who looks noticeably older. So, no matter the menace, the viewer knows the apocalypse does not come and no matter how severe the bloodbath, we know one character who never perishes. In a similar way, The Phantom Of The Opera mortgages elements of menace because the story is a flashback wherein one of the surviving characters attempts to recapture moments of his past by purchasing a chandelier.

Christine is an opera singer whose talents are hidden in the shadows as her career is dwarfed by the diva Carlotta. When new managers buy the Paris Opera House, Christine's career is given a boost by a mysterious figure who live beneath the theater, who insists that the new owners give Christine the lead part in a new opera. Christine performs, and quite superbly, attracting the eye of Raoul, and the ire of Carlotta. Carlotta returns so Christine may not continue to steal the spotlight, which irks the Phantom of the Opera (Christine's mysterious tutor). Hoping to divide Christine and Raoul, the Phantom attempts to seduce Christine, the pupil he has fallen in love with, and chaos ensues.

And the viewer just keeps waiting for that chandelier to make its entrance.

The Phantom Of The Opera is based upon the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and it, too, is a musical. That means during most of the important character moments and times when characters are relating to one another, they break out into song as opposed to just talking with one another. It's a pretty solid musical.

The decent thing about The Phantom Of The Opera as a musical is that it's a decent musical. The music is good, the tunes are operatic, grand and memorable. The style is a fusion of classic opera and pop-rock, giving the piece a sense of being timeless while still appealing to younger audiences. There are recognizable tracks like "The Music of the Night" and the theme to The Phantom Of The Opera and they are well performed in this outing.

Much of the film has to be judged on the music and in this regard, director Joel Schumacher - whose work I have traditionally not enjoyed - chose well in his casting. Gerard Butler, who plays the Phantom, has a magnificent voice and it is used well in this film. He is paired with Emmy Rossum, who I first noticed in Songcatcher. Rossum's voice is exceptional and in this presentation of The Phantom Of The Opera, she is able to explore the depth and breadth of her vocal abilities and she shines brightly.

Emmy Rossum steals every scene she is in and not only because she is magnificently costumed, which she is. Rossum, whose parts have generally been smaller than this - she does not last long in Mystic River, for example - but here she clearly proves her worth. She creates a distinctive, viable, articulate and empathetic character through her portrayal of Christine. It is her performance that invests the viewer in caring what happens in the movie and Christine becomes the only memorable or intriguing character in the movie based on Rossum's acting.

That is saying quite a bit when you have a movie with so many intricate machinations, including a disfigured guy living in possibly the most cinematic sewer of all time.

Truth be told, though, there is little else to recommend The Phantom Of The Opera, though it is worth mentioning that the direction is decent. Schumacher uses the camera to focus on angles, perspectives and views that could not be captured by watching a stage performance. Wisely, Schumacher makes a visual feast out of The Phantom Of The Opera with lush sets, extraordinary costumes and a sense of movement that establishes a world that feels cinematic, rather than theatrical. This is easily the best directed Schumacher film I've yet seen.

Sadly, though, the film has some of the same limitations as the play. The Phantom of the Opera mortgages any sympathy the viewer might have for him through his villainy and Raoul is pretty much a generic good-looking guy who the audience is supposed to think is a better choice for Christine. The truth is, Christine and her friend Meg have more on-screen chemistry and more binding them than Christine and Raoul. The plot here takes precedence over genuine character development or real sensibilities.

Instead, this is plotted like a very average musical and essentially tells the simple romantic narrative that has been told and retold from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte on. Writers Gaston Leroux, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher add nothing new to the essential story of a woman who has two men to choose between.

But, at least they make it look good. And it sounds good. And if you can't create something genuinely new, the least you can do is make an illusion of it that hints at originality. This does that, at the very least.

For other works with Patrick Wilson, please check out my reviews of:
The Switch
The A-Team


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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